Saturday, February 9, 2013

Filling The Catching Black Hole

Quick, name the Astros leader in fWAR at the catcher position over the last 10 years.

If you said Humberto Quintero, well done. Liar. Or you might have looked it up. Cheater. 

The Astros, even before they were pretty bad all across the field, have not been good at catcher. The last time an Astros catcher exceeded 2 WAR was 2000, with Mitch Meluskey. Remember him? And 3 WAR? That would be Craig Biggio in 1991. But the last 10 years have been especially abysmal. Between 2002 and 2012, Astros catchers have accumulated a total of 3.2 WAR. That's right. Every game, from every player who has donned the tools of ignorance for the Astros over the last 10 years, has amounted to just 3 wins over a replacement player. Fangraphs should just define replacement level as "Astros catchers." No other position on any other team comes close, except for first baseman on the Orioles, with 3.5. Lets all laugh at the Orioles for a while. That feels good. 

The bulk of the at bats over this time went to my mother's favorite player, Brad Ausmus. Earlier in his career, Ausmus was a useful player, combining stellar defense with an adequate bat. But between 2003 -2008, he was among the worst everyday hitters in the majors, and his defense was not really helping him anymore. But he still maintained his boyish good looks. Or so I've been told. After he left, I am pretty sure there were entire weeks where the Astros just forgot to start a catcher. Led to a lot of passed balls. When they did start a catcher, it was usually our good friend Humberto, but the list also included Pudge Rodriguez, J.R. Towles and several other names which Fangraphs most definitely did not make up. Whatever they tried, it didn't work. Unless they were trying to not add value to the team through the catcher's position. Then it worked like gangbusters.

Is there hope of the horizon? Why yes. And I think it might actually be on the current roster.

I get the sense that many have soured on Jason Castro. After missing all of 2011 with a knee injury, he started off slowly in 2012, However, his offensive numbers at the end of the year were decent, thanks in part to a respectable .263/.343/.443 slash line in the second half. Digging even deeper, there are even more good signs. Castro hit .286/.373/.458 against righties, but was awful against lefties, to the tune of .148/.175/.185. Now, you can expect Castro to have some degree of lefty/righty splits, but not to that extent. The lefty numbers, over 54 at bats, are the very definition of a small sample, and are suppressed by a .235 BABIP. I expect some improvement there, and some improvement overall.

I fully expect improvement in Castro next year. But you might have noticed that Luhnow has had a penchant for acquiring young catchers during his time as GM. Jayne over at What the Heck, Bobby, has been has been running a series on minor league depth at each position. Her post on catcher depth shows a glut of 20-22 years old catchers, many of which were brought into the system in the last year.  And he added another one just days ago in Max Stassi.

Maybe, just maybe, between Jason Castro or one of these young guns, the black hole at catcher will be filled soon.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Building a World Series Contender

I was curious how the 2005 Astros, arguably the best team in the franchise's history, was assembled. Let's look together, I'll offer no commentary.

Starting lineup

C Brad Ausmus-Signed as Major League free agent. 11/19/03
1B Lance Berkman-Drafted by Houston. 1st round, 1997
2B Craig Biggio-Drafted by Houston. 1st round, 1987
SS Adam Everett-Traded from Boston as AA prospect for Carl Everett. 12/14/99
3B Morgan Ensberg-Drafted by Houston. 9th round, 1998
LF Chris Burke-Drafted by Houston. 1st round, 2001
CF Willy Taveras-Rule 5 pick from Cleveland. 12/15/03
RF Jason Lane-Drafted by Houston. 6th round, 1999


IF Mike Lamb-Traded from New York(AL) for Juan DeLeon. 3/25/04
IF Jose Vizcaino-Signed as Major League free agent. 11/20/00
OF Orlando Palmeiro-Signed as Major League free agent. 1/19/04
IF/OF Eric Bruntlett-Drafted by Houston. 9th round, 2000
C Raul Chavez-Signed as Minor League free agent. 1/4/00


