added 7/7/2008 by Scott Barzilla
If any of this sounds like a broken record I apologize. I know I've said it before and I will probably say it again. It is time to give up on this current group of Astros. I have nothing against Ed Wade or the stars on this team. He happened to make some pretty good educated guesses that turned out to be wrong. He guessed that Kaz Matsui would be healthy. He guessed that Michael Bourn would hit enough to bank on his speed. He guessed that the NL Central would be the same as it had been seasons past. Perhaps, the last guess is the only important one.
The NL Wildcard will likely come from the Central for the first time since 2004. The division could have three 90 win teams. The Astros won't be one of those teams. A series of events should have driven this home for management. First, a streak that saw them go 2-6 (through the first game of the Pittsburgh series) after winning two series. All momentum is now gone and they sit in solo last. Meanwhile, the Brewers acquired C.C. Sabathia from the Indians on Monday.
This isn't to say that there aren't other pitchers out there on the market. Toronto is looking to dump A.J. Burnett and the Mariners are looking to dump Erik Bedard. The Astros could certainly dive into that pool, but they don't have a prospect that can compare to any of the three traded to the Indians. This is where the Astros need to change their tactics. Roy Oswalt is roughly comparable to C.C. Sabathia as a pitcher and he has a contract that goes through a few more seasons.
The Cardinals were one of the teams Oswalt listed as a possible target. Colby Rasmus is the best young prospect in their system. He's having an off year now, but he is 22 years old and coming off a 29 home run campaign in the Texas league. Rasmus will likely develop into a player somewhere between Hunter Pence and Lance Berkman. Add in two very good pitching prospects and you have made your team considerably better over the long-term.
Obviously, Oswalt is the big prize, but there are more stocking stuffers on the Astros roster. Bench players like Mark Loretta and Darin Erstad could be had for a prospect or two. However, it is the specter of a deal for Jose Valverde that could be the most tantalizing. Teams love to add relief pitching around the trade deadline and some will pay mightily for it. Tampa Bay is in a position to a buyer for the first time in their history. They have a farm system that is far more stocked than most.
A little here and a little there and you are looking at as many as eight good prospects coming into the system. Let's say half of those become contributing regulars in the future, you've essentially broken even on the deal. If any of those players become a star then you are ahead of the game. Naturally, the great unknown is the flip side to this ray of optimism. You could get a group of duds. There is always that risk.
The problem now is that you have three useful starting pitchers, three or four useful relievers, a lineup with five good hitters (sometimes six when Kaz Matsui is actually healthy). Obviously there are a lot of holes to fill and no one in the farm system to do it. Sure, it is reasonable to think that Michael Bourn and J.R. Towles could return next season and produce. It often takes young players some time to settle in. Brandon Backe should be settled in already and Runeyvs Hernandez is just plain brutal. This assumes Brian Moehler is more than a temporary wonder.
Acquiring two starting pitchers on the open market is cost prohibitive given the current salary constraints. Even that likely wouldn't be enough to throw the Astros over the top. So, the choice now is to ride out the current wave of mediocrity or to roll the dice and bring in some young kids. What's the worst that can happen?