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Monday, January 10, 2005

Astros: Ashes and Sack-Cloth 

The flags are flying at half-staff in the Astros nation today.

Carlos Beltran is gone, as are Houston's chances, I fear, to compete for a National League pennant. Pitchers and catchers don't report for another month, so new GM Tim Purpura and owner Drayton McLane still have time to work magic, but barring some serious moves, I think the Stros are staring a .500 season -- at best -- in the face.

In a way I'm not too bummed about Beltran's departure. Committing $100 to one player is a risk for a mid-market team like Houston. What if two years from now Beltran sustains an injury that leads to a decline in production and/or ability? Then you have the same yahoos that continually assail Jeff Bagwell's contract doing the same thing with Beltran's.

But who am I kidding? Beltran is a guy you can build around. Yeah, his overall offensive stats don't resemble Barry Bonds, but he brings a total package: power, speed and defense. He makes the guys around him better, and he comes to play at crunch time. His presence will be sorely missed this season, especially if Houston finds a way to sneak into the playoff race.

I'll refrain from any Beltran or Scott Boras bashing. It's pointless now. They made their decision and no matter what I think about it, Houston still has a Texas-sized hole in center field. I commend Astros management for making every effort to sign the star, but it didn't happen and Spring Training is right around the proverbial corner, so there's no time to throw a pity party.

With no real marquee free agents available (Jeremy Burnitz is as close as you'll find), there remain a few trade possibilities. The simple fact, though, is that now is the time that some of the club's younger guys have to step up.

2005 will be a transition year for the Astros, as the Bagwell and Biggio Era draws to a close in what should be Bidge's final season in Houston. Now is when guys like Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett (and possibly Chris Burke and Jason Lane) have to prove that they are the long-term answer at their respective positions. For Houston to have any shot at the postseason, these young players have to realize their potential.

I think that between now and mid-February, Purpura will make an addition or two, which will hopefully improve this ballclub. If he doesn't, and what we have now is what we take into Opening Day, then I think we're in for a long summer. For now I'm keeping the faith.


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