Saturday, February 18, 2012

So open-minded your brains fall out

By now you've probably heard that, in the process of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the franchise, the Astros planned to wear throwback uniforms, including the Colt .45s uni, which of course featured a Colt .45. That's not going to happen, because we live in a society full of weak-minded people who just might see a gun on a throwback uni and decide to go on a blood-soaked rampage.

In a response to Astros Daily, Astros rep Mike Acosta wrote:
During our discussion with Major League Baseball, it was expressed to us that we could wear the uniform as long as the pistol was removed. We realize this changes the original design, but we still want to honor the Colt .45s. We are also under an obligation to follow Major League Baseball's requests.

I had a very similar response to Yahoo's Kevin Kaduk, so in deference to the guy who published it first, I'll insert this:
It's two games. It's one gun. Baseball should either remember history right or it shouldn't remember it at all.

I was a history major in college. I currently work at a historic site that deals with some of the most uncomfortable topics in American history. Do you know what would happen if we took those stories out of the interpretation of the site for which I work? Weeping. Gnashing of teeth. At best it's just ignorant. At worst it's racist. And rightly so - you can't change history because it's uncomfortable.

So to remove a gun from a uniform that was only going to be used for two games, and likely in front of 40,000 people - tops - to which ESPN would give perhaps 20 seconds of coverage - tops - is preposterous. No one is going to leave Minute Maid Park on April 10 and 20 and think, "Damn those unis were hot! I'm going to get a Colt .45 and shoot somebody." At least no one who is not already in prison. Selig must think that this would be the result, as people head out into the Houston night.

A quick look at the 2nd Amendment would tell you that a well-regulated militia has the right to keep and bear arms. Baseball teams, and the Astros, in particular, are not well-regulated militias, so they would not fall under 2nd Amendment protection, so MLB has the Consititutional right to deny the Astros to bear arms on their uniforms. (/sarcasm)

But seriously, are you surprised? (I didn't think Selig had it in for Houston or the Astros, but I'm now starting to wonder). Prior to the 1953 season, the Cincinnati Reds changed their name to the Redlegs lest good, clean, capitalist Americans think they Cincinnati was fielding a team full of Communists.

Every now and then we at Astros County try to tell you how to feel. So should you be outraged by MLB? It's okay to be angry, but by God, if Selig makes the Astros house British soldiers at Minute Maid, then we're burning MLB down.

To repeat Kevin Kaduk:
It's two games. It's one gun.


Via MLBTR, we find that the Astros have pre-arbitration deals in place for seven players. We'll get figures later, but for now the players are:

Fernando Abad
Brian Bogusevic
Jason Castro
Paul Clemens
Chris Johnson
Fernando Rodriguez
Brett Wallace

Wallace, Garcia invited to Major-League camp

Alyson Footer
says that
the Astros have invited catchers Chris Wallace and Rene Garcia to Major-League Camp.

I guess we'll just have to see what that means for Castro's rehab, and Humberto Quintero.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Occupy Turner Field

I'm organizing a group of bloggers/twitterers/fans to descend upon Turner Field in Atlanta for the Astros-Braves series there the first weekend in August. We're up to about a dozen people so far, not including spouses, children, and guests, and we're pushing for more. There are people making the trip from Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, and maybe more.

The idea is to turn this series in Atlanta, possibly the last for the Astros for a while thanks to the AL move, into as much of a home atmosphere as we can. This shouldn't be as hard as you may think, because Atlanta fans are not good about showing up if the Braves aren't winning and there's a good chance the Marlins, Nationals, and Phillies could all be better than the Braves come August.

Interested in joining the mob? We're still in the early planning stages, so there's plenty of time. Hit me up on twitter @btrostelsc to find out more.


Wikoff Knows Bo

In his hometown paper, there's a story on Brandon Wikoff, who spent the off-season working out at Bo Jackson's Elite Sports complex.

“I’ve picked up my work habits each off season, kind of knowing what I have to do now. This isn’t my first spring training, so I kind of know how to prepare myself.”

