Going into last season, the Houston Astros were easily considered to be the worst team in the Major Leagues. By the conclusion of the regular season, the Astros had proven those assumptions to be correct, as they finished the 2013 season with the worst record in the Majors. I will not go into detail on how bad they were last season, but they had few strengths on offense or defense, and especially not with pitching. The Astros hired General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, after the 2011 season, in order to complete a full-blown rebuild. Before becoming their General Manager, Luhnow served as the Scouting Director for the St. Louis Cardinals. With a background in scouting and a clear commitment to analytics, Luhnow is the best guy the Astros could have at the helm to undergo a complete rebuild.
When Luhnow took over prior to the 2012 season, the Astros Farm System ranked among the worst in baseball; however, in just two years, Luhnow has grown the Farm System into one of the deepest in baseball. It is easy to discount much of their Farm System’s improvements to the fact that they have had the 1st overall pick in the Amateur Draft for each of his two drafts; yet, Luhnow has also made several shrewd trades to acquire quality prospects. In just over 2 years after hiring Luhnow, the Astros have made over 25 trades with 20 different teams. Luhnow has also taken advantage of the Waiver Wire to claim good contributors, such as Justin Maxwell and Jordan Schafer.
While the Astros had the lowest payroll in baseball last season, they have shown a clear commitment to add talent this offseason. They are not spending like the Marlins did in 2011-2012 offseason, but they have made two key acquisitions. The first was a trade with the Colorado Rockies for Centerfielder Dexter Fowler. Fowler is just 27 years old, so he is likely entering his prime years. He is regarded as a below average defender, but his offense is certainly above average for a centerfielder. He has slashed a career .270/.365/.423 with a 12.3% and 22.3% BB and K rates, respectively. There are concerns about how he will adjust to leaving Coors Field, but Minute Maid Park was actually more favorable for Home Runs than Coors Field in 2013,according to ESPN Park Effects. The Astros sent young Starting Pitcher, Jordan Lyles, and Centerfielder Brandon Barnes to the Rockies in the trade. While Lyles was once an outstanding prospect, he has struggled to a 5.35 ERA in 377 Big League innings. He still has plenty of potential because he is just 23 years old and his 4.54 FIP suggests he will be more effective in the future; however, a move to Coors Field may hurt him.
The Astros’ other big acquisition of this offseason was their signing of 30-year old Starting Pitcher Scott Feldman to a 3-year, $30 Million deal. The Feldman signing shows a clear commitment to their Major League club and an attempt to move their rebuilding along, as they cannot just rely on their Farm System to fill all their needs. Feldman is no ace, but he will likely anchor the Astros’ rotation and at the least will serve as a very effective innings-eater. Feldman has been inconsistent throughout his career, but his FIP has been very consistent in each of the past three seasons. The Astros are unlikely to be competitive at any point during his deal, but Feldman can still help the Astros future by allowing them to take their time developing young starting pitchers, which they were not able to do with Jordan Lyles.
The Astros are not going to compete in 2014, and likely will not be competitive until 2016. However, the Astros are still showing a clear commitment to winning by sticking to their plan of a complete rebuild. The Astros have made two key additions to their club this offseason without sacrificing much talent. The rebuild will continue this season, as the Astros will again have the 1st overall pick in the Amateur Draft. By staying the course of their rebuild, the Astros will avoid the mistakes of the Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays.