Are the Astros Really in Rebuild Mode

Trevor brought the optimism yesterday with his great post, so I will go in a slightly different direction today. Are the Houston Astros really in a full on rebuilding mode, or is Ed Wade sacrificing future development of younger players for a few more wins this year in order to campaign for retaining his job next year. Ever since some of the important roster decisions started falling into place, and even dating back to the offseason I have wondered which direction the team is headed in. One minute Wade seems committed to rebuilding, and the next he seems to be trading away a player with upside for a veteran with little upside. There have been three key moves made since the start of the offseason to now that adds uncertainty as to just what the direction of this team is.

1.)    Why did the Astros trade for Clint Barmes?

I understand that after all the uncertainty the Astros had at shortstop last year that Ed Wade would want to have a proven player at shortstop. The problem that I have with the Felipe Paulino for Clint Barmes trade is that we gave up a younger player that still possessed a decent amount of upside for what is essentially considered as a platoon player. Paulino’s time in Houston left a lot to be desired, but the one thing he showed throughout his tenure was promise if he could ever put everything together. Even with Paulino’s injury history and shortcomings on the mound for the Astros, he did have trade value this year. If Ed Wade would have been able to couple a trade of Paulino and Matt Lindstrom, which was widely viewed as a salary dump, with a utility player like maybe Oswaldo Navarro, then the Astros had a chance to land a decent shortstop for a couple of years to build around. The biggest problem I see with the Clint Barmes deal is that the Astros do not have talent at the shortstop position close to major league ready. Bringing in Barmes for 1 year does not resolve the problem, but postpones it.

2.)    Why wasn’t Aneury Rodriguez given more of a chance to earn a starting spot this spring?

I will start this out by saying that I have nothing against Nelson Figueroa and also agree that at this stage he is a better starting option this year than Rodriguez. My complaint with this decision is not so much 2011 as it is with the future of the team. If the Astros were truly going through a rebuilding period then wouldn’t you want to give that job to Rodriguez who brings a significant amount of future upside to the club, versus Figueroa who could potentially bring no value to the Astros after this season. This move makes since if the Astros were going to be contending this year, but conventional wisdom would tell you that as much as I hate to say it they probably have 2 or 3 years until this is the case.

The Astros will more than likely want to hold onto Rodriguez, and therefore will probably stick him in the bullpen this season. By doing this, not only are you keeping Rodriguez from starting the learning curb this season, but you are in turn keeping him out of the rotation next year as well because he would need to build back up his innings count. Rookie starters are prone to struggles and road blocks; see Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris, until they put it all together. It would seem like they should start that process now with Rodriguez, and then have the potential of Lyles, Rodriguez, and Abad putting it all together at the same time in the next couple of years.

3.)    Why is Fernando Abad still being considered for a bullpen role this year?

 Fernando Abad had a terrific end to last year in the Astros bullpen. He added to that this offseason with his performance in winter league ball. That success has not carried over to this spring. Abad has had an ERA over 10.00 all spring, and had another bad day today. What’s surprising is that he is still being considered for one of the lefty roles in the bullpen this year. It would seem like the Astros would be better served by putting him in Oklahoma City and see if he can get back on track first and foremost. If so, then they might as well try and continue his conversion to a starter. His innings count would need to be built up before he would be able to start in the majors, and that will not happen in the bullpen. With Gustavo Chacin having decent but not outstanding success in the bullpen last year, the Astros could be better served using Chacin and The Hyphen as their left-handed arms coming out of the pen. This would allow them to keep an eye towards the future with guys like Fernando Abad.

 You have to wonder how much the uncertainty of the sale of the team and new ownership has on the way Ed Wade has shaped his roster to this point. Just when it seemed like Wade was able to get Drayton to fully commit to the rebuilding process, it seems like Wade is now the one having a problem committing to the process. Do you think that some of the roster decisions Ed Wade has made so far has been affected by the uncertainty that new ownership brings?

Topics: Aneury Rodriguez, Fernando Abad, J.B. Shuck, Jason Bourgeois, Nelson Figueroa

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  • http://greg-thurston.blogspot.com Greg Thurston

    This is a great piece, Jesse. I totally agree with your take on the Paulino for Barmes deal. As for Aneury Rodriguez, if he makes the opening day roster, I assume he will fill the role of mop-up man. This will give him the opportunity to pitch in long relief outings so he will be ready to fill in for any injured starter.

    • Jesse Pawalowski

      Thanks. The more I think about it now, if the Astros decide to keep Aneury Rodriguez then starting him out in the bullpen is an easier way to break the rookie in at the major league level. Several starting pitchers have adjusted in the bullpen first before making the transition to the rotation.
      Another point that I overlooked in that situation is the number of innings hepitched between the season and winter ball last year. Giving him an extended rest from starter innings to start the season could help protect him against injury. Here’s hoping the Astros keep him on the 25-man roster all season this year.

  • vida311

    About the Barmes situation…
    Wade probably gave up on Paulino. Sure everyone would like to ride out the rough patch with a prospect that they’ve been monitoring for a while. But the injuries slowing him down, and Wade probably figured he would try to get something for him.

    Obviously, Barmes is no top prospect haha, but he does bring that leadership. Worst case scenario, Barmes is your starting short stop (which is not really bad). Best case scenario you have Barmes push the rest of the young shortstop candidates, which creates a interesting competition; Barmes ends up being a solid utility man if someone else wins the job. I’m assuming from what I’ve read that no one has stepped up, so we end up with the “worst case scenario”.

    When an MLB team is rebuilding, it is ideal to sprinkle some veteran leadership throughout your roster. Of course we would like veterans who could put the team on their shoulders and win games now(i.e. Rollins, Helton, Hunter, etc.) but that rarely happens unless an organization is holding onto their star or “franchise”. But usually a team ends up getting a roleplayer, filler, or utility player as that veteran player. So this Barmes and even the Hall acquisitions are not moves symbolizing a move away from rebuilding. I believe its a move to help ease the transition for some of these young players.

  • Jesse Pawalowski

    I agree that the front office probably gave up on Paulino. I also agree that sometimes you have to sign spare parts to bridge the gap until your farm system can produce talent. I just think that since the team didn’t get much in return for Lindstrom, that they should have packaged the two and get a better shortstop. Bartlett who was traded from the Rays to the Padded this offseason immediately comes to mind.

    • Jesse Pawalowski

      Meant to say Padres not padded

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