November 2010

Astros face arbitration decisions

UPDATE: The Astros signed Humberto Quintero to a one-year, $1 million deal Tuesday, and I’ve updated this entry accordingly…

Thursday is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to players who are eligible for arbitration. For the Astros, the list of players eligible for arbitration goes seven deep: pitchers Wandy Rodriguez, Nelson Figueroa and Matt Lindstrom, infielders Clint Barmes and Jeff Keppinger and outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence.

With Rodriguez, Bourn and Pence leading the way – they made a combined $10.9 million in 2010 – the Astros are going to have to commit a sizable amount of their 2011 payroll to arbitration-eligible players. Of course, the club could choose to non-tender some of these players and save money, and last week they outrighted left-handers Tim Byrdak and Gustavo Chacin, who were heading for arbitration.

Last year, the Astros wound up paying out $16.84 million to eight arbitration-eligible players. Rodriguez was the only player to wind up going to an arbitration hearing. He was asking for $7 million and the club won the hearing and had to pay him $5 million.

Here’s a closer look at each of the Astros’ seven arbitration-eligible players and what the chances are of the club tendering a contract:

LHP Wandy Rodriguez
2010 stats: 11-12, 3.60 ERA, 32 starts.
2010 salary: $5 million.
Can become free agent: 2012.
Tender prediction: Likely.
Analysis: I really can’t envision a scenario in which the Astros wouldn’t tender him a contract, even though he’s due another hefty raise. He was their best pitcher in 2009 and had a terrific second half in 2010. Heading into free agency, it would behoove Rodriguez to put it all together for next season and repeat what he did in 2009. Good starting pitching isn’t cheap, and the Astros hope they get what they pay for in 2011.

RHP Nelson Figueroa 
2010 stats: 7-4, 3.29 ERA in 31 games (11 starts); 5-3, 3.22 ERA in 18 games (10 starts) for Astros.
2010 salary: $416,000.
Can become free agent: 2014.
Tender prediction: Likely.
Analysis: Figueroa is 36 and just now reaching arbitration, so he’s still not making much money in the baseball world. And he had a pretty good season for the Astros in 2010 after they picked him up off waivers, which is why it would make sense to tender him. He’s a solid clubhouse citizen and could compete for a spot in the rotation or give them a steady option in long relief.

RHP Matt Lindstrom
2010 stats
: 2-5, 4.39 ERA, 23 saves, 58 games.
2010 salary: $1.62 million.
Can become free agent: 2013.
Tender prediction: Likely.
Analysis: Lindstrom had an up-and-down first season in Houston, and he really struggled in the second half when his back issues began to mess with his delivery. When he was healthy, he was a pretty solid closer. He’s still relatively inexpensive when you consider his age (30) and his stuff, and I doubt the Astros would give up on him after one rocky half of a season.

IF Clint Barmes
2010 stats
: .235/.305/.351, 8 HRs, 50 RBIs (with Colorado).
2010 salary: $3.325 million.
Can become free agent: 2012.
Tender prediction: Definitely.
Analysis: The Astros landed Barmes in a trade with the Rockies on Nov. 18 in exchange for Felipe Paulino. He’s likely going to be their starting shortstop next season and will be playing for a contract because he’s a free agent after next year. Considering the offensive shortcomings the Astros had at shortstop last season, paying around $4 million for Barmes for one year isn’t a bad deal.

2B Jeff Keppinger
2010 stats
: .288/.351/.393, 6 HRs, 59 RBIs, 34 2Bs.
2010 salary: $1.15 million.
Can become free agent: 2013.
Tender prediction: Definitely.
Analysis: Keppinger is coming off a career season in which he was the Astros’ starting second baseman for most of the season. There’s still a chance the Astros could acquire a second baseman with more pop and better range and return Keppinger to a reserve role, but he’s too much of a steady hand not to want back on the roster. He rarely strikes out or gets into prolonged slumps and had a pretty good on-base percentage a year ago.

CF Michael Bourn
2010 stats
: .265/.341/.346, 3 HRs, 25 RBIs, 52 SBs.
2010 salary: $2.4 million.
Can become free agent: 2013.
Tender prediction: Definitely.
Analysis: Bourn didn’t quite have the breakout season on offense in 2010 that he enjoyed in 2009, but he made the All-Star team, won his second Gold Glove and led the league in stolen bases. He was up and down on offense, but finished the season with a flourish at the plate before a strained oblique injury cost him the final two weeks of the season.