Astros plan to make it more fun to watch the Astros

...Not necessarily by winning short-term, anyway, but by the opportunities they have to look to replace Milo. George Postolos is going to bring former players to the booth as he experiments with lining up on-air talent for radio broadcasts.

“One of the things we have heard early and often from season-ticket holders and others is that they would like to see more player involvement. We’re going to experiment with that this year, and we have a natural platform with our flashback Fridays and our Saturday games.

This makes me even more sad that Jose Lima is no longer with us. Because that would have been RADIO GOLD.

Spring Training Qs, As with Jordan Comadena

As many of you know, Jordan Comadena has become an honorary citizen of Astros County thanks to his willingness to answer questions for us in the past. I know how excited I get about the approach of Spring Training, which made me wonder about how excited players get about Spring Training. Jordan was kind enough to fill us in on the emotions of someone who participates.
AC: What are the weeks leading up to ST like for you?

JC: The weeks leading up to leaving for spring training are filled with a number of different emotions. I am very excited to get going again with another season, and it is always great to get back into some warmer weather when you are coming from a northern state. The days leading up to departure are also stressful because there is always so much to do in terms of organizing, packing, and making sure nothing is left behind. As a minor league player, you need to get your life for 6 months into a suitcase. I have a lot of clothes and shoes, so I always struggle with trying to condense down what all I actually take. Another difficult part of leaving for camp is
leaving behind loved ones. I am engaged to be married next fall, and we do not have the money for my fiancé to come with me during the season so she stays home and has to work. It is always very emotional having to leave her behind when I go to spring training. I hope down the line that she will be able to come with me during the season.

AC: Let's say that it's the night before you leave for ST. Can you sleep? What's running through your mind?

JC: The night before I leave I am actually very relaxed; I treat it like any other night. I will want to spend as much time with my fiancĂ© as I can and get a good night sleep. I will put the finishing touches on my packing and double check to make sure that I have everything that I will need. I really have never had any nerves when it comes to sleeping the night before a big game or a big trip. It’s just another day.

AC: What are the essential items you pack as you head off?

JC: The thing that I stress out about the most would have to be what clothes I am going to take. Like I stated earlier I have a lot of clothes, shoes, watches and deciding what to take is always tough. Once I get all that squared away, the other essentials are my iPod, my laptop and my headphones. I love listening to music so those are all items that I have to have during the season.

AC: What are the types of items the Astros provide while in Kissimmee?

JC: The Astros will provide me with some new catchers gear, workout gear, and all the uniform stuff that I will need. They also provide some additional bats if needed.

AC: How are you getting there? Driving? What's your itinerary?

JC: I am driving to spring training. I am leaving Illinois on Tuesday February 21. I will arrive in Florida on Wednesday. I will drive to Stockbridge, Georgia the first day and spend the night there. Wednesday morning I will get an early start and drive to Port Saint Lucie, Florida where I will be staying with Robert Donovan. I will stay there with him for a few days and he will throw a couple bullpens to me. On Saturday the 25th I am going to Kissimmee. I will be staying with Brandon Barnes until I am able to get into the team hotel on March 3.

AC: What kind of communication do you get from the Astros about ST during the off-season?

JC: Throughout the off-season I would get some emails regarding some different workouts and some dietary information. I got my packet with all my report information in January.

AC: What's the first day like? Meetings? Workouts?

JC: As a catcher there are two separate first days. We have the first day of pitchers and catchers and we have the first day with the whole squad. Both days are very similar. We have some introductory meetings with a number of front office personnel as well as some meetings with our different rovers and coordinators. Once that is all done we will go through our normal workouts. As a catcher, a day consists of taking some batting practice and catching a number of bullpens. There are always a lot of pitchers in camp which means the catchers are always busy. Once the position players join us, the morning routine stays the same and we will play a game in the

Big thanks to Jordan for the time he took to answer these. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for tweets on Steelers love and Tebow hate.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Melancon didn't throw anyone under the bus

I know he's not an Astro anymore, but in an interview with Sean McAdam, Melancon reflected on the atmosphere surrounding the 2011 Astros:

"When you lose over 100 games, it's (a) struggle. It's not necessarily fun to lose like that. Everybody gave it 100 percent, but you show up to the ballpark and you've lost six in a row, it's tough."

