Bo Porter hopes to wear less frowns in 2014. (Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports)

Houston Astros 2014 season preview

Call to the Pen begins its 2014 season previews with the club that sported baseball’s worst record for 2013, the Houston Astros.

Recap of 2013

Record: 51-111, 5th in AL West

The growing pains of a rebuild continued in 2013. New manager Bo Porter endured (that might be an understatement) a season in which Houston posted its worst in club history (.315 WP). Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe recently ranked Porter as baseball’s 26th ranked manager (subscription required).

Key additions:
SP Scott Feldman, CF Dexter Fowler, 1B/OF Jesus Guzman, P Jerome Williams, RP Chad Qualls, RP Matt Albers, RP Jesse Crain, RP Anthony Bass

Key departures

CF Brandon Barnes, SP Jordan Lyles

Payroll

According to Cot’s Contracts, this season’s Houston Astros team currently has $40.8MM committed, but $5.5MM of that is labeled for the Pittsburgh Pirates as a result of the Wandy Rodriguez deal. Houston still has a number of players still under team control, so there won’t be a significant addition unless they dip into the remaining free agent pool or made a significant deal. At this point, the maximum payroll I can see the Astros hitting is $48-50MM range.

Player to watch

Fowler – Some of the questions surrounding Fowler has been how he would perform offensively away from Coors Field. I’m one of the few that are not as concerned about that as others (for some unexplainable reason), but I do want to see how he adapts to running up Tal’s Hill. Why?

Defensively, Fowler has never posted a positive season according to UZR and the last season where his DRS was above 0 was 2010 (2). The now-departed Brandon Barnes had a DRS of 7 and UZR of 4.8 in 2013.

Sure, there are the concerns about the bat away from the thin air, but I feel the configuration of Minute Maid Park is suited for Fowler’s offensive package. Wouldn’t be surprised if he led the AL in triples.

Must improve upon 2013

You could point to many areas or some players (those that are still with the club) and say “he needs to do this”, but one area that will help is improving their defense. Kind of strange that I say that after talking about how Fowler could be a downgrade in comparison to Barnes, but Houston’s defense last season was pretty awful. They ranked 24th in DRS (-43) and 28th in UZR (-61.7).

I could talk about the bats as a whole as well, but if the top of the order (Fowler, Jose Altuve and Jason Castro) can keep it together, that should work itself out to some extent.

Regression candidate

Castro – and it pains me to say that because there’s everything to love about Castro and his game. He didn’t only breakout even more last season, he splintered the complete freakin’ door. Are we to expect another offensive season like the one he displayed in 2013 (.276/.350/.485, 18 HR, 56 RBI)? Astros fans hope this is the case. I’m not so hopeful.

For 2014…

Can the Houston Astros realistically break the string of three consecutive seasons with 100+ losses?

Many would most likely laugh at you if you suggest it’s even possible…unless you happen to be a member of this club. After undergoing a complete rebuild, it’s time for this organization to step up its game and start to see positive returns in the win column. We’ve applauded the moves the organization has made over the past three years (according to MLB Depth Charts, 22 players on their current 40-man roster have been acquired through trades), but fans, even knowing what is transpiring, are wondering when they can see a return on all of these moves.

For the past two seasons, attendance has dipped to levels of the mid 90′s Astros (1,651,883 for last season) and there is, at least for 2014, nothing close to a glimmer of posting a winning season, let alone avoiding another triple-digit loss season.

Only two offensive starters return who posted a OPS+ over 100 (Castro – 130, Chris Carter – 112), but this team also allowed 848 runs last season, so the arms – starters and relievers – are sure to get a workout. Getting Feldman to sit atop the rotation was all right, but you’re expecting him to go against other top arms within the AL West such as Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, and Jered Weaver. Hardly a fair fight.

The bullpen should definitely be better with the additions of Qualls, Crain (when he’s healthy and ready to go), and Albers. The Astros bullpen was the worst in majors last season in terms of bWAR with -5.4 and it wasn’t even close.

The last round of Davenport projections show Houston to post a 2014 record of 67-95, so maybe that’s a positive sign.

Or maybe having Nolan Ryan around will add some pep to their step and get the Houston Astros back on track, but for this season, another 100+ losses cannot be dismissed even though there are those that believe that string will end.

Check out Houston ticket broker MyTicketIn for Astros tickets to Spring Training or the regular season!

Tags: AL West Houston Astros MLB

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