Houston faces tough road in move to AL West
The Houston Astros and their staff think they’ll be much better
than they were last season.
They’re about the only ones with that opinion.
Prognosticators and pundits across the country don’t see any way
the Astros can avoid finishing last in the majors for the third
The odds are stacked against a Houston team that has just five
players on the 40-man roster with more than two years of major
league experience and the league’s lowest payroll. Add to that the
move from the NL Central to the powerful AL West and things look
even more daunting.
It will be tough, most figure, for this team to avoid becoming
the first to lose at least 106 games in three straight seasons
since the expansion Mets did it from 1962-65.
First-year manager Bo Porter, the former Nationals third base
coach, has worked to instill a winning attitude in the Astros all
spring, and has implored them not to listen to the critics.
”Ignore the noise,” he said he tells the players. ”It doesn’t
matter what anybody has to say – at the end of the day, on March
31, it’s the Houston Astros vs. the Texas Rangers. It’s us against
the other team. All the predictions and other things go out the
Still, it’s difficult to envision this team being competitive
with a payroll of $25.9 million, and that figure includes the $4.5
million Houston will pay Pittsburgh as part of the deal that sent
pitcher Wandy Rodriguez there last season. Without that $4.5
million, the entire team will make about $6.5 million less than
Alex Rodriguez alone will earn this season.
”The one thing that you can never account for in competitive
sports is what lies inside of a man,” said Porter, who was part of
the recent turnaround in Washington. ”We’ve all seen enough
baseball and we’ve seen enough competition to know that a lot of
times that will and that desire and that passion – a lot of times
it wins out.”
”Now, is that going to translate over a 162-game season? Nobody
has the answer to that,” he said. ”None of us has a crystal ball.
We don’t know.”
Opening day starter Bud Norris is the highest-paid player on the
team with a salary of $3 million. He’ll try to bounce back from a
tough 2012 season where he went 7-13 with a 4.65 ERA. Following him
in the rotation will be Lucas Harrell, who was Houston’s most
successful starter last season with an 11-11 record and 3.76
The Astros added Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game last
season with the White Sox, to pitch third in the rotation. The
perfecto was the highlight of a disappointing season overall where
he went 5-5 with a 6.44 ERA. Erik Bedard will be the fifth starter
and Alex White and Brad Peacock are battling to round out the
Houston’s biggest offseason acquisition was slugger Carlos Pena,
who will likely be the team’s first-ever designated hitter. The
34-year-old is coming off a season where he hit just .197 with a
career-high 182 strikeouts.
”That’s a reason we targeted Carlos Pena – No. 1, he has
experience as a DH,” Porter said. ”There are some finer points to
being a DH. What you don’t want is a young guy, who has never DHed
before, and then you don’t have a veteran, and then all of a sudden
you put them in a DH spot and it almost acts as four pinch
Pena is hoping he’ll get some work in the field instead of only
at designated hitter.
”I want to play first base every single day,” he said. ”I
love fielding. I love that. I want to do it as long as I possibly
can. However, I’m part of this ball club and I just want to be
ready for whatever our manager decides is the way to use me.”
The Astros also added Pena, who has 277 homers in his 12-year
career, to give their young clubhouse a veteran presence.
Another new addition to Houston’s lineup is left fielder Chris
Carter. Carter came to Houston just before spring training in a
trade that sent veteran shortstop Jed Lowrie to Oakland. The Astros
like the potential for power of the 26-year-old, who hit 16 homers
in 67 games last season for the A’s. He and third baseman Brett
Wallace could also see time at DH.
After failing to see what they hoped for from either Tyler
Greene or Marwin Gonzalez in spring training, the Astros recently
signed veteran infielder Ronny Cedeno.
The 30-year-old Cedeno should be a good influence on promising
22-year-old second baseman Jose Altuve. Altuve was one of the only
bright spots of last season for Houston when he hit .290 and made
the All-Star team.
Harrell said things have already changed under the guidance of
Porter this spring.
”I wouldn’t say the attitude was bad here,” he said. ”It was
just that it wasn’t necessarily a winning attitude … and so
that’s what we’re trying to change.”
AP freelance writer Dick Scanlon contributed to this report from