73-89, Fourth place in NL Central
1. CF Michael Bourn:
.277 BA, .348 OBP, .378 SLG, 1 HR, 6 RBIs in 2007
2. 2B Kazuo Matsui:
.288 BA, .342 OBP, .405 SLG, 4 HR, 37 RBIs in 2007
3. SS Miguel Tejada:
.296 BA, .357 OBP, .442 SLG, 18 HR, 81 RBIs in 2007
4. 1B Lance Berkman:
.278 BA, .386 OBP, .510 SLG, 34 HR, 102 RBIs in 2007
5. LF Carlos Lee:
.303 BA, .354 OBP, .528 SLG, 32 HR, 119 RBIs in 2007
6. RF Hunter Pence:
.322 BA, .360 OBP, .539 SLG, 17 HR, 69 RBIs in 2007
7. 3B Ty Wigginton:
.278 BA, .333 OBP, .459 SLG, 22 HR, 67 RBIs in 2007
8. C J.R. Towles:
.375 BA, .432 OBP, .575 SLG, 1 HR, 12 RBIs in 2007
1. Roy Oswalt, 14-7, 3.18 ERA in 2007
2. Wandy Rodriguez, 9-13, 4.58 ERA in 2007
3. Brandon Backe, 3-1, 3.77 ERA in 2007
4. Woody Williams, 8-15, 5.27 ERA in 2007
5. Shawn Chacon, 5-4, 3.94 ERA in 2007 Projected bullpen
Closer: Jose Valverde, 47 saves, 2.66 ERA in 2007
Setup man: Doug Brocail, 3.05 ERA in 2007
Setup man: Oscar Villarreal, 4.24 ERA in 2007 The new guys
Brocail: The 40-year-old Houstonian returns home to anchor the back end of the bullpen, and the Astros will rely heavily on his veteran presence, as well as his bulldog approach on the mound. Brocail and Villarreal can expect to share the eighth-inning duties, although as the season progresses, one of the two could separate himself from the pack and take on the full-time setup role. Jack Cassel: Cassel was non-tendered by San Diego, and Ed Wade quickly signed him, giving the Astros another option for the starting rotation. Scouting reports indicate that Cassel pounds the strike zone with his sinker and competes well. He'll have a chance to win a starting job during Spring Training. Geoff Geary: The 31-year-old right-hander, acquired in the Brad Lidge trade, should fit in somewhere in the middle innings out of the 'pen. Ryan Houston: Obtained on a waiver claim from the Blue Jays in November, Houston will compete for a bullpen spot. Chad Paronto: Paronto, picked up by Houston after the Braves designated him for assignment, will also compete for a relief role. The right-hander appeared in 65 games for Atlanta in '07, compiling a 2-3 record and a 3.18 ERA. Valverde: The trade that sent Lidge to the Phillies in November left the Astros needing a closer, and a month later, Wade obtained the National League's saves leader in 2007. Valverde was a big reason why the Diamondbacks won the division title last year. Villarreal: Villarreal is not yet the official setup man, but he appears to be headed that way. The right-hander is reliable enough to hold down a job in the back end of the bullpen, yet durable enough to log multiple innings in back-to-back appearances. Geoff Blum: Blum returns to the Astros for a second tour, after spending the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the club. The verastile infielder can play all infield positions and will provide a reliable backup plan at third and shortstop. Matsui: Obtained as a free agent and signed to a three-year contract, Matsui takes over a position held by Craig Biggio for most of his 20-year career. Matsui enters the 2008 season as the projected No. 2 hitter. Tejada: Only one shortstop was coveted enough by the Astros to knock Adam Everett off this roster -- Tejada. The former All-Star shortstop had his ups and downs in Baltimore, but insiders feel he'll thrive with a change of scenery. Potential legal issues have muddied the impact of this acquisition, but the Astros expect their new infielder to report to Spring Training on time.