Roy Oswalt-Drafted by Houston. 23rd round, 1996
Andy Pettitte-Signed as Major League free agent. 12/16/03
Roger Clemens-Signed as Major League free agent. 1/19/04
Brandon Backe-Traded from Tampa Bay for Geoff Blum. 12/14/03
Wandy Rodriguez-Signed by Houston as amateur free agent. 12/12/99
Ezequiel Astacio-Traded by Philadelphia as High-A prospect for Billy Wagner


Brad Lidge-Drafted by Houston. 1st round, 1998
Chad Qualls-Drafted by Houston. 2nd round, 2000
Dan Wheeler-Traded from New York(NL) for Adam Seuss. 8/27/04
Russ Springer-Signed as Major League free agent. 6/29/04
Chad Harville-Traded from Oakland for Kirk Saarloos. 4/17/04
Mike Gallo-Drafted by Houston. 5th round, 1999

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Appreciating Jose Altuve

Fans of bad teams tend to overrate their best players. That's just reality. I think we saw a little bit of that in the reaction to the Jed Lowrie deal, as a the 28 year old oft injured shortstop with a 97 career OPS+ was viewed by some as a potential cornerstone of the franchise. So it leaves me wondering why I get the sense that Jose Altuve might be underrated by the Houston fan base. Of course, I could be way off base, and I could be doing the same thing I just wrote about above. It'd be nice if we could always see our own biases.

Jose Altuve is probably best known for being incredibly short. has become somewhat of a national sensation, even appearing on a Topps baseball card. (BTW, my favorite "Altuve is short joke" appears in Grant Brisbee's post about Craig Biggio. About 2/3rds of the way down. I laughed for a while). But lets not lose sight of the fact that Altuve is also a good baseball player. And he is very very young.

Its fun to get excited about the prospects in the system. However, many of these prospects we are excited about are as old or older than Altuve. Jimmy Paredes, for example, is nearly  two years older than Altuve. Heck, even George Springer has Altuve by a year. What separates these players from Altuve, is, of course, that Altuve has already had success in the majors. Lets not forget about the horse in the barn while we pine after the horses in the pasture. Its a saying, I promise.

His success has been limited, for sure. He put up a 1.8 fWAR in 2012. His OPS+ was a mediocre 102. However, even that limited success at the age of 22 bodes well for Altuve's future. His number one comparable through age 22 on Baseball Reference is Rod Carew. Pete Rose and Lou Whitaker appear in his top 10 comps. The list of 2B who have posted a OPS+ over 100 at the age of 22 or younger since 1950 is not long, and includes Hall of Famers (Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor) Should be, Could be, Might be Hall of Famers (Pete Rose, Lou Whitaker,Willie Randolph, Robinson Cano) and others who had long, useful careers (Delino DeShields, Ron Hunt, Gregg Jeffries). Also Omar Infante. Now, some of those were much higher than 100, while Altuve just cleared the bar. But it still puts him in some great company.

Obviously, I'm not saying Altuve will become Rod Carew or Lou Whitaker. Almost definitely not Joe Morgan. I am not guaranteeing the Hall of Fame, or even multiple All Stars (you know, after he stops making it by default). But he is young, and he has already been successful. That puts him on a much stronger path to greatness than those still toiling in the minors at the same age. He could be great. He could be less than great, but still very good. He could be Omar Infante. Finding out what we have in our little Altuve over the next couple years will be a lot of fun.

Astros not shopping Bud Norris now

Good news for you fans who see Bud Norris as the ABSOLUTE LAST STRAW FOR ASTROS FANDOM UNTIL 2019, AT THE VERY EARLIEST.

Jeff Luhnow said yesterday:
“Right now, we’re not having any discussions with teams about Bud Norris. He’s projected to be one of our starters. We’ve had a good run with him and we’re going to continue to have a good run with him.”

We also see in this piece that Chris Carter will rotate around 1B/LF/DH to get a "full season's worth of at-bats."

Astros have interest in Reid Brignac

Jon Heyman mentioned on Twitter last night that the Astros and Twins were among the teams interested in former Rays SS/2B Reid Brignac.

