Baseball preview: Houston Astros

Two years after making the first World Series appearance in team history, the Houston Astros slumped to a 73-89 record and finished in fourth place in the six-team NL Central. In the offseason, the Astros were very active in making moves in an attempt to compete for the division title again in 2008.

In November, they sent closer Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett to the Philadelphia Phillies for center fielder Michael Bourn, relief pitcher Geoff Geary and minor league third baseman Mike Costanzo.


Then, the Astros obtained shortstop Miguel Tejada from the Orioles in December, but potentially mortgaged their future by trading three pitching prospects (Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate and Matt Albers) and Costanzo in the deal. The Orioles also acquired outfielder Luke Scott in the trade.

Following the Tejada trade, the Astros continued revamping their roster by acquiring closer Jose Valverde from the Arizona Diamondbacks for infielder Chris Burke and relievers Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez.


Although they are set up for success in 2008, the Astros could be headed for disaster in the future. If they struggle this season, they'll need to think of another way to rebuild because they dealt four of their best prospects to Baltimore in the Tejada deal.

Houston Astros

2007 record: 73-89 (4th in NL Central)

Key additions: SS Miguel Tejada, RHP Jose Valverde, 2B Kazuo Matsui, CF Michael Bourn, RHP Geoff Geary, RHP Oscar Villarreal

Key losses: 2B Craig Biggio, OF Luke Scott, IF Mike Lamb, RHP Brad Lidge, RHP Chad Qualls, SS Adam Everett, LHP Trever Miller, IF Chris Burke, RHP Jason Jennings, RHP Matt Albers, LHP Troy Patton, RHP Dennis Sarfate

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Carlos Lee, LF – Count me among the people who didn't think Lee was going to be worth the contract he signed with Houston before last season. However, he hit .303 with 32 home runs and 119 RBIs in 2007. Lee has hit at least 31 home runs in each of the past five seasons, and he had at least 113 RBIs in four of those five years. He had 99 RBIs in 2004, but also established a career high in batting average that season (.305). Lee should be drafted in the first or second round this season because he'll hit around .300 with 30-35 home runs and 110-120 RBIs. He'll also steal 10-20 bases in 2008.

2. Lance Berkman, 1B – In eight full seasons, Berkman has a career .300 batting average. Last year, he only hit .278, but he had 34 home runs and 102 RBIs in 153 games. At a minimum, Berkman will give you 25 home runs and 90 RBIs this season. He'll likely have 30-35 home runs and 110-120 RBIs, which would make him one of the better options at first base. Berkman will be gone by the end of the fourth round.

3. Roy Oswalt, RHP – Oswalt isn't the same pitcher that he was during back-to-back 20-win seasons in 2004 and 2005, but he'll still win 13-17 games and post an ERA around 3.00. He'll pitch over 200 innings and will give you 155-165 strikeouts. Oswalt is the only starting pitcher in Houston that should be drafted. He has a pretty solid offense behind him so he could get a lot of wins even if he gives up more runs than normal.

4. Hunter Pence, RF – In 108 games in 2007, Pence hit .322 with 17 home runs and 69 RBIs. It was an impressive rookie campaign and he'll likely improve those numbers as the everyday right fielder in 2008. It's possible that Pence could hit 25-30 home runs and collect 90-100 RBIs, so keep him in mind when you're looking for another outfielder in your draft. Pence is one of the top 25 outfielders available, so draft him accordingly.

5. Miguel Tejada, SS – The 11-year veteran will play in the National League for the first time so it will be interesting to see if that has any impact on his performance in 2008. Tejada has a .287 career batting average, but he never hit below .296 in four seasons with the Orioles. Last season, he only had 18 home runs and 81 RBIs, but it was the first time he had missed a game since 2000. If he plays a full season this year, he'll likely hit around .300 with 25-30 home runs and 100-110 RBIs. He's still probably one of the top five shortstops in the major leagues.

6. Jose Valverde, RHP – It'll be exciting to see how many saves Valverde gets in his first year in Houston. As a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, he led the major leagues with 47 saves. It's a stretch to think he'll get that many saves again in 2008, but Valverde should collect at least 25-30 saves. Valverde should be drafted around the 10th round, so keep that in mind if you need an impact closer and he's available.


Hidden gems:

1. J.R. Towles, C – Despite only playing in 14 games in the major leagues, Towles will likely begin the season as the starting catcher. Although he lacks experience, Towles showed that he thinks he's ready for the big leagues by hitting .375 with a home run and 12 RBIs in his short debut in 2007. Keep an eye on his performance during the spring because he might be worth a late-round pick if you're desperate for help at the position.

2. Michael Bourn, CF – Bourn doesn't offer much in fantasy value, but he'll get a lot of stolen bases as the everyday center fielder and likely leadoff hitter in Houston. If you need someone who will boost your total stolen bases, then it might be worth grabbing Bourn with one of your last picks. He could also produce a decent batting average, but don't expect much power from him.

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