RF Hunter Pence
2010 stats
: .282/.325/.461, 25 HRs, 91 RBIs, 18 SBs.
2010 salary: $3.5 million.
Can become free agent: 2014.
Tender prediction: Definitely.
Analysis: He’s coming of a career season in which he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player after tying career high with 25 homers and setting career high with 91 RBIs. This is Pence’s second year in arbitration eligibility and he’ll still have two years remaining after 2011, so he’s under the Astros’ control for three more years at least. He’s going to get a nice raise in 2011, but he’s earned it.
 

A closer look at Bagwell HOF candidacy

Jeff Bagwell is one of those players who probably should be in the Hall of Fame, but his case is certainly one that will be heavily debated. Bagwell was one a handful of new players on the ballot for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will now have to wait until Jan. 5 to find out if his name is called.

Bagwell probably would have been a slam-dunk to make the Hall of Fame had he reached 500 home runs. He fell just 51 shy of that mark when a degenerative shoulder ended his career early, but his numbers across the board appear Hall of Fame worthy. Sure, there will be those who will hold it against him that he played in era when many sluggers were under the suspicion of performance-enhancing drugs, but Bagwell has been clean of any allegations. There’s no reason to believe he didn’t do everything the right way.

Those same voters who are inclined to take into account such intangibles should remember Bagwell played most of his career in the cavernous Astrodome, which surely took several home runs away from him. And if you look beyond the gaudy numbers, the voters should remember Bagwell was a terrific defensive player and base runner. 

During Bagwell’s 15 seasons, the Astros had their most successful run in franchise history, qualifying for the postseason six times while finishing at .500 or above 13 times. The Astros had the third-best winning percentage (.531) in the NL from 1991-2005.

In 1994, Bagwell became just the third player in history to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award by a unanimous vote after hitting .368 with 39 home runs, 116 RBIs, a .750 slugging percentage, .451 on-base percentage and a career-high 1.201 OPS.

Bagwell was a four-time All-Star, earned three Silver Slugger Awards, a Rawlings Gold Glove Award and remains as the only first baseman in NL history to reach the 30-30 club in home runs and stolen bases in a season, which he did twice in his career.

Here are more Bagwell stats, courtesy of the Astros: 

HOW BAGWELL MEASURES UP ALL-TIME

  • .948 career OPS ranks 22nd in Major League history and 10th among right-handed hitters. Four of the nine right-handed hitters ranked ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, while four others are not yet eligible for induction.
  • .408 career on-base percentage ranks 15th all-time among right-handed hitters and ninth all-time among first basemen (3rd among RH first basemen).
  • is one of just 12 players in baseball history to hit at least 400 home runs while compiling a .408-or-higher onbase percentage.
  • is the only first baseman in NL history to reach the 30-30 club in home runs and stolen bases, and the only first baseman in ML history to reach this milestone twice in a career.
  • is the just the eighth player in ML history to win both the Rookie of the Year (1991) and Most Valuable Player (1994) awards.
  • is the only first baseman in ML history and one of 12 players all-time to reach 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases.
  • is one of five players in history to collect 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001). Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols are the others.
  • is the only player in history to record 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored and 100 walks in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001).
  • .297 career average ranks 18th all-time among players with 400 home runs, and 10th all-time among righthanded hitters with 400 home runs.

AMONG HIS PEERS (1991-2005)

  • 1,529 RBIs ranked second in the Majors and first among right-handed hitters.
  • 1,517 runs scored ranked third in the Majors.
  • ranked third in the Majors in hits (2,314), walks (1,401) and extra-base hits (969).
  • ranked fifth in the Majors in home runs (449) and games played (2,150).
  • reached 100 RBI eight times, 100 runs scored nine times, 30 home runs eight times, 100 walks seven times, 1.000 OPS four times, .300 batting average six times.
  • finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting five times.

SOLID DECADE

  • from 1994-2003, led all first basemen in hits, runs, walks, extra-base hits, doubles and stolen bases, ranked second in games and RBIs and third in home runs.

