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Here's why trusting Nick Caserio to push the right buttons for Texans is complicated

Here's why trusting Nick Caserio to push the right buttons for Texans is complicated
We're going to learn a lot about Caserio in the coming weeks. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Nick Caserio

Many times when a franchise is in serious flux, it's because of a few reasons: an all-time great has retired leaving the team looking for that person's replacement, one or several key players have suffered serious/career-threatening injuries, or said player is getting ready to retire. Rarely is it the case the Texans are dealing with in which a player like Deshaun Watson (their 25-year-old franchise quarterback) is allegedly demanding to be traded.

Nick Caserio undoubtedly took the Texans general manager job thinking he had a franchise quarterback in the fold and re-signed to an extension. However, he quickly found out that wasn't the case. As the Watson drama continues to drag out, Caserio is also faced with the difficulty of reshaping a roster with salary cap issues that's more mangled than a hand caught in a garbage disposal.

Every day, we're watching the headlines waiting for the next shoe to drop. Will Fuller wasn't franchise tagged, so he'll be a free agent. Nick Martin was released, along with a few others. The house cleaning needs to continue. When David Johnson was brought back into the fold, I was a bit shocked. His deal will pay him anywhere from $4.25-6 million, but that money could've been better spent somewhere else. Which begs the question: can we trust Caserio to push all the right buttons to bring this franchise back to being a playoff contender?

The Easterby factor

Some will say they don't trust him to do what's right because he's a first time general manager who's in the back pocket of Jack Easterby. Caserio spent two decades in New England learning what to do, and not do, from Bill Belichick. Easterby plucked him from that situation because he knew Caserio would owe him if he got the job. Given that Easterby did so and apparently has ambitions to run a football team, one would think Caserio would be totally beholden to Easterby's desires and let him make decisions. Looking back at the moves Bill O'Brien made with Easterby in his ear, we see this isn't the most wise thing to do.

On the flip side, I think Caserio will do well. Despite the Watson drama, I expect him to come out smelling like roses. He's already taken the "we're not trading the player" approach. All the leaks about Watson's demands appear to be coming from his camp and not off Kirby. Taking this approach will not only create mystery, but it'll also drive up the price. I love how he's getting rid of the dead weight as well. Being in cap hell isn't easy, but I think he's doing the best he can given the situation. As I mentioned previously, he spent 20 or so years in New England learning under Belichick. That type of experience is unmatched. Some will say he didn't make any major decisions there. I'd counter that by saying he absorbed enough knowledge to know what he'd do differently if given the chance.

Ultimately, I think Caserio will right this ship. I also think he'll get a great haul for Watson if he trades him. He hasn't done anything too terrible yet to say he's worse than any previous regime, although re-signing Johnson was quite puzzling. Trading Watson and what he makes of those draft picks will define his legacy here. I think he will do okay. Will he hit homers on every pick? No, no one ever does. But will he make the right moves and put this team back together and into playoff contention? I believe so, and it'll happen within the next two years. Mark my words.

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Will the Astros ever give Joey Loperfido a chance to fix the black hole at first base? Composite Getty Image.

So how long do you suppose the Astros will cling to the ludicrous notion that Jose Abreu will return to being a sustainably decent hitter (much less a good hitter)? The All-Star break? The trade deadline July 30? The day the Astros are eliminated from the playoff race? End of the season? End of his contract at the end of next season? Maybe they sign him to a two-year extension?

Since rejoining the team Abreu has played in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has seven hits in 42 at bats for a .167 batting average. That’s only not horrible in comparison to the sub-pathetic .099 mark Abreu had when hiatus time arrived. Since returning, Abreu has walked once. If you remember or are familiar with Susan Powter you know what comes next. STOP THE INSANITY!

Kyle Tucker’s absence obviously punches a big hole in the Astros’ lineup. Still, that regularly running out Jeremy Pena in the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, is ridiculous! Pena has been abysmal for the last month. May 11 he put up his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 29 games since, Pena has added one more homer with an anemic on-base percentage of .238. Not batting average, OBP. Yuck. All teams solicit All-Star votes for non-worthy guys. Pena plays in the same league as Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager, and Anthony Volpe. Hyping Pena for the All-Star game is plain ol’ silly.

Jon Singleton ever slotting in the lineup fourth or fifth, sigh. He of one homer and 28 strikeouts in his last 79 at bats. It’s just a sad state of affairs that no one below Pena or Singleton in the lineup should obviously be higher in the lineup. Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, Trey Cabbage are all bottom third of the lineup if in the lineup type guys. Chas McCormick seemingly losing almost all of his hitting ability has hurt. Yainer Diaz stinking for much more of the season to date than he’s been good has hurt.

The refusal to try Joey Loperfido at first base is somewhere from perplexing to stupid. Look, Loperfido is not an elite prospect. His poor contact skills may doom him from becoming a quality regular. But find out! He struck out a bunch in his first taste but also hit .333. The low upside of the Abreu-Singleton combo is obvious. Evidently to just about all but Astros’ decision makers. Going with Trey Cabbage over Loperfido in the outfield also underwhelms.

Chasing down the Mariners?

It could all still turn for the better, but the Astros are at increasing risk of fading to oblivion behind Seattle in the American League West race. They deserve to be 31-38. They have a losing record at home, they have a losing record on the road. They have a losing record in day games, they have a losing record in night games. They are 7-14 in games against left-handed starting pitchers, they are 24-24 (hey, .500, yippee!) vs. right-handed starters. It would take a serious collapse to fall entirely out of the Wild Card race before the trade deadline, but the Astros are flirting with danger there too. They have to leapfrog several teams to get to the third Wild Card position, currently held by the Minnesota Twins. This doesn’t seem to be a good weekend to gain ground on them. Not that A.J. Hinch’s Detroit Tigers visiting Minute Maid Park this weekend are anything special, though in Friday night’s series opener the Astros face the arguably best starting pitcher in the big leagues this season (Tarik Skubal). But the Twins have four games at home against the lowly Oakland A’s.

If Minnesota is not to overtake Kansas City and Cleveland to win the AL Central, you know Carlos Correa would love to make the playoffs at his ex-team’s expense. Wednesday Correa banged out the first five-hit game of his career. It’s pretty amazing that Jose Altuve has never had a five-hit game given how great a hitter he’s been and the relatively few walks he’s drawn. Sunday in Anaheim, Altuve racked up his 39th four-hit game. Remember, last September, Altuve hit five home runs over seven innings that overlapped two games against the Texas Rangers.

George Springer is the lone Astro ever to rack up six hits in a game, doing so at Oakland in 2018. So far this month, Springer is six for 40. Springer has two seasons left after this one on the six-year 150 million dollar contract he signed with Toronto. At 34 years old he is playing as if washed up. 2023 was the worst season of Springer’s career and he has fallen off a cliff from there thus far in 2024. Springer is batting .198 with his OPS at a sickly .582.

There is only one player in the modern era (1900 forward) of Major League Baseball to amass seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1975 Rennie Stennett went seven for seven at Wrigley Field in a Pittsburgh Pirates 22-0 obliteration of the Chicago Cubs. The “Bleacher Bums” must have had fun that day.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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