Good to know that, even in the face of a 106-loss season, everyone in the clubhouse was able to keep their cliches intact.

MLB coming to explore new uniforms

Zachary Levine's new post lets everyone know that MLB's "team" is coming next week to explore the possibility of the Astros going to new uniforms.

Odds are 5:1 that Selig wants to put his smiling face on the front, giving us The Shocker.

A solitary Jose Altuve takes infield with no one around

Jeff Luhnow tweeted a pic from Kissimmee of Jose Altuve, completely by himself, taking infield. Regard the diminutive infielder, solitarily fielding a ball from an unseen hitter, sets his feet and prepares to throw the ball to an imaginary Carlos Lee, standing eighteen feet wide at first base...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Livan Hernandez is in some financial trouble

Via Native_Astro, we get this story from the Washington Times about Livan Hernandez' financial problems:

Hernandez owes SunTrust Bank $469,387.22 from a line of credit and promissory note, according to a summary judgement entered against him in October.

Meanwhile, Hernandez has guaranteed a rotation spot to open the season...
"I can not give many details," Hernandez told the El Nuevo Herald in remarks translated from Spanish. "But, yes, I will be in the rotation."

He has to be in the rotation to pay off The Man From SunTrust

Grantland, on the Astros

Click here to read Jonah Keri's 2012 Astros preview, complete with jokes and humorous observations about the roster and front office.

Money quote:
Nearly everything that could have wrong for this franchise already has over the past few seasons. Unless Luhnow gets bone spurs in his hippocampus, the slow-and-steady rebuilding job will proceed as planned.

Selig and Fox teaming up to screw over Saturday night baseball fans

The Sporting News says that Fox is going to show prime time Saturday games for eight consecutive weeks, beginning May 19.

This likely means that there will be no watching Astros games in this time frame, since MLB and Fox will make you watch the game they want you to watch, and black out all the other games. The games you probably won't be able to see, unless Fox picks the Astros for regional coverage:

May 19: Astros v. Rangers
May 26: Astros @ Dodgers
June 2: Astros v. Reds
June 16: Astros @ Rangers

So those are the evening games. The May 26 game at LA is a 9:10pm CT start, so I'm not sure about that one. But if there really are going to be primetime blackouts to accommodate Fox forcing us to watch the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies, we'll miss both Astros/Rangers Saturday games (unless that's one of the games Fox picks). Still waiting on word about viewers, but regardless, good work strengthening that rivalry, Selig.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Milo to retire

David Barron says that the 2012 season will be broadcaster Milo Hamilton's final year calling Astros games, which he has done since 1985.

An Astros official would not confirm the scheduled news conference, and Hamilton declined comment Tuesday afternoon. However, two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed plans for the announcement, and local advertising agencies received notice Tuesday that Hamilton has scheduled his announcement for Wednesday.

2012 will be his 57th year in the booth calling baseball games.

"Don't even hope," says ESPN

Jim Bowden, Keith Law, and Buster Olney took a look (Insider-Only) at the Future Power Rankings, based on five categories:

MAJORS (full weight): Quality of current big league roster
MINORS (full weight): Quality and quantity of prospects in their farm system
FINANCE (2/3 weight): How much money do they have to spend?
MANAGEMENT (2/3 weight): Value and stability of ownership, front office and coaching staff
MOBILITY (1/3 weight): Do they have a lot of young, cheap players, or old immovable guys?

How do the Astros shake out? 29th - ahead of only the Orioles. Here was their breakdown:

Majors: 1 (presumably 0 is the lowest score)
Minors: 8
Finances: 9
Management: 10
Mobility: 14

The slate is clean for Crane and Luhnow to build a new Houston tradition, which will probably take years.

So there you have it! If you have any hope at all, you are an idiot. Apparently.

The Astros don't need to see Scott Kazmir

So Brian McTaggart said this morning that the Astros will not be present for Scott Kazmir's workout tomorrow. You know where the workout is? Houston.

Says McTaggart:
They saw him two weeks ago and are up to date.

