ASTROS TRY TO FIX BIGGEST WEAKNESS EARLY

For The Record- By Joe Kazmar

The Houston Astros found out early in the 2016 major league baseball season that they had a huge deficiency in their regular batting order.
More than half of the starting lineup had batting averages around or under the .200 mark and with plenty of strikeouts to boot.
The front office kept jockeying players from their Class AAA affiliate to the majors, but with little success. Most of the elevated players came to the majors with glaring weaknesses, which didn’t take the opposing teams long to discover.
The result was the same—too many batters hitting around that anemic .200 batting average– which limited the number of big innings for the Astros because they were unable to drive in runners in scoring position with any regularity.
However, the 2016 Astros were among the major league leaders in hitting home runs, which kept them in many ball games.
But the bottom line was that the Houston Astros were one of the weakest hitting teams in the major leagues which probably prevented them from getting into the post-season playoffs.Throw in the fact that three of their front-line pitchers had to shut their respective seasons down in late August and early September due to injuries and there’s another reason the Astros didn’t finish the season strong.
This really bothered general manager Jeff Luhnow early in the summer and he opened up the team’s purse strings and committed $138.5 million in guaranteed money to untested infielder Yulieski Gurriel, who can play both infield and outfield, and more recently obtained outfielder Josh Reddick and catcher Brian McCann.
But the biggest deal Luhnow made was last weekend when he got a commitment from veteran slugger Carlos Beltran, who will be 40 years old during the upcoming 2017 season and brings impeccable credentials to his new team.
Beltran, you remember, was a late-season pickup for the Astros back in 2004, who helped Houston reach the playoffs.
Beltran’s performance in the 2004 post-season was almost unbelievable to this day. In 12 games against Atlanta and St. Louis he batted .435 with eight homers, 14 RBIs and six stolen bases.
But the Astros were unable to re-sign Beltran for the 2005 season—the one where they went to the World Series—and he inked a whopping seven-year, $119 million deal the following January with the New York Mets.
Ever since that day, the fans at Minute Maid Park booed Beltran lustily every time he came to the plate. Hopefully the booing will stop now that he’s one of us.
Beltran spent most of the last three years with the New York Yankees, but finished last season with the Texas Rangers after a trade-deadline deal.
During his 19-year major league career Beltran has banged out 2,617 hits including 536 doubles, 78 triples and 421 home runs for a career .281 batting average and drove in 1,536 runs.
You can count on a couple of fingers the number of 2016 Houston Astros who topped .281 last season.
And Beltran hasn’t given any indication of slowing down, despite his age. Last year he hit .304 with the Yankees and .280 with the Rangers, belting 29 home runs and driving in 93 runs.
The Astros plan on using the switch-hitting Beltran as their main designated hitter, but he also could play the outfield or first base if they get into a bind.
Luhnow, who desperately tried to keep the Astros’ payroll in the lower echelon compared to the other major league franchises, has committed $54.5 million of their 2017 payroll to Yulieski Gurriel, Reddick, McCann and Beltran’s $16 million and is a sure bet to exceed $100 million for the first time since 2009.
Like they say in the high finance circles—it takes money to make money.
So let’s hope that Luhnow’s four-player investment pays off in playoff dollars when this 2017 season concludes.
KWICKIES…Earl Thomas fans were saddened to see him carried off the field in Seattle Sunday night with a broken leg. Earl nearly made one of the most sensational interceptions ever seen by NFL fans. Today his NFL future is up in the air as he contemplates rehabbing and resuming his career or perhaps even considering retirement.
After listening to Dallas Cowboys fans waiting for their heroes to fall out of their tree and come back to earth all season long, most are convinced that the Pokes are for real and are now expecting them to be the top contenders for a Super Bowl berth. As long as Idiot Owner Jerry Jones keeps Tony Romo on the bench and puts 100 per cent of his trust in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott the team should be fine.
JUST BETWEEN US…In case you haven’t seen my mug around town or read my writing for the past six weeks, the reason is that I suffered another bout with diverticulitis which led to a perforated bowel and peritonitis which infected all parts of my body and put me in Baptist Hospital Beaumont’s ICU for 12 days. My chest looked like a chicken coop with all those staples in it. However, things got a little better and I was sent to The Meadows for four weeks of rehabilitation that I reduced to two weeks, probably because I was in half-decent shape before I got sick. Anyhow, I was released from The Meadows last Friday night and I’m here at home getting around with a walker. Most of my staples are out and the Home Health folks are visiting me quite frequently. It’s been quite an experience for someone who has had good health most of my life.