Wade explains Astros roster moves

With the deadline to tender contracts to players eligible for salary approaching quickly approaching, the Astros on Wednesday outrighted left-handers Tim Byrdak and Gustavo Chacin, removing them from the 40-man roster.

The Astros also outrighted right-handed Minor League pitcher Matt Nevarez, who will be placed on the roster at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and signed catcher Carlos Corporan to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Byrdak and Chacin can elect to become free agents. The moves leaves the Astros’ 40-man roster at 37.

“Basically, these moves were economically driven,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said. “We’re trying to get our payroll numbers where they need to be, and with 10 arbitration-eligible players we had to pick and choose amongst those guys.

“In the case of Byrdak and Chacin, they weren’t easy decisions to make, but we felt with the arbitration status that it was a direction we had to go in. I spoke to Tim [on Wednesday] and indicated to him that he should go ahead and see what might be available, but we can continue to have dialogue.”

Byrdak made $1.6 million last season and would have seen his salary rise to around $2 million in arbitration, which is a hefty price for a left-handed specialist. Byrdak, 37, went 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA in 64 games for the Astros last season, holding lefties to a .213 batting average.

Left-hander Fernando Abad, who had a 2.84 ERA in 22 appearances in his rookie season in 2010, is in the mix to assume the role of lefty specialist, though there are some in the organization that envision him as a possible starter. Wade will continue to explore other options via free agency or trade as well.

“Fernando’s role and where he ends up will be determined when we go to Spring Training,” Wade said. “We have a lot of time between now and then to try to figure out what we want to do from the left side. We still have Wesley Wright, and we’ve expressed interest in other left-handers that might be out there and fit what we’re trying to do.”

Chacin, 30, went 2-2 with a 4.70 ERA in 44 appearances with the Astros last season after signing as a Minor League free agent. Nevarez, 23, spent last season at Double-A Corpus Christ, where he was 2-1 with one save and a 3.76 ERA in 36 games. He’s now eligible to be taken in next month’s Rule 5 Draft.

The moves leave the Astros with eight remaining arbitration-eligible players ahead of the Dec. 2 deadline to tender contracts to those players: pitchers Wandy Rodriguez, Nelson Figueroa and Matt Lindstrom, infielders Clint Barmes and Jeff Keppinger, catcher Humberto Quintero and outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence.

“The time and circumstances made sense for us to go ahead and create roster space prior to the tender deadline,” Wade said.

Corporan, 26, played for Triple-A Reno in the Arizona organization last season and hit .290 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs. The switch-hitting catcher hit .342 against lefties, while appearing in 87 games in 2010, including 78 behind the plate.

A native of Puerto Rico, Corporan is currently playing for Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he is hitting .279 with 10 RBIs in 17 games. Corporan becomes the club’s ninth non-roster invitee.

“Our scouts had good reports on him,” Wade said. “He has pretty good numbers, and he gives us that protection at Triple-A if something were to occur at the big-league level.”

Wade: Business as usual despite impending sale

Astros general manager Ed Wade said Friday the impending sale of the club won’t have any effect on what moves he plans to make this offseason. Owner Drayton McLane announced at a press conference Friday he would begin taking offers to sell the team.

The Astros made their first significant move of the winter Thursday by trading pitcher Felipe Paulino to the Rockies for infielder Clint Barmes, who appears to be penciled in as their starting shortstop. Wade said Friday the club still has some payroll flexibility, and the Astros would still like to add a starting pitcher, a left-handed hitting outfielder and perhaps another infielder.

“We’ll continue doing what we can to improve our club and take the next step of we can,” Wade said. “Every club has a budget, and we know what our budget is and we’ll work within the confines of that. I clearly understand why we have a budget. You’ve got to work within your means and it’s got to be reflective of what your revenues are. Talking to Drayton and [president of business operations] Pam Gardner and [president of baseball operations] Tal [Smith], it’s clear that what we have to spend fits the revenue we’ve got. We still have to make smart decisions.”

The Astros began last season with a $93 million payroll, but that had been cut dramatically by September following the trades of Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Pedro Feliz. Next year’s payroll likely won’t be as high as last season’s Opening Day figure, but it should be higher from where it was at the end of the season despite having $43 million committed to contracts in 2011 and having 11 arbitration-eligible players, including Barmes ($3.3 million in 2010).