Jeebus, I'd go just to get out of the office for a little while. Maybe get a bagel and a cup of coffee.

Survivor: Kissimmee - Starting Rotation

The Astros will have 852 players* in camp, vying for the 25-man roster on Opening Day. Let Astros County help you make sense of it. (* - Approximately). Today, we start with the starting rotation, for starters.

The Locksmiths

Wandy Rodriguez

Wandy just might be the only player making more than $1m who will actually be worth his salary. He'll make $10m in 2012, and while his K/9 rate has declined in each of the last four seasons (8.58, 8.45, 8.22, 7.82) and his BB/9 has increased in each of the last three (2.76, 3.14, 3.25), he's still the number one starter - provided he doesn't get traded before Opening Day. From 2009-11, Wandy is 36-35 with a 3.36 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 118 ERA+, and a 2.69 K:BB ratio.

Brett Myers

Brett Myers is lucky that Ed Wade loves his Phillies. Myers certainly wasn't as bad as his 2009 indicated (-0.6 WAR, 6.14 FIP), but it was pretty clear that he wasn't as good as his 2010 indicated (4.0 WAR, and his first sub-4.00 FIP since 2007). Still, Myers got his deal ($11m in 2012, $10m in 2013 with $3m buyout). He'll make the rotation, mainly because other teams are scared of him and won't want to take on his contract.

If there's reason for optimism, it's that Myers will likely throw 200+ IP (439.2IP in 2010-11), and his WHIP was still lower than his 2008-09 seasons in Philly. His ERA+ (85) was the lowest it had been since 2004, but Myers' role will likely be to eat up innings and let the younger guys develop.

Bud Norris

The great thing about Bud Norris is that he won't be a free agent until 2016, so there's absolutely no reason to do anything other than give him the ball every five days. There's a very real possibility that Norris is the ace of the staff, after his 2011 in which he had an ERA+ of 100 (but still only went 6-11), but Norris' walks were down from 4.5 per 9inn in 2010 to 3.4 in 2011. His Ks went down, but he cut his walks dramatically enough to raise his K:BB ratio from 2.05 to 2.51. FanGraphs lists his value at $8m, and for less than $500K/year, he's a steal.

The Lunatic Fringe

J.A. Happ

Happ had a miserable 2011. I was getting ready to be all, "10.2% OF HIS FLYBALLS WERE HOMERS!!!" And then I saw that Wandy, Myers, and Norris all had higher HR/FB rates than Happ, so that's out. But still, Happ had a miserable 2011. He's another one of those guys who probably wasn't ever as good as his numbers indicated - his ERA outperformed his xFIP by 0.89, 1.40, and 1.23 from 2008-10, respectively. It all just sort of caught up with him in 2011. Walks contributed to it - he walked 4.78 batters per nine innings in 2011, as did his lower groundball rate (33% - his lowest since 2008), and his BABIP regulated itself. And by "regulated itself," I mean that it was normal, for once, with a .297 BABIP in 2011 (after .266, .266, and .262 from 08-10). If he has a miserable spring it could turn out that he heads to OKC - as he did for three starts in 2011.

Jordan Lyles

You know all about Jordan Lyles, the 21-year old phenom, and the former prize of the Astros' farm system. But the thing is, he is only 21 years old. Still, he only walked 2.49 batter per nine in 2011 (striking out 6.41 per nine). While he had a horrific ERA (5.36), his FIP was 4.53, and his xFIP was an even better 4.13. Was he "unlucky"? His BABIP was .307 at the ML level, but he's been pretty unlucky his entire professional career - only having part of one season (low-A in 2008) with a BABIP under .315. Still, it's feasible to think the Astros will let Lyles go back to OKC in 2012 for more innings.

Livan Hernandez

You pretty much know what you're gonna get with Hernandez: 170-200IP of serviceable starting pitching. If he fares well in Spring, and someone else gets hurt or completely nuts it, Hernandez is probably in the rotation.