Brignac, a 27-year old lefty could be a stopgap at short in the wake of the departure of Jed Lowrie (and if the Astros feel he could be an upgrade over Tyler Greene, Marwin Gonzalez, or Jake Elmore). But he might not be. Brignac played in a career-high 113 games in 2010, and has played in 108 games since. In his Major-League career, Brignac has hit .227/.268/.317. How does that stack up to the internal candidates?

Greene: .224/.292/.356
Marwin: .234/.280/.327 (came in 2012, his only ML experience).
Elmore: .191/.247/.250 (also in 2012, where he only played 30 games in Arizona).

Brignac is better known for his glove, however. But when he was optioned to Triple-A in 2011, Joe Maddon said:
"There's no question Reid is a Major League caliber shortstop. And I don't like the idea of him not playing defense for us. But moving down the road we have to get better on the offensive side of the ball."

Given that the Astros likely need more offensive help, we'll just have to see what numbers the front office comes up with. But he does fit the mold of recent acquisitions: Cheap, AL-familiar players. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Grapefruit League Bus Tour won't include Kissimmee

Get used to this, Astros fans. Baseball Tonight posted its Spring Training Bus Tour schedule of both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.... and this won't include a stop in Kissimmee to the Astros (there are also nine other teams who won't get to be part of the Camp Report segment).

Once ESPN departs Minute Maid Park after the Dallas/Houston game on March 31, I bet we'll never see them again.

The Bellingham Herald has...a take

John McGrath of the Bellingham (WA) Herald has a fun little column up this morning.

Some nuggets from said column about the Astros:

*(The Astros) figure to be as compliant as litter runts."
*"(The roster) has fewer recognizable faces than an art-house movie with subtitles."
*"But in 2013, they’re looking like a cross between a punching bag and a tomato can. A punching can? A tomato bag? Something like that."
*If the Mariners don't go 12-7 against the Astros, there "will be some 'splainin to do." 15 out of 19 is "doable."
*"It’d be inaccurate to label Houston as a glorified Triple-A team, because whatever adjective describes the 2013 Astros, “glorified” ain’t in the mix. But it’d be just as inaccurate to label Houston as a big-league team, because the Astros will be fortunate to win 50 games."

That's a whole bulletin board worth of material, right there. 

Read more here:"

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Read more here:

The Parable of the Bar Chicks

Let's say you're a guy who's decided you're ready for a new relationship. You've dated girls in the past, and even managed to propose to one, but she turned you down before you barely had a chance to show her the ring. You had a couple rebound relationships where you tried to find the same magic, but it just wasn't the same. Now it's been a few years since you've even dated, and you're ready to get back out there again, so you head to the corner bar to try and find a girl.

You get there and two girls grab your attention.

One is the focus of everyone's attention. She's got her hair all done up, she's wearing her best mini-dress, she's doing shots with anyone she can find, and she's out on the dance floor reminding you how long it's been since you've seen a woman move like that. If you manage to impress her more than the other guys in this place, you can take her home tonight! But when you get her home, you'll notice that her hair is fried from years of over coloring and processing. That mini-dress is covering up her two push-up bras and her multi-layered Spanx. She does shots because it's the only way she can keep functioning. And the reason she danced so well was because she dances with any guy that impresses her enough. But, by golly, she sure does get you excited because, again, it's been so long since you've been in a relationship and she could be a lot of fun. Let's say she's a 7 for you, but that's as good as she'll ever be and in a couple years you'll be tired of putting up with her crap.

The other girl is sitting quietly at the bar. She's apparently the designated driver for her friends and looks like a librarian, with her hair up, glasses, and a cute little Hello Kitty handbag that her niece got her one Christmas. She's not looking for a guy to impress her enough to take her home. No, it's going to take a while to get to know her before she really opens up to you. But she's a true natural beauty, and when you talk to her you find out that she's a former college gymnast, is trained in Swedish massage, and has read all the classics. Looking at her tonight, you'll give her a 5, but if you're patient enough to let her open up to you she could be an 8 or 9.

Now, you might think, why not go ahead and take the 7 home, but get the 5's number and give her a call later? Now, some guys are able to get away with that, but it's rare and usually ends very badly. The 5 doesn't handle neglect very well and if you don't handle her right she'll never be that 8 or 9 she could be. And the 7 doesn't like having to look over her shoulder to see if someone's trying to take her place.