“It’s only November,” Wade said. “We don’t open Spring Training until the 16th of February, so we have a lot of times to do things. Before we roll back in here to play the Red Sox in those two exhibition games, I suspect we’ll do a few more things.”

Astros fill infield need, acquire Barmes

 The Astros made their first significant move of the offseason, acquiring infielder Clint Barmes from the Colorado Rockies on Thursday in exchange for right-handed pitcher Felipe Paulino.

Barmes, 31, has appeared in 665 games in his five-plus seasons in the Major Leagues, splitting time mostly between shortstop and second base. He hit .235 in 133 games in 2010 with 21 doubles, eight home runs and 50 RBIs.

Barmes started 69 games at second base and 39 games at shortstop this past season. He started 32 of 33 games at shortstop while Troy Tulowitski was on the 15-day disabled List, hitting .284 in that span with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

Barmes’ most productive season came in 2009 when he hit 23 home runs with 32 doubles and 76 RBI in 154 games as the Rockies everyday second baseman. His home run total ranked third in the NL for second basemen.

One of the goals for Astros general manager Ed Wade this offseason was adding some offensive punch in the middle infield.

“We’re excited to add Clint to our club,” Wade said. “He’s a plus defensive player at two positions, has gap and some home run power and has great makeup. It’s tough to give up a power arm like Felipe’s, but Clint fits a need that we had to address.”

Barmes has a .254 career average in 665 games with 61 home runs and 285 RBIs. He’s appeared in 333 games at shortstop and 306 games at second base. Barmes was the Rockies’ Opening Day shortstop in both 2005 and 2006. In 2009, he became one of just three middle infielders in Rockies history to tally 50-or-more extra-base hits. His 126 RBIs since 2009 rank fourth among NL second basemen.

Paulino, 27, was 1-9 in 19 appearances (14 starts) for the Astros in 2010 with a 5.11 ERA. For his Major League career, all with Houston, he posted a 6-21 mark in 47 appearances with a 5.83 ERA. Paulino had been in the Astros organization since signing as a non-drafted free agent on July 2, 2001.

DeFrancesco named Oklahoma City manager

Tony DeFrancesco, who has won three Pacific Coast League championships as a manager and served as a Major League coach with the Oakland Athletics, will join the Astros organization as manager of the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks in 2011.

DeFrancesco guided the Sacramento River Cats to the 2010 PCL Pacific Conference Southern Division title with a record of 79-65. In seven seasons as manager with Sacramento, his teams won six division titles and league championships in 2003, ’04, and ’07.

Former Major League All-Star Burt Hooten  keeps his same role and will serve as the RedHawks pitching coach in 2011. Same with Keith Bodie, a veteran of more than 30 years in professional baseball, who will be the RedHawks hitting coach. Mike Freer will serve as trainer.

The 2011 season will be the 17th year as a manager for DeFrancesco. He brings a career record of 1100-953 (.536) to Oklahama City since beginning his career as a manager in 1994. His teams have qualified for the playoffs eight times and have won division titles in each of his last three seasons as manager. He spent the 2008 season as Oakland’s third base coach.

DeFrancesco was originally signed by the Boston Red Sox after being selected in the 1984 draft out of Seton Hall University. A catcher during his playing days, he spent eight years in the Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds organizations before retiring as a player to enter the coaching ranks. All 19 previous years of his career as a manager, coach, or instructor in professional baseball have come in the Oakland organization.

Hooten, the Most Valuable Player of the 1981 National League Championship Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has spent the last six seasons as the pitching coach of the Round Rock Express in the PCL. He was the Astros’ Major League pitching coach for parts of five seasons from 2000-’04. He previously served as the pitching coach for four seasons at his alma mater, the University of Texas.

Hooten spent 15 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and Texas Rangers, posting a career record of 151-136. His best seasons came in 1978, when he went 19-10 for the Dodgers and finished second in the N.L. Cy Young Award voting, and 1981, when he was selected to play in the All-Star Game and finished third in the league in ERA. Hooten won at least 18 games three times and won four World Series games.

Bodie enters his fourth season in the Astros organization and 36th year in professional baseball in 2011 as the RedHawks hitting coach. He began his career as a player in the New York Mets organization in 1974 after being drafted out of South Shore High School in Brooklyn, New York. He spent six years with the Mets, then three years in the Astros organization before retiring as a player in 1982. He accepted a coaching position in the Astros organization in 1983 and began serving as a manager in 1986.