Zach Duke

This was an interesting one. A non-roster invitee like Hernandez, Duke could be a sleeper after an injury-plagued 2011. He's a lefty ground-ball pitcher who doesn't get strikeouts, or walk many batters. At the end of 2010, after Duke had been DFAed by the Pirates, FanGraphs said that xFIP is probably a better gauge of Duke's abilities. Should that be the case, Duke is a high-contact pitcher with an ERA in the 4.20-4.30 range, not the ~5.00 ERA pitcher he's been over the past two seasons (with a BABIP of .338 and .339, respectively). If it doesn't work out for Duke in the rotation, he could turn into a lefty specialist out of the pen. Or he could not play for the Astros.

Kyle Weiland

Acquired from the Red Sox with Jed Lowrie for Mark Melancon, the 25-year old Weiland could be an intriguing SP4 for the Astros. Weiland's fastball sat at 92.5mph (according to FanGraphs) in 2011, which would put him right there with Norris as the hardest thrower in the rotation. He's somewhat of an unknown - with his cup of coffee in 2011 getting spilled down his chest, scalding his flesh. In his first season at Triple-A Pawtucket (24 starts) in 2011, he had a 3.58 ERA/1.27 WHIP, with a 2.29 K:BB ratio and 3.9 BB per nine innings (8.8 K/9 in 2011). Still, he won't be 26 until September and will be shooting for just his 2nd stint in the Majors.

The Outsiders

Aneury Rodriguez

The Aneurysm, as we like to call him, is on the outside looking in because we don't know what role he'll have in 2012. The former Rule 5 pick had to stay on the 25-man roster in 2011, or he'd be sent back to the Rays, so he would start for a while, then go back to the bullpen, then make a spot start. He'll be 24 all season long and it's possible that, if the rotation is in his future, he could spend some time in OKC until a rotation spot opens up. As a starter, he had a 5.80 ERA/1.44 WHIP, and a 1.86 K:BB ratio. In 35 games in relief, Rodriguez had a 4.80 ERA/1.27 WHIP, with a 2.11 K:BB ratio. And that's with an overall .271 BABIP. There's no reason to not let him go back to Triple-A (he only had 17 starts for Tampa's Triple-A team in 2010) and get some more seasoning - unless he has a killer Spring.

Lucas Harrell

Harrell, one of Wade's waiver claims from 2011, made his Astros debut on September 2 against Milwaukee - going 5.1IP, allowing 3H/0ER, 4K:2BB, and throwing 114 pitches. Then he appeared in five more games, with an unsuccessful start against the Rockies thrown in on September 25. But he did alright. Harrell has a tendency to walk batters - 4.3 batters per nine - in seven minor-league seasons, with 6.0 K/9 in the same time frame. In nine starts for Oklahoma City in 2011, we has 5-2 with a 1.72 ERA/1.26 WHIP. He has a couple of options left, but will be 27 in June.

Henry Sosa

Obtained in the Keppinger trade from the Giants, the hard(ish)-throwing Sosa (93.1mph avg fastball) got ten starts for the Astros in 2011. He had a 5.23 ERA, but his FIP was 4.77, and his xFIP was 4.50 - so he probably isn't as bad as it looked. He'll also be 27 at the end of July.

Xavier Cedeno

The Astros picked up Cedeno following the 2010 season, and assigned him to Double-A Corpus (he missed the entire 2010 season), where he went 5-6 with a 3.95 ERA/1.28 WHIP, striking out 8.9 batters per nine. So they bumped him up to Oklahoma City, where had a much worse time with his peripherals (6.23 ERA/1.54 WHIP), but still managed to strike out 27 batters in his 26IP. He saw 1.2IP of action with the Astros in 2011 (3 games), and gave up 5H/2ER (2HR) in his final appearance of the season - in the 19-3 drubbing at the hands of the Rockies. Nowhere near enough to get any sort of opinion about Cedeno. Still, he's a longshot to make the rotation, and I'd expect him back in OKC.

Luhnow, on analyzing minor-league players

Over at What the Heck, Bobby, there's a little note about an exchange between Jayne and Jeff Luhnow on the analysis of minor-league players:

He agreed with me that the use of stats such as BABIP and FIP, etc. are not particularly useful in analyzing minor league players, especially at the lower levels since the competition can be so uneven. He explained to me that his staff will be delving much more deeply. They will literally be tracking every single pitch and every single stroke of the bat in every single situation. They aren't just looking at atoms; they are looking at quarks and neutrinos. They will be able to view a player's performance at the most fundamental level in order to facilitate that player's maximum potential and predict future performance. That's smart.

