2013 - Season Recap
by Bob Hulsey
2013 will be remembered as a year of seismic change for the franchise. Forced by fiat (Lance Berkman would call it "extortion") into the American League, the Astros moved to the American League West to share in the misery of the Texas Rangers by competing in a division with the majority of opponents two time zones away.
No longer would Houston fans be concerned with beating the Cubs or Cardinals, Dodgers or Braves, the new rivals would be the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels and, of course, the Rangers whom Bud Selig continually promoted as a selling point in the realignment.
Now with 15 teams in each league and five teams in each division, Major League Baseball was forced into season-long interleague play, two wild cards per league and, for the Astros, the need to find a full-time designated hitter.
That would be Carlos Pena, a 35-year-old Dominican who had a power stroke (277 home runs over 12 seasons) but had batted just .206 in the last three years since his 2009 All-Star campaign. General Manager Jeff Luhnow signed him for a measly $2.9 million and he got what he paid for - a .209 average, 8 homers and 89 strikeouts in 277 at bats before he was released in July. But Pena will become a trivia answer for years to come.
Signing free agents was largely a disaster for Luhnow. Neither Ronny Cedeno (.220 batting average, 1 home run, 12 RBIs), Trevor Crowe (.218, 1, 13), Jake Elmore (.242, 2, 6), Rick Ankiel (.194, 5, 11) nor Cody Clark (.105, 0, 0) could light a spark. Pitchers did a little bit better as Jose Veras (0-4, 2.93 ERA, 19 saves) became the closer until he was traded. Erik Bedard (4-12, 4.59) had a few big moments but the collection also included former Rice star Philip Humber (0-8, 7.90) and Wade LeBlanc (0-0, 7.11).
Rookie manager Marquis Donnell "Bo" Porter, a 40-year-old Houstonian, had been lured away from the Washington Nationals and was heralded as the young, determined, sabermetric-attuned skipper the young team needed. It soon became clear he was in over his head at times, struggling to keep a AAA roster competitive against major league opposition.
Meanwhile, Luhnow wasn't finished dismantling what was left over from Ed Wade's tenure. He dealt shortstop Jed Lowrie and reliever Francisco Rodriguez to Oakland for slugger Chris Carter, pitcher Brad Peacock and minor league catcher Max Stassi. At the trade deadline, he dealt away disgruntled hurler Bud Norris and outfielder Justin Maxwell. At one point, the major league payroll had dipped to a miserly $13 million, less than half of even the penny-pinching Marlins, prompting an article in Forbes Magazine that the franchise, far from cash strapped, were making more money than the last six Worlds Champions combined by simply not spending on a major league roster. While reactions and retractions were swift, folks began wondering if Owner Jim Crane was pulling a con job on Houston fans and baseball as a whole.
To make matters worse for Houston fans, games had been switched to a new fledgling sports entity called Comcast SportsNet (CSN) Houston which was partially owned by the Astros and part of the reason the sale price from Drayton McLane was so high. Yet to make the big dollars that had been forecasted, CSN had to sell carriage rights to various cable and satellite providers who balked at the high asking price. Therefore, the games were shown by just a handful of small carriers outside the local Comcast provider in the Houston area.
The year's high-water mark, however, was visible through ESPN on March 31st when the Rangers welcomed the Astros to the American League. Behind Norris and Bedard, the Astros bashed the visitors from Arlington, 8-2, in front of a packed house of 41,307 fans. Ankiel's three-run pinch-hit homer in the sixth broke open a 4-2 contest.
The next night, as if Midnight had struck Cinderella, the Rangers' Yu Darvish fanned 14 Astros and came within one out of tossing a perfect game. Marwin Gonzalez broke up the bid with a single up the middle. The Astros ended April with an 8-19 record and settled into the basement for a long, dreadful summer.
The 51-111 record was another franchise worst as the Astros led their new league in striking out (1535) and runs allowed (848) while finishing at or near the bottom in most statistical categories. Carter (.223, 29, 82) led the offense in homers and RBIs. Matt Dominguez (.241, 21, 77) showed promise while Jose Altuve (.283, 5, 52, 35 steals) slumped a bit despite still leading the team in batting average and steals. Jason Castro (.276, 18, 56) had the best all-around season and was tabbed to represent Houston at the All-Star Game.
The outfielders continued to struggle as J.D. Martinez (.250, 7, 36), Brandon Barnes (.240, 8, 41), Robbie Grossman (.268, 4, 21) and L.J. Hoes (.287, 1, 10) fought through injuries and slumps. Brett Wallace (.221, 13, 36) had another trial at first base. Replacing Lowrie at shortstop became a tryout for Gonzalez (.221, 4, 14) and Jonathan Villar (.243, 1, 8) among others. Carlos Corporan (.225, 7, 20) backed up Castro behind the plate.
