The contrast at Minute Maid Park Monday was striking. On the day the Astros called up the top prospect in all of minor league baseball, the New York Yankees were borrowing the same press conference room to announce the trade of their closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs.
The Astros finally had Alex Bregman in a big league uniform to add to the abundance of young talent in the Houston clubhouse. The big, bad, NEW YORK YANKEES were sellers with a week remaining before the MLB Trade Deadline.
The Yankees General Manger Brian Cashman didn’t exactly use those words.
“This isn’t a white flag,” he told MLB.com. “This is a rearrangement.”
Then again the entire American League has being going through a rearrangement over the last two years. The dynamics have shifted. I know the Yankees have already won the series at Minute Maid and for that matter won the season series even though on Tuesday the aging Brian McCann batted clean up and 36-year old Mark Teixeira, hitting .184, was batting fifth in their lineup. But the Bombers brightest days seem behind them, until they can “rearrange” again.
Last year’s American League Wildcard Game victory in the Bronx felt like the baton had been passed to the upstart Astros. But this 2016 bunch is tough to figure out.
When the Astros aren’t playing the Angels, a piece of the puzzle still seems to be missing. The pitching has been collectively outstanding for nearly three months but there are nights like Tuesday where they can be frustrating. The offense is still prone to high strikeout and low run outputs. But then again the lineup is loaded with young talent. There is Springer and Correa, Altuve and now Bregman.
It’s time for the Astros to go for it. I know the Astros and their fan base are still new to this concept of being buyers rather than sellers. Heck, they are still relatively new to the American League. Remember how for so many years, buying to make the playoffs in the A.L. had to be balanced with the challenge of then going through the Bronx or Fenway Park just to GET to a World Series? Then the Royals and Tigers had a few years of impressive performances built on pitching.
Not anymore. The balance of power has shifted. The divisional leaders are the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. The Orioles were the 1983 World Champs with a second year shortstop named Cal Ripken. The Tribe last raised a World Series banner in 1948 with Bob Feller winning 19 games. The Rangers and Astros have never won a championship.
The new kids on the block get to wrestle for 2016 post-season berths, so why not Houston? This nucleus could be together for years providing multiple opportunities to make deep post-season runs, but the club might never be operating from THIS position of power again. Three painful 100 plus loss seasons provided a bevy of draft picks and a chance to add a depth of talent to the farm system. That mission seems to have been a success. An eye brow or two may have been raised last year over some trades. But for every Vince Velasquez and Mark Appel sent packing there is a Joe Musgrove or Francis Martes waiting in the wings. Brett Phillips could be a star in Milwaukee. Then again Derek Fisher or Kyle Tucker could do the same type of damage, wearing Astros uniforms. Then there is still the matter of figuring out exactly where Preston Tucker, A.J. Reed, Tyler White, Tony Kemp, Brady Rodgers and even Yulieski Gourriel fit into the mix.
The Astros could use another starting pitcher, maybe a closer, a bat or at least a veteran who has been through a few playoff runs before. Carlos Beltran anyone? Wouldn’t that be fun?
The market doesn’t seem to be overflowing with available trade pieces, but Jeff Luhnow and his crew can get creative and give A.J. Hinch another weapon to chase down the Rangers or at least get pole position in the wildcard standings.
Earlier this year in a column, I explained that I felt A.J. Hinch’s greatest challenge was to figure out the perfect days to rest some of his stars and still be able to collect wins. That remains a top priority. It is hard to sit Springer, Correa or Altuve, who seems to have more offensive categories that he leads the league than those where he doesn’t. But this team has had to grind for months to overcome a slow start and there is a danger of some of the young guns running on fumes in September. The chase can be as draining as winning is exhilarating. Lineup construction is always a bit of a balancing act, especially when a club is the hunter rather than the hunted.
Gourriel hasn’t played competitively in more than a year. No matter how much he was paid, it might be tough to rush him into some minor league at bats, so he can get to the big leagues before the end of August and know what to expect in a playoff chase.
One more arm or one more bat could be the difference. It won’t be easy to find another key piece and it certainly won’t be cheap. But the Rangers are fading, the division is there for taking and so is the American League.
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