In 14 years as a Minor League manager with the Astros, Giants, Mariners, Royals, and Nationals organizations, Bodie’s clubs have won seven division titles. He has also served as the Minor League hitting coordinator for the Giants and has worked as an outfield/baserunning instructor for the Royals. Bodie was the hitting coach at Round Rock in 2010.

Astros position breakdown: relief pitching

Here it is: the eighth and final installment of the Astros’ position-by-position breakdown. Today we’ll take a look at relief pitching, which general manager Ed Wade says is one of the strengths of the team. Before we get to the bullpen, here are the links to the previous seven entries in the series (click on the desired position to view the entry): catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield, starting pitcher.

RELIEF PITCHING

2010 bullpen to begin season: Brian Moehler, Jeff Fulchino, Sammy Gervacio, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak, Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon.

2010 end-of-season bullpen: Fernando Abad, Tim Byrdak, Gustavo Chacin, Enerio Del Rosario, Jeff Fulchino, Matt Lindstrom, Wilton Lopez, Brandon Lyon, Mark Melancon, Felipe Paulino, Henry Villar and Wesley Wright.

Others who made an appearance: Nelson Figueroa, Brian Moehler, Casey Daigle, Gary Majewski, Kevin Cash.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros relief pitchers: 24-23 record, 45 saves in 60 opportunities, 4.49 ERA (ranked 13th in the NL).

Free agents: None.

Arbitration eligible: LHP Tim Byrdak, LHP Gustavo Chacin, RHP Matt Lindstrom, RHP Felipe Paulino.

What happened: The Astros traded for hard-throwing Matt Lindstrom last December and plunked down $15 million on a three-year contract for Brandon Lyon to bolster the back end of the bullpen after losing both Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins to free agency. Lyon developed a cyst in his shoulder and was behind all spring, opening the door for Lindstrom to win the closer’s job.

Lindstrom got off to a terrific start, posting a 1.40 ERA in his first 19 appearances and going 10-for-10 in save opportunities. He blew three saves and posted a 5.23 ERA in June and began battling back spasms that eventually cost him the closer’s job and forced him to the disabled list in August.  Lyon took over as closer in early August and finished with 20 saves in 22 chances and a 3.12 ERA.

Lindstrom, who led the team with 23 saves, and Lyon became the first set of teammates to save at least 20 games in the same season since the 1992 Cincinnati Reds.

Wilton Lopez, who the Astros acquired on a waiver claim in 2009, took on an important role in the back of the bullpen and wound up pitching in 68 games and posted a 2.96 ERA. The Astros also got good mileage out of lefty Tim Byrdak and right-hander Jeff Fulchino, who battled injuries and wasn’t as sharp as he was in 2009. Fan favorite Chris Sampson had a good first half and was eventually sent to the Minors after some struggles and designated for assignment. Alberto Arias, who was injured in Spring Training, and Sammy Gervacio were quickly shut down because of shoulder troubles.

As the year progressed, the Astros got a good look at right-handers Henry Villar and Mark Melancon, who was acquired from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade.

What’s next: Astros general manager Ed Wade doesn’t plan to do much to the bullpen in the offseason and sees it as one of the strengths of the club. Lyon and Lindstrom will once again compete for the closer’s job in the spring, though both could again wind up finishing off games at some point. The Astros like what Lopez brings to the back end of the bullpen and envision Melancon as a future late-game reliever.

Arias, who had surgery for rotator cuff impingement, could be in the picture next year along with Gervacio, who missed most of the year with rotator cuff inflammation. Gervacio had mixed results in the Minors but showed some good flashes with the Minor Leagues. Fernando Abad had a good Major League debut in his 22 appearances and will be a left-handed option, along with Wesley Wright.

Who’s on the farm: Left-hander Douglas Arguello, the pitcher of the year at Double-A Corpus Christi, will be in spring camp next year competing for a job. Abad and Villar, both of whom came up late in the season, could lead the next wave of youngsters in the pen. Don’t forget Chia-Jen Lo, who missed much of last year with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.

