Was Jim Crane Sending a Message to the Astros?
Jim Crane, the Houston Astros owner, is optimistic about 2015. Last week, the Houston Chronicle’s Jose de Jesus Ortiz reported that Mr. Crane’s goal for this season is to make the playoffs.
Mar 8, 2014; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros owner Jim Crane before the Astros play the New York Yankees in a spring training exhibition game at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
"I think this team has an opportunity to get to the playoffs. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’re working for, and we’re expecting them to get there. -Jim Crane"
Realistically, the Astros roster is improved over last season. The additions of Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena should markedly improve the left side of the infield. Evan Gattis should provide a jolt at either first base or in left field. And Colby Rasmus provides more power than Dexter Fowler did in the OF.
When comparing the 2014 WAR of the incoming players to the guys they replaced (assuming Gattis is at first and Jake Marisnick is in the outfield), there is a +7.6 swing.
Then there is the upgraded bullpen with Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson (and possibly Jose Veras). Houston was next to last in the MLB last year with a 54% save percentage. If the 2014 bullpen had been merely average (69% in the AL), the Astros would have had 8 additional saves, translating to an 80-82 record.
Therefore, every indication points to the team improving in 2015, despite the fact that Jeff Luhnow has stood pat with the starting rotation (which was better than expected in 2014).
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But herein lies the issue: the AL West is tough. The Angels are still the team to beat and they have the best roster, top to bottom, of any other team in the division. The Mariners barely missed the postseason last year and they responded by adding Nelson Cruz. The A’s seem to have turned over every position on their roster, and while the fans and bloggers are optimistic, the critics are not so sure. And then there’s the Rangers who hope their injured stars will have a bounce back year. It is not going to be easy.
The Astros should finish better than the Rangers, and they may top the A’s, as well, for a third place finish. And the Hinchmen certainly have the potential to be the surprise team of 2015.
So with good reason, Mr. Crane is optimistic about this season as he believes “the process” is working. It also sounds like his team has been put on notice: the front office is expecting big things, so go big or go home.