At the end of all this, you're looking for someone for the long haul. Which one is most likely to get you the ring?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bud Norris "available"

Ken Rosenthal, whom, despite our earlier blasting is still worth a read, has a post up which says the Astros have made Bud Norris "available," and he is "drawing interest." (And presumably not just on that $3m contract.)

Rosenthal's source said the Padres, Orioles, and Cardinals all had interest in Norris at the Winter Meetings.

At least immediately, the Cardinals seem like a good fit. They just lost Chris Carpenter for what may be all of eternity, and aren't looking as though they'll resign Kyle Lohse. With Norris' contract already set, he would be a low-cost option. Add to that his near-legendary history against St. Louis (4-3, 3.54 ERA/1.28 WHIP at Busch Stadium) and he's clearly a known quantity.

The Orioles signed Joel Pineiro and Mark Hendrickson to minor-league deals, and the Padres acquired Tim Stauffer and Freddy Garcia at the end of January.

We'll be keeping tabs on this as it develops.

Astros move from KTRH to KBME

The Astros have announced that their games will be broadcast on KBME (Sports Talk 790) for 2013, even if we don't know exactly who will be announcing them.

Chronicle Deputy Sports Editor Reid Laymance notes that KTRH was a 50,000-watt station, and KBME is a 5,000-watt station. How does that affect you? Well, here's KBME's nighttime coverage map:

And here is KTRH's coverage map:

Keith Law Top 100

A day after Keith Law ranked the Astros as the number 4 farm system, we see a reason why. He ranked 5 Astros prospects in his Top 100, (insider) and 3 in the top 50. Here they are.

#24 Carlos Correa
#32 Jon Singleton
#43 George Springer
#83 Delino DeShields, Jr. 
#86 Jarred Cosart

From last year, Singleton and Springer rose about 15 spots, Cosart fell 10 and DeShields and Correa (obviously) were added. 

Law still sees Correa switching to 3rd eventually, but believes the bat will be good enough to stick there. He sees Singleton as .380-.400 OBP guy with 25 HR potential. His note on Springer is interesting. He says that Springer needs to make an adjustment when behind in the count, and if he does he can be an All-Star. If he doesn't, Law is not sure he will hit enough to be a regular. He likes the progress DeShields has made, both offensively and at 2B. This should help with the perceived snub from Mayo. (Although, really, being ranked 102 is not much of a snub).  Regarding Cosart, he thinks he still has a shot at starting, but "he'd be one of the best closer prospects around" if he doesn't. Cosart has fallen in the past three rankings.

Law also posted his "Ten Prospects Who Just Missed." Grossman was 5th on the list. I don't necessarily think that means Grossman is #105, but its pretty close. Law acknowledges he is higher on Grossman than most, seeing his on base skills as making up for his lack of power.

Law's rankings, or Baseball America's, or MLB's, or any other prospect ranking, shouldn't change how you view the state of the farm system or the Astros in general. They disagree and prospect ratings are not an exact science. However, the fact that nearly all of these prospect gurus are praising the work Luhnow and crew have done in the draft and in these trades tells us something. For the first time in a while, there are potential impact players in the minors. More than that, there is depth. Some of these prospects, especially those outside of the top 50, will fail. But there are others that can be ready to take their place. We can start to see some hope that there will be help for the big league club soon. These prospects rankings are just a reflection of that hope.   

Let the piling on commence

Yesterday the Astros traded a shortstop who has never played more than 97 games in a season, and has a career 6.1 WAR. In his career, the shortstop has missed time due to:

Wrist surgery (2009)
Sprained shoulder (2010)
Nerve damage in shoulder (2010)
Mononucleosis (2011)
Sprained right ankle (2012)
Peroneal nerve damage (2012)

In addition to this 28-year old shortstop who, in five seasons, has played in a total of 353 games, the Astros traded a 28-year old reliever who was 2-10 in 2012 with a 5.37 ERA/1.45 WHIP, and a 4.22 FIP who walked 4.35 batters per nine innings, and had a 7.31 ERA on the road. From June to August 2012, this reliever - who can throw it hard, but not accurately - had a 6.94 ERA and blew four saves.