Astros position breakdown: starting pitcher

Here is the second-to-last installment of our Astros’ position-by-position breakdown. The Astros had a decent starting rotation last year, with the ability to be pretty good next season. Here’s a look at the starting staff:

STARTING PITCHING

2010 rotation to begin season: Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino.

2010 end-of-season rotation: Brett Myers, Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, Wandy Rodriguez, Nelson Figueroa.

Others who made a start: Felipe Paulino, Brian Moehler, Wesley Wright, Josh Banks.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros starting pitchers: 52-63, 3.90 ERA (seventh-best in NL), 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 857 strikeouts (second in NL), 380 walks (most in NL).

Free agents: Brian Moehler.

Arbitration eligible: Wandy Rodriguez, Nelson Figueroa, Felipe Paulino.

What happened: The Astros signed Brett Myers late last winter to help legitimize a rotation that included Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino. Oswalt got off to a strong start, but once again suffered poor run support and began grumbling about wanting to be traded, which he eventually was. Rodriguez, coming off a breakout season, stumbled badly out of the gate as the losses piled up for the Astros. Norris got better as the season progressed and finished strong, and Paulino had a brief stretch of dominance before an injury ended his season.

Oswalt made 20 starts with the Astros before being traded and was 6-12, but had a respectable 3.42 ERA. With the team slipping out of contention, he told the Astros in May he wanted to be traded. The club granted his wish in July and sent him to the Phillies in a blockbuster deal in which the team got J.A. Happ in return. Oswalt, who finished one win shy of tying Joe Niekro’s club record, was terrific in Philadelphia, going 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 12 starts.

Rodriguez, the team’s Pitcher of the Year in 2009, was terrible to begin the season. He went 3-10 with a 6.09 ERA in his first 14 starts (the team was 4-10 in those starts) before rallying in the second half. He went 8-2 in his final 18 starts and posted a 2.03 ERA, which was the second-best NL in the ERA in that span. He finished the season with 13 consecutive quality starts, the fourth-longest such streak in franchise history, to finish 11-13 with a 3.60 ERA.

Myers, who signed for a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $5.1 million, proved to be one of the best free-agent signings of the season. He went 14-8 with a 3.14 ERA and pitched a career-high 223 2/3 innings, leading the team in wins and ERA by a starter. Myers threw at least six innings in his first 32 starts of the season before coming up one out shy of being able to make it 33-for-33 in his final start of the year. He parlayed the strong season into a three-year contract extension.

Norris, who had only 10 starts under his belt beginning the year, stayed in the rotation all season, missing about a month in June with bursitis and biceps tendinitis. He was 2-7 with a 6.08 ERA in his first 14 starts of the year. He was 7-3 with a 3.84 ERA in his final 14 starts to finish 9-10 with a 4.92 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 153 2/3 innings pitched. He struck out a Minute Maid Park-record 14 against the Pirates on Aug. 14.

Paulino didn’t win a game until his 11th start of the season. He was 0-7 with a 4.40 ERA in his first 10 starts and was the victim of poor run support. He finally broke through June 4 against the Cubs, allowing one run in eight innings. In a five-start stretch from May 19-June 9, he was 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA. Paulino went on the DL on June 21 and missed nearly three months with right shoulder tendinitis. He made five relief appearances in September and wound up finishing 1-9 with a 5.11 ERA in 19 games (14 starts).

Happ, acquired in the Oswalt trade, made 13 starts for the Astros and was 5-4 with a 3.75 ERA. He was winless in his final five starts, going 0-2 with a 4.81 ERA.

The Astros claimed Nelson Figueroa off waivers in the middle of the season and he wound up in the rotation, going 5-3 with a 5.22 ERA in 18 games, including 4-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 10 starts. Veteran Brian Moehler made eight starts for the Astros (and 12 relief appearances) before his season ended in early July with a left groin strain that eventually required surgery. Left-hander Wesley Wright made four starts, and Josh Banks came up from the Minor Leagues to make one start.

What’s next: The Astros are content with the top of their rotation, especially if Myers pitches like he did last season and Rodriguez continues his second-half dominance. Happ is a steady left-hander who should be able to eat up innings and keep the Astros in games if he remains healthy. The Astros were pleased with the progress of Norris and are content with him opening next season as their No. 4 starter.

