What's Going On In Houston?
Some issues facing Houston:
*Of their 4 best players, only Hunter Pence is on the right side of 30. Roy Oswalt (turns 33 this season), Carlos Lee (turns 34 this season), and Lance Berkman (just turned 34) are well past their primes, and all three are signed to large contracts that continue through 2011 or later (assuming Houston exercises their option on Berkman).
*Amongst their other regular players, they have very few players who would be considered league average starters. I suppose Wandy Rodriguez could fit that bill, and perhaps Michael Bourn if you're feeling generous and you catch him during one of his good seasons. Other than that, who's good on this team? JR Towles? Pedro Feliz? Bud Norris? Matt Lindstrom? I don't think so.
*A good majority of this could be overlooked if the Astros had some good minor league talent on the cusp of breaking through to the big leagues, but they don't. Kevin Goldstein, who does a great job writing about the minor leagues for Baseball Prospectus, recently ranked the Astros farm system 28th in the majors before the 2010 season. About the only player they have in their system that could significantly help in the next 12 months is 2008 1st round pick Jason Castro, a catcher, but even he's more of a "nice piece" than a budding star.
*So far we have an aging overpaid core, few complimentary players, a barren farm system...add to that an owner who historically frowned on rebuilding. Drayton McLane oversaw the end of the Killer B's era where Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were rode into the ground. His GM is Ed Wade, whose track record is spotty at best. Wade has a soft spot for former Phillies, which explains the offseason signings of Pedro Feliz and Brett Myers, neither of whom are going to really help this team.
It's looking bad, and I can't see it getting any better in Houston. I think its quite likely they finish in last this year, and could even lose 100 games this year or next. Their stars continue to get older, and they have no one outside of Hunter Pence to carry the torch throughout the decade. For a franchise that not too long ago was finishing first or second in the division every year, it's quite a fall.