Likewise, the pitching rotation was in a constant state of flux. Ten pitchers split up starting duties and the youngest, 22-year-old Jordan Lyles (7-9, 5.59), collected the most wins. Lucas Harrell (6-17, 5.86) fought with management about defensive shifting. Norris (6-9, 3.93) left behind an amazing home record before he was traded. Dallas Keuchel (6-10, 5.15) slowly built confidence while Peacock (5-6, 5.18) had a strong finish. Paul Clemens (4-7, 5.40) received an extended look while youngsters Brett Oberholtzer (4-5, 2.76) and Jarred Cosart (1-1, 1.95) flashed promise.
After Veras was traded, nobody amassed more than the five saves of Josh Fields (1-3, 4.97). Wesley Wright (0-4, 3.92), Hector Ambriz (2-4, 5.70), Travis Blackley (1-1, 4.89), Jose Cisnero (2-2, 4.12), Josh Zeid (0-1, 3.90), Rhiner Cruz (0-2, 3.38), Kevin Chapman (1-1, 1.77) and Chia-Jen Lo (0-3, 4.19) all saw 19 or more innings of work in relief.
The largely inexperienced group tested Porter's patience early and often. The symbolic moment of the season may have come in September when Villar singled to center against the Cincinnati Reds. He tried to stretch the hit into a double but the throw arrived at second before Villar did. Second baseman Brandon Phillips, standing astride over the base, crouched and swung his glove with the ball between his legs as Villar slid head-first into Phillips' backside for the out.
One thing the Astros did right was debut a new fashion scheme for the club, built largely on the Astros' uniforms of the 1960s with navy blue and orange as the primary colors and returned the "star H" caps to the wardrobe.
Luhnow used the first overall pick in the June draft for Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, a player they rebuffed the year before when they chose shortstop Carlos Correa. The belief was that, after a three-year record (162-324 .333) worse than any major league club in modern history, there was no place to go but up.
5th Place, AL West
To be added later.
Nov 1, 2012 - Waived Jordan Schafer (OF). Claimed by ATL-N
Nov 1, 2012 - Claimed Sam Demel (P) and Jake Elmore (IF) from ARI-N on waivers
Nov 2, 2012 - Released Brian Bogusevic (OF)
Nov 20, 2012 - Waived Mickey Storey (P). Claimed by NY-A
Nov 20, 2012 - Waived Scott Moore (IF)
Nov 20, 2012 - Signed Trevor Crowe (OF) as a free agent
Nov 30, 2012 - Claimed Philip Humber (P) from CHI-A
Dec 4, 2012 - Traded Wilton Lopez (P) and PTBNL to COL-N for Alex Gillingham (P) and Alex White (P)
Dec 6, 2012 - Claimed Josh Fields (P) from BOS-A in Rule V Draft
Dec 17, 2012 - Signed Carlos Pena (IF) as a free agent
Dec 21, 2012 - Signed Jose Veras (P) as a free agent
Jan 17, 2013 - Signed Rick Ankiel (OF) as a free agent
Jan 21, 2013 - Signed Erik Bedard (P) as a free agent
Feb 4, 2013 - Traded Jed Lowrie (IF) and Fernando Rodriguez (P) to OAK-A for Chris Carter (IF), Brad Peacock (P) and Max Stassi (C)
Mar 24, 2013 - Signed Ronny Cedeno (IF) as a free agent
Mar 26, 2013 - Released Tyler Greene (IF)
Apr 4, 2013 - Traded minor leaguer Jacob Goebbert (OF) to OAK-A for Travis Blackley (P)
Apr 23, 2013 - Waived Xavier Cedeno (P). Claimed by WAS-N
May 9, 2013 - Released Rick Ankiel (OF)
Jun 8, 2013 - Claimed Wade LeBlanc (P) from MIA-N on waivers
Jul 27, 2013 - Released Ronny Cedeno (IF)
Jul 29, 2013 - Traded Jose Veras (P) to DET-A for minor leaguer Danry Vasquez (OF)
Jul 31, 2013 - Released Carlos Pena (IF)
Jul 31, 2013 - Traded Bud Norris (P) to BAL-A for L.J. Hoes (OF) and Josh Hader (P)
Jul 31, 2013 - Traded Justin Maxwell (OF) to KC-A for minor leaguer Kyle Smith (P)
Aug 12, 2013 - Waived Wesley Wright (P). Claimed by TB-A
Aug 14, 2013 - Traded Travis Blackley (P) to TEX-A for cash considerations
Sep 3, 2013 - Acquired Matt Pagnozzi (C) from ATL-N for cash considerations
Oct 2, 2013 - Claimed Raul Valdes (P) from PHI-N on waivers