Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s that time of year again – the time for us to settle back into our protective bubble where the Chicago Cubs are destined for greatness, and every other team in the National League Central is bound for spectacular failure. If you’d care to check out last year’s fare:St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros. Already featured for 2010: Cincinnati Reds.
The 2010 Major League Baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means two things: (1) we’re all so deprived of real baseball action that we’re willing to treat meaningless Spring Training games like they’re the playoffs, and (2) the prognosticators are out in full force. Yes, every sports publication in the world puts out a season preview. Some are interesting, some aren’t. For the most part, folks just don’t have the time necessary to do the kind of in-depth preview that is going to be of any use to a reader that actually follows the team being previewed.
So most previews end up being pretty surface level, and boring. Well, we’re not going to do that here at Bleacher Nation. It’s much more interesting (notice how I subtly pat myself on the back?) to simply examine why the team currently sucks and is going to suck in 2010.
So enjoy – we’ll be previewing the suckiness (suckosity?) of the other teams in the National League Central over the next five weeks. Up first, the home of Fat Elvis: the Houston Astros.
Baseline for Suckitude
The Astros were 74-88 last year, a weighty 17 games out of first place in the NL Central. Only the black hole in Pittsburgh saved the Astros from the indignity of last place.
Last year, we had this to say:
The bullpen is a strength, and any lineup with Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence hitting back to back to back will score a few runs. But Miguel Tejada is on his last leg, Kaz Matsui is and always has been terrible, Geoff Blum is a mediocre career backup who’s going to be starting, and Pudge Rodriguez ain’t the hitter he used to be (and they overpaid in this market).
All true. We probably weren’t as harsh as we could have been given how badly things ended up for the ‘Stros.
Astros fans in the comments had this to say:
I have and always will think the Cubs are the worst franchise in all of professional sports. And yes, I am aware the OKC Thunder exist. And I have also been a lifelong Astros fan. Having said these things – I can’t argue with the article. The Astros will suck this year. Ed Wade and Drayton are suffocating the team and traded away what used to be a solid farm system for a bag of magic beans.
Turns out there wasn’t too much ad hominem in the comments for the Astros. Just sad acceptance.
Sucky Offseason Moves
Sad Arrivals: RHP Matt Lindstrom (trade with Marlins), 3B Pedro Feliz (free agent), RHP Brandon Lyon (free agent), RHP Brett Myers (free agent), OF Cory Sullivan (minor league free agent), C Kevin Cash (minor league free agent).
Happy Departures: RHP LaTroy Hawkins (free agent, signed with Brewers), C Chris Coste (free agent, signed with Mets), RHP Jose Valverde (free agent, signed with Tigers), SS Miguel Tejada (free agent, signed with Orioles), RHP Doug Brocail (retired), INF Aaron Boone (free agent, retired), INF/OF Darin Erstad (free agent, unsigned), LHP Mike Hampton (free agent, unsigned), Cecil Cooper (booted in the butt).
New manager Brad Mills has his work cut out for him. Given how terrible the Astros were last year, you’d expect the arrivals to easily out-class the departures – but t’ain’t the case here. Losing Valverde hurts, particularly given how much the Astros had to pay to sign a guy they can only hope to be his replacement. Pedro Feliz is, perhaps, a Major League caliber third baseman. Of course, most other teams were not interested in finding out for themselves – a career .293 OBP will do that to a guy.
Their Very Own Blogoverse Thinks They Suck
When you take the time to draft an entire post, lamenting the things that could go wrong for your club in the upcoming season, you can’t possibly be filled with so much confidence that the team has no option but to win. Hmm. That sounds familiar.
Astros blog the Crawfish Boxes did just that this year, and the intro says it all:
I have been tasked with the responsibility of stepping back and pointing out all the things that could go wrong with the 2010 Astros (no, I haven’t been asked to write for FanGraphs). I’ll be honest: This wasn’t as hard of a task as I’d like to make it out to be-other than emotional strain. There are many pitfalls lining the one hundred and sixty-two game stretch that lies before the Astros. As Robert Burns said, the best laid plans can go awry, and the 2010 Astros are not the result of the best of plans being laid. Much of this has already been discussed this offseason, but never in one concentrated dose.
At the end, before tallying the final damage, the author cautions readers to “hold onto [their] butts.” I say that, too! So it’s not all bad.
The Suckiest Part of Their Suck
Payroll management. Yes, pot meet kettle and all that, but when it comes to profoundly screwing up your financial situation, the Houston Astros are in a class reserved for ineffectual mustache twirling super villains, fiendishly tying the hopes and dreams of their fan base to the train tracks. For what it’s worth, the New York Mets are just one track over.
Hold on to your butts: the 2009 Houston Astros’ payroll was $104 million(!). That was good enough for eighth in baseball – too bad it wasn’t good enough to put a remotely decent team on the field.
Puts Astronomical into perspective.
And in the End
There was a time in the not so distant past that coming up with reasons why the Houston Astros will suck would have proved a difficult proposition. But gone are the days of Biggio and Bagwell and Kent and Clemens and Pettitte. The Astros are an aging, expensive ballclub – not unlike the Cubs. Carlos Lee is set to turn 34 soon, and his salary has exploded to nearly $20 million. Lance Berkman is still a very good hitter, but is not the hitter he once was. And he too is now 34. Even Roy Oswalt, who perpetually seems like a kid, will be turning 33 this season.
The whole team isn’t old, of course, but much of the chunk that isn’t old is inexperienced. They’re hoping a youngster can take over and hold things down both at shortstop AND catcher, the two most important positions on the diamond.
The Astros are a team hoping to have just enough offense and just enough pitching to compete, because neither is a clear strength. The back-end of the rotation is a disaster waiting to happen, and Brett Myers’ last two seasons do little to inspire confidence that he was the addition the rotation needed. The bullpen has seen a complete overhaul, with the departures of Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins and arrivals of Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon. But again, the hope here is adequacy, not excellence.
Could the Astros put it all together and compete? Absolutely. But success for the Astros is as likely to be marked by their ability to achieve at their highest possible level as it is by the failings of the other teams in the Central.
And that is because they suck.