In return for a 28-year old injury prone shortstop, and a 28-year old shaky reliever, the Astros received:
25-year old RHP Brad Peacock, the A's #4 prospect by John Sickels, and Baseball America's #2 A's prospect.
26-year old 1B/DH Chris Carter, their #9 prospect, who hit 16 homers in 260 PAs for the A's in 2012.
21-year old catcher Max Stassi, who is coming off of 2011 shoulder surgery, but signed with the A's for a 1st Round bonus.

But, given the reaction, you would think that the Astros just traded Jeff Bagwell to the Red Sox for Larry Andersen.

Ken Rosenthal spilled his turnip blood yet again last night, wringing his hands over the Astros' payroll. Rosenthal:
And as the Astros continue their teardown, it's certainly fair to ask how low can they go, how many games can they lose before they become an embarrassment to Major League Baseball.

(As an aside, last night's column looks an awful lot like Rosenthal's November column on the Astros' payroll - right down to the rhetorical question about surviving the AL West.)

Yahoo's Jeff Passan - who by all accounts is a very stand-up guy - took to Twitter last night, doing a pretty good Darren Rovell impression about the Astros payroll (minus the Twitter Polls and random instances of ALL CAPS). Even Buster Olney got in on it, blabbering about combined executive salaries totaling more than the Astros' payroll (or something like that). He also pointed out that Bud Norris, who is Chief Rainmaker now, will make as much in 2013 as Zack Greinke will in three weeks.

What would The Media say if the Astros had signed Josh Hamilton? Or Zack Greinke? "What are they DOING? Why won't they rebuild?" Oh, but that's just what Rosenthal has been pushing for going on four years now.

Rosenthal, who might very well wear a bow-tie on television this season to benefit the Astros, is now making a pretty severe about-face in regards to the Astros and their rebuilding plans. On June 4, 2012, Rosenthal thought the Astros should explore trading Jose Altuve.

Or how about this Rosenthal nugget, from June 2011, on trading Hunter Pence: They would save money. They would increase their inventory of young talent. They would kick-start a rebuilding process that is long overdue.

How about May 2010, when Rosenthal said the Astros were creatively bankrupt for not dealing Berkman and Oswalt, and asked "How many games must the Astros be behind for owner Drayton McLane to concede?"

Or September 2009, when Rosenthal said: "Frankly, it doesn't matter who the next manager is until the Astros realize they need to tear down and build back up again."

Or another September 2009 column, when Rosenthal wrote: "The Astros' next manager must navigate a tricky balance — the team is starting to infuse youth but also includes a number of declining veterans. McLane refuses to permit a complete overhaul, limiting his franchise's upside."

June 2009: "Trading players such as right-hander Roy Oswalt, shortstop Miguel Tejada and closer Jose Valverde could bring the team desperately needed young talent. Yet, McLane has passed on such opportunities numerous times before."

May 2009: Much as owner Drayton McLane hates to concede, he needs to understand that A) his team is going nowhere and B) his farm system ranks last in the majors, according to Baseball America...Trading closer Jose Valverde, shortstop Miguel Tejada and catcher Ivan Rodriguez would be a start. But Oswalt — even a declining Oswalt — could bring the most significant return.

So for almost four years, Rosenthal has been hammering the Astros about rebuilding. And when they finally do rebuild, he hammers them for being "an embarrassment."

I mentioned one of the above quotes to Rosenthal on Twitter, and he responded with:
There is a difference between what I suggested and completely gutting the team. You can thread the needle, too.

GOOD GOD I FEEL LIKE I'M TAKING CRAZY PILLS. No, you can't thread the needle. The Astros tried to thread the needle from 2006-2010 and look where it got them. One season where they almost made the playoffs, and a cumulative record 27 games under .500. Not bad enough to get a Top-Five draft pick. Not good enough to keep Phil Garner, Cecil Cooper, Brad Mills, Tim Purpura, or Ed Wade.

