There are questions surrounding all 30 MLB teams during Spring Training, and Rob Neyer intends to answer them with his 30-part Question of the Day series. Today, he takes a look at the Houston Astros.
Are the Houston Astros the boringest team in the Major Leagues of Baseball?
No, that's not the Question of the Day. Consider it rhetorical, or unanswerable, or just plain silly. Whichever of those, it points to the fact that I'm merely delaying because I'm having trouble coming up with an interesting question about the Houston Astros.
Is there anything to ask about Carlos Lee's contract, which will pay him yet another $37 million over the next two seasons? It is what it is.
Is there anything to ask about the Astros' pitching rotation? Not really. All five projected starters are well-established and reasonably healthy, and because we prefer to accentuate the positive on the Internets, we won't question Brett Myers' ability to post another 3.14 ERA this year, or 37-year-old Nelson Figueroa's effectiveness in the No. 5 slot. Houston's rotation won't be particularly good, or particularly bad. It will just be.
Lineup-wise, the Astros enter 2011 almost exactly as they exited 2010. Same banjo-hitting catchers. Same veteran corner outfielders, same young corner infielders, same defensive wizard in center field. The Astros do have new middle infielders -- Bill Hall supplanting Jeff Keppinger at second base, Clint Barmes joining incumbent Tommy Manzella at shortstop -- but neither comes with any real questions.
Look, here's what makes the Astros so fundamentally uninteresting ... They have almost zero chance of playing well enough or poorly enough for anyone to notice them. They're a perfectly mediocre collection of world-class baseball talent, with not an MVP or Cy Young or Rookie of the Year candidate anywhere to be found. And with just one reasonably high-quality prospect -- 20-year-old pitcher Jordan Lyles -- in the pipeline, none of that figures to change anytime soon.
In 2008, Wallace was selected by the Cardinals with the 13th pick in the amateur draft.
In 2010, the Blue Jays traded Wallace to the Astros for Anthony Gose.
It's uncommon for any young player to be traded three times in two years, but it must be incredibly uncommon for a legitimate prospect to be traded so often. Then again, all those teams that traded Wallace looked pretty smart last summer. Upon joining the Astros, Wallace debuted in the majors and struggled terribly for the rest of the season, finished with a .222/.296/.319 line. While Wallace never really piled up great numbers in the minors, we weren't expecting this. He'll have another shot this spring.
Meanwhile, fellow 2010 rookie Chris Johnson did sort of the opposite.
Johnson entered last season at 25, coming off a so-so 2009 campaign with Triple-A Round Rock. Management was so little impressed with Johnson's potential that they signed the dried-out carcass of Pedro Feliz as insurance if Johnson couldn't win third base outright.
He couldn't. Not at first. After hitting poorly in a few April games, Johnson was dispatched to Round Rock ... where he exploded with the best numbers of his career, and after 38 games was recalled. Meanwhile, Feliz had been just terrible -- yes, I know: Dog Bites Man -- and so Johnson took over at third base. From his return to the lineup on the 22nd of June through the end of the season, Johnson batted .313/.344/.492.
Essentially, then, today's Questions are these: Can Brett Wallace hit like he was always supposed to, and can Chris Johnson keep hitting like he wasn't?
If the answers are yes, there might actually be a couple of reasons to watch the 2010 Astros, even when Wandy Rodriguez isn't pitching.