Monday, February 13, 2012

First 50 games will determine Lee's market

Jeff Luhnow talked to Jon (Paul?) Morosi over the weekend for an article about Five Teams Already Planning for 2013.

Part of that is listening to calls on Carlos Lee:
“If he gets off to a good start, and clubs feel like he’s someone they need for the stretch run, I’m sure we’re going to get calls. And we’re certainly going to be answering the phone.”

UPDATE: In response to the comment, here are Carlos Lee's first 50 games for the past three seasons:
2011: .251/.284/.387, 4HR/27RBI
2010: .206/.239/.330, 5HR/21RBI
2009: .319/.370/.532, 9HR/31RBI

What about Wandy?
"We’re looking at how we can get good and stay good. If we get an offer for Wandy that gives us an opportunity to improve the ballclub, we’ll look at it. But we’re not actively trying to get rid of him. He’s an important part of our plan for next year."

The American League West can go screw itself

I'm starting to seriously hate the AL West.

First it's Albert Pujols signing an eternal contract with the Angels that includes a provision where he doesn't age, regress, or die.

Then it's Yu Darvish signing a contract with the Rangers. This, of course, could not turn out the way that everyone is sort of expecting (meaning: Darvish is probably going to be pretty damn good).

Now it's highly-coveted Cuban defector (which makes him more bad-ass) Yoenis Cespedes signing a 4yr/$36m contract with Oakland.

Screw this AL West noise. If we get enough people together to donate the money to cover the discount Crane got for allowing the Astros to move to the AL, can the Astros move back to the NL Central?

Kevin Goldstein's Top 101

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein lists his Top 101 prospects. Where Dem Astros At?

Jarred Cosart - #48
George Springer - #49
Jonathan Singleton - #73

Mike Foltynewicz: "Professional Target-Hitter"

Here's a nice article from 2010 1st Round pick Mike Foltynewicz' hometown paper.

“Early in games I can hit 96 to 97 (mph). In later innings, it’s maybe 92 or 94. But what the gun says doesn’t matter. What they want me to do is maintain my velocity. They don’t care as much how hard I throw it, they want me to hit spots. I have become a professional target hitter. I have to be able to hit the outside corner or put the curve in the dirt if I need to. Even when I play catch now, I try to hit the other guy in the chest every time."

According to Foltynewicz (within the article), he'll probably start the season at Lexington, but will not be heading to Lancaster, skipping - when the time comes - to Corpus.

“Lancaster is a bad area for pitchers. The wind blows out 40-50 mph at night and a pitcher can get mentally unfocused out there. They tend not to send pitchers there that they drafted high.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Random random Astro - Mike LaCoss

It's time for another installment of random random Astro, where at random time throughout the season random players from random eras will be discussed. Today's player is swingman Mike "Bunny" LaCoss.

Mike pitched for the Astros from 1982 to 1984 after being claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds. He made 118 appearances for Houston over those three years, including 43 starts. He compiled an 18-18 record with 4 saves and a 3.83 ERA. These days that ERA would look pretty good, but in the lower scoring early 80's it was only good for a 87 ERA+. His first season with Houston, 1982, was his best. That year he went 6-6 with a 2.90 ERA while appearing in 41 games including 8 starts.

Mike seemed to alternate stretches of effectiveness with stretches where he let everyone score, but a couple of good games stand out, both starts. On September 14, 1982 LaCoss started in Atlanta against a Braves team that was battling for the division lead. Mike gave up just two 2nd inning singles as he pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out three and walking two, to earn the victory as the Astros won 4-0.

On July 5, 1984 Mike pitched another gem against the Expos. Facing a lineup that featured Tim Raines and Gary Carter, LaCoss went eight innings allowing one unearned run and three hits while striking out six and walking  three. The Astros would win 2-1, giving Mike a 4-0 record to that point in the season.

LaCoss would sign with Kansas City as a free agent in 1985. After one season with the Royals, Mike would spend six seasons in San Fransisco to finish out his playing career. He is signed on this season to be the pitching coach of the independent San Rafael Pacifics.

Astros FanFest 2012: Kool-Aid Edition

As I wandered around MMP early Saturday morning, one thought kept sticking out at me "Why does the scoreboard show the AstBros losing 9-7?"

I know that we are a long ways from Opening Day (April 6th) but this can't be a good omen for the upcoming season. Is this just an unfortunate reminder of the final home game of last season? Was anyone even there to see the end of our boys last game?

After some quick checking, they did lose that last game 13-6 to the Cards. So whats the deal? Well...

The Astros finish up their Winter Caravan by pulling into Union Station and trying to obliviate all memories of 2011. There are new faces on the side of the building and new faces on the dais.

I sat down in the first talking baseball session of the morning, fans were greeted by 63 year vet, Milo Hamilton. Milo is a strange cat. He seems to be reinvigorated by the long offseason and is talking three more years. I'm actually surprised my man can still find the stadium, but more power to him. Brett and Dave will be herding cats trying to keep him on topic.

Next to Milo was George Postolos, Jim Cranes right hand man. This is when the Astros started pouring my Kool-Aid. GP came out blasting with his accomplishments, and I think that was the right move. He has a resume most of us dream of, and connections that a man his age should not be able to have. I like knowing the Houston 9 are being led by a guy at his professional peak, not a guy sailing off into the sunset. He still has more to prove and the experience to pull the trigger without peeps questioning him.

GP went on to make some fine points about why Mr. Crane chose to pursue the AstBros instead of other options. The immaculate condition of MMP was a big selling point. It may be weird and have some non-traditional playing conditions but I'll be damned if it doesn't even need touch-up paint. The TV deal that's in place with the HouRox, is only going to get better next year and Houston's economy is in pretty good shape compared to most places.

The main point GP wanted to leave fans with is he wants to invest in becoming the best organization with the best talent. And the first step was identifying a new GM. He looked under every rock, in every cave, went to palm readings and got recommendations from his barber. All roads led to the same guy, Jeff Luhnow, formerly of the Redbirds. Mr. Luhnow was the architect of the Championship team last year, drafting and scouting almost the entire roster and building a pipeline of MiLB talent that gives Baseball Americas pants a rise.
The next step in packing the Juicebox with rabid fans is to find ways to have fun at the ballpark. Everything from free family friendly initiatives to $5 beers and a wine bar, there will be affordable ways to get your Shooting Star swerve on. Side note: I brought my first bottle of water in and used it to wash down a protein bar from home. This made my day. No hot dog and soda in this temple.

When the topic of the dreaded name change came up, GP made it clear that every option in making the fan experience is on the table, and the openness of Mr. Crane to all possibilities and the press needing a good headline combined to make a throw away comment a national news story. In effect, they accomplished a huge objective by gaining attention for all the real iniatives being put in place. How you like them apples?

Next up was the club's 1st choice for leading our organiztion's player evaluation and acquisitions, Mr. Luhnow. Who will be forever pegged the GQGM by Brad Mills after Jeff took a friendly jab at Brad's lack of follicular prowess. My Kool-aid glass is nearly half full at this point. GQGM's resume was already exalted by GP so he dove right into his plans. He'll be in Dominican tomorrow to help out our Latin team and then head onto Kissimmee after that for Spring Training. Did you know he speaks Spanish? Maybe he can tell Carlos to put down the fork in a way he'll understand (At least Dierker agrees with me on that. If you witnessed his diatribe about Carlos, you will not forget it.) GQGM went on to let fans know that 9 players have already reported and doors were opened on Feb. 1st for players to fire it up if so inclined. the caravan was a huge success this year from the standpoint of getting to meet fans and take in all their ideas (Hey guy that want's to abolish the closer role, shut up). Fan interaction is a big objective for the new front office and GQGM is at the front of that wave, using twitter and good old fashioned handshaking. When Mr. Crane returns from Pebble Beach, you can expect the same from him as well. It is a new day.

