With so many young faces on the Major League club -- and a growing number of up-and-coming prospects in the Minor Leagues, thanks to a series of trades -- there's no shortage of storylines. On the front burner with most fans is the issue of the Astros possibly moving to the American League and, of course, Carlos Lee. What would an Inbox be without a few questions about the veteran first baseman?
Lee, who is the Astros' highest-paid player, is certainly a lightning rod for debate. Do you trade him, if that's even possible? Do you keep him? Do you bench him? Don't look now, but Lee just might be the Astros' Most Valuable Player in 2011. Yeah, I just said that. So let's go to the Inbox.
What do the Astros do with Lee in 2012? I like him, but is he blocking Brett Wallace's development?
-- Brett O., New Haven, Conn.
For all the criticism Lee gets from fans, he's going to wind up driving in around 90 runs for the second year in a row and might be the Astros' MVP. Still, Lee makes $18.5 million a year, and you'd like to see a bigger bang for the buck.
Because of his salary and limited no-trade clause, Lee is likely to stick around for 2012, which would be the final year of his six-year, $100 million deal. He's obviously done as an outfielder, so he's going to have to remain at first base, which means Wallace will have to wait.
Is Lee blocking his development? That's hard to say. Wallace had three months in the lineup and has yet to show he can hit with power, and he wound up spending August in the Minor Leagues.
Wallace might have to bide his time in the Minors at the start of next season until the Astros decide they can eat the remainder of Lee's contract or they can pull off a trade for him. But right now, Lee is the best run producer in the Astros' lineup. A lot of fans might not want to read that, but the numbers bear out at this point.
What are your thoughts on the Astros going to the American League?
-- Joe F., Houston
As everyone knows by now, Major League Baseball has asked Crane, who has agreed to purchase the team from McLane, to move the club to the American League to balance out the leagues at 15 teams each. The reluctance of the Astros to move and end a 50-year affiliation with the National League is one of the issues holding up the sale of the team from being approved.
What are my thoughts? I don't like the idea of the Astros changing leagues. Houston is an NL town and has been for a couple of generations. The Astros for years were built on pitching, speed and defense and not power. The move to the AL would force the Astros to search for a designated hitter who can hit for power, as well as increase the number of road games that would start in Houston after 9 p.m. CT.
There's not much to get excited about in that regard, short of the Yankees and Red Sox coming to town every year. But with the Astros relying on young players and trying to rebuild during the next couple of seasons, playing the Yankees and Red Sox six times a year and the Rangers 18 times a year probably isn't a good thing at this point.
What's the update on injured pitchers Vincent Velasquez, Brandt Walker, Alberto Arias and Brandon Lyon?
-- Jayne H., Houston
Velasquez, a high school pitcher drafted in the second round a year ago, has completed his rehab from Tommy John surgery and has been in Florida all year. He has thrown batting practice multiple times and should arrive in the instructional league ready to pitch in games. He's a motivated, no-nonsense kid who could have a very bright future.
Walker, a right-hander tabbed out of Stanford in 2009, had a lost 2011 season because of a knee injury, but the Astros remain high on him. He spent the season in Florida on a rehab assignment and is back and ready to pitch. Because his arm is fine, Walker will get right back to work and could possibly play winter ball this year in a low-key environment. His main issue will be finding better command and cutting down on the walks that plagued him in his first two years with the organization.
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Arias, who appeared in 42 games for the Astros in 2009, remains sidelined. He's had a pair of arm surgeries, but has now missed two consecutive seasons because of injuries and he's about to turn 28 years old.
Lyon underwent major arm surgery in June and missed the rest of the season, but he'll return in 2012 for the final year of his three-year, $15 million contract.
Brett Myers' season will probably be viewed as disappointing this year because of his first-half struggles, but he's actually turned it around in the second half and appears to be in line for a respectable season even with his first-half struggles. My question is, did Myers regain any trade value with his second-half performance, and if so, would the Astros choose to trade him or hold onto the innings-eater to anchor the rotation?
-- Jesse P., Conroe, Texas
Myers has righted the ship somewhat in the second half, especially recently. He's 2-0 with a 1.15 ERA in two starts in September and has a 3.96 ERA in the second half of the season, which is markedly better than the 4.88 ERA he had prior to the All-Star break. One of the reasons for the turnaround has been his ability to limit his home runs, which were a big problem earlier in the season. He's going to be a guy who gives up a lot of baserunners because he pitches to contact, but if he keeps the ball in the yard, he can be very effective.
That being said, Myers probably will have some trade value during the winter, and the Astros should take some phone calls about him. The problem is money. Myers is due $11 million next year and $10 million in 2013 if the team picks up his option, which comes with a hefty buyout. Holding onto Myers might not be a bad idea. He certainly eats innings and has proven to be very effective at times, and he can help keep a spot in the rotation occupied until some of the Astros' promising Minor League arms reach the Majors in the next few years.
Of all the Astros' young pitchers currently up in the Majors or a year away, which ones could have a shot at cracking the rotation next year and what would be their long-term ceiling?
-- Brian L., Newton, Pa.
Some of the young pitchers who could have an immediate impact with the club are guys who weren't in the organization a few months ago.
Lucas Harrell, the right-hander claimed off waivers earlier this year, has a big league start under his belt and has a promising arm. So does Henry Sosa, who has done a pretty good job getting thrust into the rotation after coming to the Astros as a Minor League piece in the Jeff Keppinger trade from the Giants.
Right-hander Paul Clemens and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, both of whom were acquired from the Braves in the Michael Bourn trade, have had had solid debuts in the organization and could push for spots in the rotation soon. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel, drafted in 2009, had a terrific year in Double-A and struggled in his Triple-A debut, but he could be the next Astros Draft pick to make an impact in the rotation.
Behind him are guys like Ross Seaton and Jarred Cosart, both of whom are still young and might not reach the Majors until 2013.
General manager Ed Wade obtained Clint Barmes for Felipe Paulino, and then he had an opportunity to pick Paulino up again after the Rockies released him after Colorado primarily used him in a relief role that he'd never been acclimated to. So given the state of the Astros, what factors went into Wade's thinking in not bidding to re-sign Paulino?
-- Stewart G., Beaumont, Texas
The trade for Barmes has proven to be a good one. Barmes, although he missed the first part of the regular season after breaking his left hand, is a terrific defensive shortstop who brings a much-needed veteran influence in the clubhouse and to a young infield where rookies are stationed at third base and second base on most nights. Plus, he's got a little pop on a team that has very little power.
Paulino had enough time with the Astros to establish himself, and there was no reason they should have considered bringing him back. He was in the organization for about 10 years and had plenty of chances to prove that he was a capable big league pitcher at the Major League level, and he never did it. He was often injured and wasn't exactly a hard worker at times.
Paulino was subpar in relief for the Rockies and they wound up dumping him, and the Royals have him now in the rotation. He's not pitching too badly as a starter, but remains an enigma. The Astros have enough young and promising arms, and they don't need Paulino.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.