Reggie Abercrombie: The center fielder was grabbed off waivers from the Marlins early in the offseason, and he's expected to compete for a backup outfield spot.Bourn: He's inexperienced, but loaded with talent. His world-class speed and above-average defensive skills have drawn comparisons to those of Willy Taveras. Bourn will slide into the leadoff spot as the starting center fielder. Darin Erstad: Erstad will provide a valuable veteran bat off the bench, and he can also factor in as a late-game defensive replacement in the outfield or at first base. Erstad is the only player in history to win a Gold Glove as an infielder and an outfielder. Yordany Ramirez: Formerly with the Padres organization, Ramirez was regarded as one of the top defensive outfielders at the higher Minor League levels. If he continues to make progress with the bat, he could factor into the Astros' plans sometime this year. Prospects to watch
Brad James: After watching the 23-year-old right-hander during the Elite Camp, Nolan Ryan said James had one of the best sinkers he'd seen in a long time. James had foot surgery during the offseason after a household accident, so he might not be ready for Day 1 of Spring Training. However, the Astros don't expect a long delay. Tommy Manzella: The lanky shortstop has drawn comparisons to Everett: smooth as silk in the field, somewhat weak with the bat. But the club was encouraged when Manzella hit .289 after he was promoted from High A to Double-A last year, and Astros are still very enthusiastic about Manzella's future. Sammy Gervacio: He's probably ticketed for Double-A to start the season, but the Astros predict he could join the Astros' relief corps as early as next season. The closer for the Hooks last year, Gervacio has a good changeup and slider and the front office loves his mound presence. Returning from injury
Backe: After missing the majority of the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Backe's ability to contribute a full, healthy season will be crucial if the Astros are to be competitive in '08. The right-hander has never pitched more than 150 innings in a single season, but he'll need to top that this year. He made five starts in September of last year and produced positive results, giving the Astros reason to believe he'll contribute in a big way in '08. Chris Sampson: Sampson was shut down in mid-September because of elbow issues, just a few weeks after he returned to the team following a month-long stint on the DL with a sprained elbow ligament. Fatigue likely contributed to Sampson's health issues. He'll be considered for the fifth starter job but could also settle into the bullpen in a middle relief role. Fernando Nieve: Nieve has been out for nearly a year after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery last May, but the Astros haven't forgotten about him. The crafty right-hander is eying a May '08 return and could be a huge boost to a rotation in need of power arms. On the rebound
Williams: No one was more disappointed with Williams than Williams himself after he struggled through an 8-15 campaign. The native Houstonian had different expectations when he signed on with his hometown team following the '06 season. Williams is signed through '08, but if he cannot rebound, he could lose his spot in the rotation. Berkman: It's hard to say that a player who amassed 34 home runs and 102 RBIs is on the rebound, but in Berkman's case, 2008 was somewhat of a down year. The slugging first baseman put together a nice second half, but his .253 average in April and .237 mark in May hurt the club and largely contributed to the team's poor results. The offense will be better this year, but the team still needs Berkman, who is projected to hit in the cleanup spot, to have a typical Berkman year. Long gone
Matt Albers: Loaded with potential but still looking to translate that into success on the big league level, Albers was shipped to the Orioles in the five-for-one Tejada deal.