Mr. Luhnow then went on to promise that the one thing the organization can control from the players is effort. We're going to see guys busting their proverbial tails night in and night out. This is how you win Houston fans hearts, and he really saw that first hand at the Texans playoff game this year. We adore our blue collar guys, and that's what he expects from his players and coaches. We're going to out work and out hustle everyone else.
With 21 rookies last year there were a lot of chances to learn about themselves according to Brad Mills. Losing took its toll on the group and he wants all the guys to remember how it felt to get bent over a barrel repeatedly, learn from history and all that.

This group of guys has a couple all-stars waiting to break out and with the addition of select free agents and the #1 overall draft pick , there will be an influx of talent and open competition at almost every spot. While having the top spot in the draft is a blessing this year GQGM does not want it to ever happen again. they'll be spending more than every other team on the draft and trying to keep up in international signings. All these pieces will give us the ability to trade for established talent when the time comes. My glass is getting full.

Coach Brad Mills was the last guy on the stage to get a turn at the mic, and he used it to talk about the competitions going into this season. There are 61 Bros headed to camp and a few extra MiLB catchers to spell the 4 ML invites. (I spied Chris Snyder signing today, that's a big dude. Looks like a masher.) Coach Mills is excited to add some proven ML players like Jack Cust, Zach Duke and Livan Hernandez but the name that came up all day from everyone was Jed Lowrie. They are expecting huge things from him and Mills also believes we have a unscratched lotto ticket with Fernando Martinez. I love the optimism this time of year.

Some final notes from the day:

-We will be teaching winning at every level. the expectation is to develop talent while winning. Will effect player choices in free agency and the draft.

-Brad Mills reads Jerry Maxwell books on leadership.

-CBA changes this offseason are positive for Astros

-GQGM is off the market ladies. He recently got hitched. Congrats

-The first Astroline guest (of February) will be Jim Crane. I'll be listening for sure.

-Altuve got 900 AB's between all the leagues last year. Had to get him to take a short break before spring.

-Coaches have been given player capsules that contain Bio's, Headshots, Video and career stats for their meetings Feb. 18-19.

-Expect CJ, Bogusevic and Wallace to get every chance to win jobs outright.

-Bud Norris has matured into a staff leader, and has my vote to be the Opening Day starter. Used this offseason to mentor young gun Jarred Cosart. That's time well spent Bud.

-Bud wants to be a lifelong Astro, loves Houston

-Bud is inspired by Roy O and how he evolved as a pitcher throughout his career, and hopes to emulate his success.

-Bud also had a great line of pitching coaches coming up and credits each one for maximizing his current skill set.

-JD Martinez feels lucky to be at ML already. Once he got his confidence it was only a matter of time before he hit his way to Houston.

-JD's mom is the President of his fan club and keeps him humble while getting him interactions with fans.

-JD's unique batting stance is a product of evolution over many years. It is not an imitation of anyone as most believe.

-Larry Dierker's fondest baseball memory was the ceremony for the all-Astrodome team before the final game in 1999. 30 minutes of baseball heaven.

-LD is excited about a uniform change and mentioned all former designs are being considered, even the navy and gold.

-John McMullen's wife hates the color orange. That was the reason we abandoned the Rainbow look. Crazy.

-Flashback Friday's guarantee throwbacks including batting helmets and hats all season. There will be 2 jersy giveaways and the rest will be available for purchase.

-The Walk of Fame will be opened this year honoring all players with their numbers retired and Milo and Gene Elston as well. Plaques will be placed outside MMP.

Play ball kids! $15 for 5 swings on the field was a great way to raise money for the Urban Youth Academy. But not having kids bats was a huge mistake. I saw a 40 pound girl try and swing a 34 inch piece of maple out of necessity.

So about that losing scoreboard. It was probably an omen after its all said and done, but I'll be happy to see us go down swinging. It feels like 1962 or 1991 in Houston right now and thats not a bad thing.

Before I walked back to truck, I slammed that glass of Kool-aid down, and it was good. Baseball season is here and I'm ready to live-blog. Who's coming with me?