Sitting at 29-42 in the National League Central, five games ahead of last place Chicago and four games behind fourth place Milwaukee, the Houston Astros are at two diverging roads without any of Frost’s ambiance. The question facing the franchise as the weeks tick down toward the July trade deadline is whether to unload veterans furiously and make another run at the top overall pick or remain contentiously mediocre with an eye on 2013.
In the bullpen, Brett Myers probably dons new colors in August. He’s posted 16 saves and a 1.157 WHIP moving to the closer’s role and that’s going to entice a contending team to part with prospect sporting a bit of promise in Double-A. Provided a franchise is desperate enough to upgrade their rotation, Wandy Rodriguez seems a likely bet to leave the Bayou City. He’s owed $13 million in 2013 and has a $13 million player option for 2014 if traded so the Astros, if committed to dealing him, figure to absorb perhaps half of that total amount. For Jeff Luhnow, the money isn’t as much of an issue as the return. He’s shown a propensity for winning trades as evidenced last offseason when he fleeced the Boston Red Sox for Jed Lowrie. One of the few offensive bright spots at Minute Maid Park, the 28 year-old shortstop has an .848 OPS, 13 home runs and already has 8 more walks than he had in 2011 in 80 fewer at-bats.
Other spots where the glow is a little shinier for Jim Crane’s new toy:
-Houston agreed to terms with 2012 fourth-round selection, Rio Ruiz. Thought to carry heavy signability concerns, the USC commit receives a $1.85 million bonus to pass on playing for the Trojans. A third baseman oozing with raw power, Ruiz offers some pop to a farm system mostly devoid of it. Should he pan out along with the two other high-profile Astros draft picks, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers, the foundation of Houston’s future might begin stabilizing.
-Someone wearing an Astros uniform must represent the team in Kansas City next month at the All-Star Game. It’s a quirky thing baseball does but like the YMCA, everyone feels a little better if they’re involved. For Houston, the diminutive second baseman still hitting over .300 may earn his first nod at age 22. Jose Altuve hasn’t stopped impressing kids, “he’s my height, dad, why’s he out there?” and hasn’t quit mashing National League pitching.
-Did Houston stumble onto a back-end of the rotation anchor? Dallas Keuchel tossed a complete game yesterday against the Cleveland Indians to post his first Major League win. Scattering six hits and allowing one earned run, it followed a sterling performance last weekend versus the Texas Rangers (five innings, one earned run). It’s too early to expect Keuchel to keep this pace but the seventh-round pick from 2009 has provided manager Brad Mills a reason to give him the ball every fifth day. At 24, if his ceiling is Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros front office would accept that in a heartbeat.