Biggio: The beloved second baseman ended a 20-year Hall of Fame-caliber career in '07 after thrilling fans with his pursuit of his 3,000th hit.Eric Bruntlett: The defensively suberb utility man was one of the first to go last offseason when he was traded to the Phillies in the trade highlighted by Michael Bourn and Brad Lidge. Chris Burke: Displaced after the Astros signed Matsui, Burke, long considered Biggio's heir apparent at second base, was traded to Arizona in December. Everett:The Astros coveted only one shortstop more than Everett: Tejada. After trying for two years, the Astros finally landed their man. That made the non-tendered Everett a free agent, and less than 10 hours later, he signed with the Twins. Juan Gutierrez: This one hurt a little bit. Gutierrez would have had a pretty good shot at winning a rotation spot this spring, but he was a D-back by December, as the Astros used him as trade bait in order to nab Valverde. Jason Jennings: The biggest disappointment of the 2007 season cut his losses and signed with the Rangers. His '07 contributions were largely forgettable -- he went 2-9 and missed more than half the season with a bum elbow. Mike Lamb: The Astros lost their best bat off the bench when they parted ways with Lamb. The Wigginton trade in July of last season sealed Lamb's fate, and he eventually followed Everett to Minnesota. Eric Munson: Munson, a backup catcher who can also play first base, was claimed off waivers by the Brewers soon after the conclusion of the 2007 season. Orlando Palmeiro: Wade reshaped the bench, and that face lift did not include the veteran pinch-hitter. Palmeiro's pinch-hit totals rank him in the top 10 all-time in big league history. Troy Patton: This one was painful. The 22-year-old lefty from Tomball was touted as the next big thing, but in order to get Tejada, the Astros had to give up their prized possession. Patton will now compete for a starting job in the Orioles' rotation. Lidge: Lidge was one of the first to go when Wade began reshaping the roster. The embattled closer was traded to Philadelphia in the deal that brought Bourn to the Astros. Trever Miller: Miller was a serviceable lefty specialist for two years, but it appears the Astros will look elsewhere for help in that area in '08. Chad Qualls: Qualls was on the verge of taking over the closer's duties for the Astros when he was traded to Arizona in mid-December in the Valverde trade. Dennis Sarfate: The right-hander wowed teammates and fans with his 100-mph fastball, but just as folks in Houston were figuring out how to pronounce his name, he was traded to Baltimore in the Tejada trade. Luke Scott: The fan-friendly and popular outfielder was included in the package that sent five players to Baltimore in exchange for Tejada.
2007 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Pence, .322
OBP: Berkman, .386
SLG: Pence, .539
Runs: Berkman, 95
RBIs: Berkman, 102
Hits: Lee, 190
2B: Lee, 43
3B: Pence, 9
HR: Berkman, 34
SB: Pence, 11
2007 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Oswalt, 212
W: Oswalt, 14
L: Williams, 15
Win %: Oswalt, .667 (14-7)
S: Lidge, 19
ERA: Qualls, 3.05
K: Rodriguez, 158
K/9: Qualls, 8.49
WHIP: Qualls, 1.31
1. Even if they pitch well, will the starters pitch enough innings?
This is the real concern about the rotation. The Astros have two pitchers who can be counted on for 200 innings -- Oswalt, the anchor, and Williams, who would have recorded 200 last year had he not stepped out of the rotation toward the end of the season so the club could look at some of the kids. But if this team is going to succeed, more than one other member of the rotation is going to have to provide durability. This might be a tall order, considering Backe is returning from Tommy John elbow surgery and Sampson was shut down late last year because of elbow soreness likely stemming from fatigue.
Center fielder Bourn and catcher Towles are taking over two of the most important positions on the diamond, and expectations are high for both. Bourn is loaded with potential, but with fewer than 200 career big league at-bats, he has no track record. Towles has exactly 14 games of big league experience, yet he's expected to take over a job held by Ausmus for the better part of a decade. Bourn and Towles have the tools, and the club is optimistic about both. Now they have to prove they belong. 3. With so many changes made to the roster over the winter, how will this team, filled with virtual strangers, perform together?
The top three hitters in the order were with other teams in 2007. Only two players from the '07 lineup are held over to this year. The back end of the bullpen has three new occupants. While most of the players acquired by Wade this winter have nice track records, sometimes how a team looks on paper doesn't translate to results on the field. It will be interesting to watch how this team bonds during Spring Training and the early parts of the regular season. Many players have played on good teams in the past, and that experience should help. The bottom line
The offense is in good hands, and the revamped bullpen looks solid with the addition of veteran arms. But the focus will be on the rotation, and until the starters not named Oswalt prove the critics wrong, this group of starters will remain suspect. With such low expectations from fans and media, the worst-case scenario is that the rotation lives up to the billing. The best case scenario? They prove everyone wrong. Rodriguez could have the breakout year the front office has been waiting for, Sampson's arm could be ready for a full Major League season and Williams could contribute an effort that more resembles his career prior to '07. But as is the case every year, there is little margin for error. With so few options in the Minor Leagues, every starter needs to have that proverbial "career year."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.