Astros Spring Training: Is the Season Over Yet?

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Is the season over yet?
We're approaching the end of the first week of spring training and the news for the Astros has been rather mixed. The team's not really hitting. The pitching is half-assed. And frankly, there's just not much going on to be optimistic about. So I thought I would take a look at the highlights and lowlights, so far.

For instance, the Astros have hired a nutritionist who is tasked with making the team healthier. Not only should the clubhouse food be better for the players, but the nutritionist will also be making the food on the charter flights better. Frankly, I'm not sure the team is really serious about this. My thought process is that this is all just a ploy with the hope of getting Carlos Lee to waive the remainder of his partial no-trade clause and issue a trade demand.

Of course, even if Lee does demand a trade, the Astros will have to find a team stupid enough to take on Lee's contract. But I'll give the Astros points for creativity. If there's anyway to convince Lee to leave town, making him eat healthy will probably be just the thing.

The Astros suffered a real blow on Wednesday when catcher Jason Castro suffered a knee injury. He's back in Houston at the moment with a diagnosis of meniscus tear. And at this moment, it's not known how long Castro will miss, though he is scheduled for surgery today.

To make matters worse, this means the return of the dynamic catching duo of Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles. This is another chance of the seemingly endless chances for Towles to prove that he should be the team's number one catcher, and the odds are it will end in failure, as has every other time that Towles has tried to handle the job. And the return of Quintero behind the plate means that once again games will take about ten hours to play since Quintero believes he has to throw down to first base after every single pitch when there's a runner on first base.

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Is the nutritionist a secret plan to force Carlos Lee to demand a trade?
And the addition of the Towles/Quintero duo to the everyday lineup just makes the everyday lineup even worse that it is already going to be. Outside of Hunter Pence, there's no reliable bat in the lineup this year. Michael Bourn is a fantastic centerfielder, but he's not a true leadoff guy, but once again, the Astros don't really have any better options. And I'm one of those who think that Carlos Lee's 2010 season wasn't an aberration, but a bitter preview of things to come.

The Astros are crowing about the added thump Clint Barmes and Bill Hall are bringing to the team, the only problem being that the only place Barmes has even been able to hit is at Coors Field. And Bill Hall is nothing more than a mediocre player who sucks defensively no matter where he plays. He might hit home runs every now and then, but the general result of a Hall at-bat is a strikeout. So while he might provide more power than Jeff Keppinger, the Astros are probably worse off with Hall in the everyday lineup than they were with Keppinger.

Thus the team's awful offense of a year ago looks to be just as bad this season. There will hopefully be optimism from Bourn, especially once he's on base. Pence has become a dependable bat. The team doesn't really know what to expect from Chris Johnson -- though if Ed Wade thinks Johnson is going to hit 30 homers this year, then Wade should get his meds refilled -- or Brett Wallace. Lee's probably going to be worthless again. Towles/Quintero can't hit. And Barmes and Hall are out machines.

But I'm going to choose to accentuate the positive. The positive of the Astros hiring a nutritionist. Because while the purpose is good, to make the team healthy, I'm hoping that this really causes Carlos Lee to snap and demand that trade we've all been wanting since he signed the contract with the team. Hell, I wouldn't even care if Ed Wade made one of his bargain deals and sent Lee to the Phillies. Just as long as he's gone.

Update: Surgery this morning revealed that Castro has a torn ACL. He will likely miss the entire season.

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