Let's take three teams, shall we? Let's pick three teams and decide which is the embarrassment to baseball:

Team A: Being investigated by the SEC for fraud thanks to its' horrific stadium deal, and roster malpractice. Spent $107m on 2012 payroll, only to finish 24 games under .500, last in their division.
Team B: Can't decide if they actually want to rebuild, and as a result, have a beautiful ballpark to go along with 20 straight seasons under .500.
Team C: Slashed payroll

This is rhetorical, but Team A is obviously the Marlins; Team B is the Pirates; and Team C is, of course, the Astros.

The Astros are looking for a Baseball Operations Analyst. Click the link, and look at the preferred requirements: MBA, experience in economic modeling, investment banking.

I do not regularly look at baseball jobs. I'm happy in my own job (even if I'm going to have to work an extra two hours today to make up for this rant.) But I'm guessing "Baseball Operations" and "Investment Banking" backgrounds do not typically collide.

This has become a mantra about the Astros, but for what will likely not be the last time: This front office does not care what anybody else thinks. They would prefer it if their front office did not think like anybody else.

This is going to be a rough season for the Astros. There are so many Unknowns that the only Knowns are that:

1) Attendance will be down.
2) Losses will abound.
3) 2013 will see a $20m investment in the farm system and another #1 pick.
4) The rebuilding will continue.

Luhnow, quoted by Rosenthal:
“I know it’s frustrating for fans that want immediate results at the big-league level. But this is the best chance we have to accomplish our result as soon as possible. We have to be consistent about that message.”

I'll take a few horrific seasons to return to the days when the Astros were a force in baseball. I'll accept it if it means that the National Media doesn't mail in a column about "OH THEY'RE GONNA BE BAD WHAT ARE THEY GONNA DO?" every six weeks. I will not stand by 81 wins to be The Goal, or twenty seasons of half-assing a rebuild.

Would you?


In 2011, the story on Jed Lowrie was that he showed flashes of potential, but was inconsistent and was often injured.

The Astros traded a good relief pitcher for Jed Lowrie and a pitching prospect.

In 2012, Jed Lowrie showed flashes of potential, but was inconsistent and got injured.

The Astros traded Jed Lowrie plus a mediocre relief pitcher for a 1B/DH with power, a pitching prospect and a young catching prospect.

If the Astros "didn't get enough" for Jed Lowrie this time, that first trade was nothing short of highway robbery. Maybe it was.  

A Quick Comparison: Jed Lowrie v.Chris Carter

After hearing about the trade that was made yesterday I wanted to take a look at some offensive numbers from both Lowrie and Carter and get a better idea of what Houston is getting with the addition of Carter and the subtraction of Lowrie.

I used the stats from 2012 because last year was the highest number of plate appearances that both players have had with their respective former clubs. I established a hit rate, walk rate, home run rate, and k rate for each player and figured an offensive output for a full season of playing every day with a minimum of 3 ab's per game.

Keep in mind that neither player has played a full season in the major leagues.

If Chris Carter homers at the pace he did last season, every 13.67 ab, he could out homer Jed Lowrie (hr/21.25 ab's) by 15 homers a season.

If Carter's K rate holds steady (K/2.62 ab) the Astros would be adding potentially 100+ strike outs. Almost exactly twice the amount of Lowrie. (K/5.23 ab).

Chris Carter had an OBP .019 points higher than Lowrie last season and walked every 6.66 abs, compared to Lowrie, who walked every 9 ab's. This equals roughly 20 more walks a season by Carter.

From this fairly raw data we can get a ballpark idea of the production Houston is getting with Carter compared to Lowrie.

Houston' fans can expect more power from Carter than Lowrie and a few more walks. However, with that Houston is getting a player who strikes out at a rate twice as often as Jed Lowrie.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mega Trade in the Works

Ken Rosenthal is reporting that a five player trade is in the works with Oakland, with Jed Lowrie as the centerpiece. McTaggart notes Astros will get 1B Chris Carter, RHP Brad Peacock and C Max Stassi from the A's.  Fernando Rodriguez will join Lowrie in Oakland.

