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Schadenfreude: Your 2010 Astros

For your amusement:

Optimistic about 2010 Astros? Let me count the ways.

Oh boy.

I can't say I'm optimistic about the Astros making the playoffs. I'm not even sure they'll be a .500 team, and there'll be plenty of days when it seems this franchise will never be good again.

Speaking as someone who's pretty familiar with that feeling, I'd say it's one this guy should get used to.

Yes, Chris Johnson is going to struggle. So is Jason Castro and Tommy Manzella. They may be the three biggest flops in the history of baseball. Unfortunately, young players don't come with guarantees.

But the only way — and I mean the only way — to find out is to throw 'em out there and let 'em play. Not for a week or two weeks, but for a month or two, maybe longer.

Castro is a pretty good prospect, one of very few Houston has, even if he hasn't played a day of AAA baseball yet. But as a Pirates fan, I would fully endorse an Astros decision to play Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella every day.

Not all young players are created equal, and good franchises don't give them playing time at random. If you're a fan of a team as indifferent to young talent as the Astros are, it's probably pretty easy to forget that. Tommy Manzella is a shortstop who will be 27 in April and has a .695 career minor league OPS. Chris Johnson is a 25-year-old third baseman with a .726 career minor league OPS. Playing these two regularly would be a little like the Pirates' decision to play Tike Redman every day for two years. It might work for a couple months, but in the long haul, it's a terrible decision, because minor league stats matter. The Astros will learn this the hard way. It's going to be awesome.

When things are going south in 2010, it's important to take a deep breath and count the things we have instead of the things we don't. I'll admit I'm biased because of my cozy relationship with Tal Smith, and because Ed Wade is as decent and as solid a man as you will ever meet.

Ed has Drayton's trust in a way none of his other general managers came close to having. Thanks to Ed, Drayton now preaches the gospel of player development and signing draft picks.

...Which is kind of like preaching the gospel of "showing up to games" and "bringing a bat to the plate." Caring about the draft is that important, and Houston is about to pay the bill on their previous, staggeringly dumb draft habits, like not signing any picks until the fifth round in 2007. That doesn't make Ed Wade a good general manager, and until Wade also starts preaching the gospel of "not filling the bench with crap veterans" and "not signing Brandon Lyon to a three-year conract," I'm not buying it.

Then again, I'm just a guy who doesn't have a cozy relationship with Tal Smith. And I don't really know what a solid, solid man Ed Wade is.

As for the new pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg, let's just say that the other sporting writers are going to be real jealous when they see us exchanging sweet nothings in Kissimmee.

Yes, this is in the actual article. I'll say this for the Pittsburgh newspaper writers--even the bad ones don't seem to have crushes on the people they're supposed to be covering. Even Paul Meyer wasn't this bad.

I'm optimistic about the Astros when I hear Tal Smith describe T.J. Steele as ``the best five-tool prospect we've had around here since (Cesar) Cedeno.''

T.J. Steele: 23 years old, no strike zone judgment, no real record of impressive hitting anywhere outside of Class A+ Lancaster, one of the biggest launching pads in the minors. He's a prospect, but getting all breathless about him at this stage is just sad.

I can't wait to see what he looks like in person. Same thing for Jonathon [sic] Gaston. And those — power arms: Ross Seaton, Jordan Lyles, Brad Dydalewicz, Chia-Jen Lo and Daniel Meszaros.

Jordan Lyles is a very good prospect. Seaton is fine--he had a terrible strikeout rate last year at Class A, but he was young for the level. Gaston: Currently 23, superficially impressive numbers at the aforementioned Lancaster launching pad, 164 strikeouts--he's a fringe prospect at best. Dydalewicz: dubious numbers at Class A Lexington, but he's a lefty and was young for the level, so he's a reasonable lottery-ticket prospect. Lo: 24 in October, control issues out of the 'pen in Class AA Corpus Christi; a marginal prospect. Meszaros: 25-year-old former 48th round pick, posted unspectacular numbers as a reliever at Corpus Christi.

That this guy is getting all excited about Jonathan Gaston and Chia-Jen Lo and Danny Meszaros demonstrates the poverty of the Astros' farm system better than I possibly could. Good luck the next few years, Houston.

There could be tough times ahead. The Astros might not be very good in 2010, but if they can succeed in changing the environment, in being competitive, in running the bases smartly, doing the little things, then 2010 will be a success.

Now I just feel sad for the Astros. And kind of sad for the Chronicle, frankly. What, they couldn't find a writer who could string together more than four baseball cliches in one sentence?

Hey, the Pirates aren't much of a team right now either. But at least I'm not delusional about it. And at least Pirates fans genuinely, finally, have something to look forward to. Not so for the Astros, who may well join the Pirates at the bottom of the division with a bloated veteran team that probably won't get better any time soon.