The biggest question is who’s going to be the fifth starter? Paulino and Figueroa will be given a look, unless the Astros are able to acquire another pitcher in the offseason. The Astros will try to sign a low-cost veteran like they did last offseason with Myers and hope they have similar results. If not, Paulino, Figueroa and prospect Jordan Lyles will battle for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Who’s on the farm: Lyles, the team’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season, is only 19 and has a world of potential. He posted a 7-12 record and a 3.57 ERA in 27 games, 26 starts, between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Lyles spent the majority of his season with Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 7-9 record and a 3.12 ERA in 21 games, 20 starts. Douglas Arguello (7-5, 2.55 ERA) had a solid season at Double-A Corpus Christi. Kyle Greenwalt (8-7, 5.93 ERA), Brad Dydalewicz (1-6, 11.39 ERA), Dallas Keuchel (5-8, 3.36 ERA) and Ross Seaton (6-13, 6.64 ERA) had varying degrees of success at Double-A. Mike Foltynewicz, a first-round pick this year, and right-hander Tanner Bushue have world of potential, but aren’t quite ready yet.

 

Bourn wins second Gold Glove

Michael Bourn still has a way to go before he can be considered the greatest defensive outfielder to wear an Astros uniform, but he’s put himself in select company when it was announced Wednesday he had won his second consecutive National League Rawlings Gold Glove.

Bourn is only the fifth player in club history to win multiple Gold Gloves, joining third baseman Doug Rader, outfielder Cesar Cedeno, second baseman Craig Biggio and catcher Brad Ausmus. Bourn and Cedeno (1972-76) are the only Astros outfielders to win a Gold Glove.

“Michael’s second Gold Glove comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched him play,” general manager Ed Wade said. “You see the ball leave the bat, and you say, ‘No way that one gets caught,’ and then Michael runs it down. Some guys make plays look tougher than they are. Michael makes the impossible catch look routine. It’s nice to see his hard work get recognized.”

The speedster was all over center field at Minute Maid Park this season, running downs balls in gaps, charging towards the infield and making diving catches and scaling Tal’s Hill center. He also had eight outfield assists, which were tied for third in the NL among center fielders.

Bourn had a bushel of terrific catchers last season, perhaps none better than his long running catch in the fourth inning of a July 7 game against the Pirates. Bourn’s personal favorite was his over-the-shoulder catch at the Brewers on June 29, which robbed Jim Edmonds of a hit.

“There is no one more deserving than Michael,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “Our fans get an opportunity to watch him each and every day, which is special. It’s so nice that he’s being recognized by the rest of the baseball world as well.”

Bourn, 27, posted a .992 fielding percentage in 2010, making just three errors in 370 total chances. Last week, Bourn was also recognized for his defensive excellence when he was named one of nine winners of the 2010 Fielding Bible Awards, which are selected annually by a panel of 10 baseball experts, including MLB.com’s Peter Gammons and Bill James.

The Rawlings Gold Glove Awards are voted on by National and American League managers and coaches, who are responsible for selecting the winners of their league prior to the conclusion of the regular season. Rawlings has been awarding Gold Gloves since 1957. 

Will Bourn will his second Gold Glove?

The Rawlings Gold Glove winners for the National League will be announced at 2:30 p.m. CT today and I’d be shocked if Astros center fielder Michael Bourn didn’t win his second award in a row. Bourn did nothing to warrant not getting the award again after he ran all over Minute Maid Park and routinely made highlight-reel catches.

“Winning the first one is the hardest,” Bourn told me earlier this year.

I asked Bourn late in the season what he thought was his best catch of the season and he offered his twisting, over-the-shoulder catch against the Brewers on June 29 to rob Jim Edmonds. Watch it by clicking here.

My favorite is this long running catch against the Pirates on July 7. Click here to watch.

Those are just two of a long list of great catches made by Bourn this season — plays that should give him his second Gold Glove. 

Here is a list of previous Astros Gold Glove winners:

Cesar Cedeno, CF, 1972-76 (5)

Doug Rader, 3B, 1970-74 (5)

Craig Biggio, 2B, 1994-97 (4)

Brad Ausmus, C, 2001, 2002, 2006 (3)

Roger Metzger, SS, 1973 (1)

Jeff Bagwell, 1B, 1994 (1)

Michael Bourn, CF, 2009 (1)

 

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