Carter is a 1B/DH with power. He appeared in 68 games for Oakland last year, and hit .239/.350/.514 with 16 home runs. His OPS+ of 137 would have been tops on the Astros by a country mile. Seems likely the Astros like the idea of Carter as long term DH, with Singleton at 1st. The 1B/DH spot is getting pretty crowded, with Pena, Wallace, Freiman and now Carter. Somethings got to give there.This makes it that much harder for Freiman to stick with the club.

Stassi is a former top prospect who has lost a lot of time, and luster, due to injuries. However, he is still only 21 and has some power, hitting 15 home runs in just 84 games last year. He appears to be known as a good defensive catcher. John Sickels rated him as Oakland's #12 prospect.

Peacock was a part of Oakland's Gio Gonzalez deal last year. Had a pretty miserable 2012, it seems, with a 6.01. His FIP was better at 4.26. He was still ranked as the A's #4 pitching prospect going into the 2013 season by Baseball America, #6 by John Sickels. Projects as a mid rotation starter, best case scenario. Could conceivably make an impact this year.

Luhnow has said he would have to be "blown away" to trade Lowrie. That is a pretty nice haul for an injury prone shortstop and a mediocre reliever. Luhnow has effectively turned Mark Melancon into Kyle Weiland, Brad Peacock, Max Stassi and Chris Carter. I like the way he does business. Need to get to used to Marwin Gonzalez manning shortstop for a while, though.

Breaking down the rankings

Look, I get it. Prospect rankings are iffy. There are too many external factors, too many variables. Maybe your top prospect is going to lose out on 240 plate appearances because he got caught smoking pot. Each talent evaluator goes by what they see, and of course have their own system for ranking. Throw in the possibility that you don't even like the talent evaluator in the first place (see: Law, Keith), and you're going to have a very loose set of rules for something that hardcore fans take very seriously. As KevinBassStache reminds us, Jim Callis of Baseball America put the Astros system at #10, John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall at #11. Keith Law had them in the Top 5.

But at the very least, the rankings can provide an overall sense of the system's health. By Keith Law's rankings, the Astros went from dead last in 2009, to 28th, to 27th in 2011 and 2012, and now he has them at #4.

How does this compare to the Astros' new competition? It puts the Astros as the top-ranked farm system in the AL West (again, going solely by Law's rankings). The Mariners (#8) and Rangers (#9) are in the Top 10. Meanwhile, the A's (#22) and Angels (#30) apparently have pretty terrible systems.

Of the Top 15 farm systems in baseball, eight of them are American League teams. The AL East and AL West have three teams in the top 15, and the AL Central has two.

I don't know enough about other teams' systems to know if the talent which is being so highly regarded is in the higher reaches of the respective system, or lower. Regardless, going from 30th in 2009 to 4th in 2012 is a good sign, and provides a little respite in this, our winter of franchise discontent.

Keith Law Ranks The Astros Farm 4th Best in the League

Another sign of the improved farm system came today, as Keith Law ranked the Astros 4th in the majors, (subscription required) behind only St. Louis, Minnesota and Tampa Bay. In Law's 2012 rankings, he had the Astros 27th. Law credited the strong 2012 draft, noting the Astros got his number 2 overall and 4 of his top 60 in the class, for the quick rise. He also noted the improved performance of DeShields and Foltynewicz in 2012.

Law was a harsh critic of the Ed Wade regime, but has been very complementary of Luhnow since he took over. Luhnow also appears to also be a fan, as the Astros interviewed Law for several positions last year before he ultimately opted to stay in his role at ESPN. Good to see he is impressed with what the Astros are doing without him.

Law's top 100 will be debuted later this week. I think we can expect to see several Astros prospects on that list. He rated Singleton, Springer and Cosart in the top 100 last year.

Astros Interested in Daisuke Matsuzaka

MLB Daily Dish is reporting that the Houston Astros and New York Mets are both showing interest in Daisuke Matsuzaka. According to the article Dice K isn't sure if he will pitch in the majors this year or return to Japan, indicating he would prefer Japan over a minor league assignment. Both clubs are reported to be looking to sign Matsuzaka to a minor league deal with an invite to major league spring training camp.

UPDATE: Brian Smith says the Astros aren't involved in any "active discussions" regarding Dice-K.