Since 2007 the Astros have not finished higher than 3rd in the division and more recently they have been a growing non-factor in the National League Central Division. It's not that they don't have the money, in 2009 and 2010 the payroll was $102 million and $92 million respectively. That's not a ton of money, but certainly enough to win. With many of the teams in the NL Central improving this offseason the Astros need to make some impactful moves or begin to rebuild by moving their heavy contracts. Let's check out their moves so far to see where they're headed.
Jason Michaels: outfield, $900,000 option
The Astros picked up Michaels option for the 2011 season in October but I thought it was worth mentioning. His last notable season was 2005 with Philadelphia when he hit .304/.399/.415 in 105 games. He's been playing for the Astros since 2009 and his p roduction hasn't eclipsed that of a bench player. He's good to have around for less than a million though so I think it was good that they exercised the option.
Clint Barmes: second base/shortstop, $3.325 million, one year
In November the Astros traded pitcher Filipo Paulino for Barmes. Not a bad swap for either team. In 2009 Barmes played 154 games for Colorado and hit 23 home runs. That was his only redeeming effect at the plate that season (121 strikeouts). Since then he hasn't been productive at the plate and hasn't provided above-average defense. Tommy Manzella is Houston's future at second base so it seems like Barmes is going to fill in and provide insurance up the middle for Houtson.
Bill Hall: outfield/second base, $3 million, one year
Last year for Boston, Hall played mostly outfield and second base but also found time at third and short. He hit 18 home runs in 119 games and was a non-factor other than that. I understand the signing but I don't kow if it is too much of an upgrade. Jeff Keppinger played up the middle a lot last year and was pretty effective. He doesn't have Hall's power but he certainly doesn't strike out as much. I can only assume the team is going to start Hall and Manzella up the middle, opting in favor of Hall's power. I guess for their total low cost though, having these four (Manzella, Keppinger, Barmes, Hall) up the middle can't be that bad, especially since Kepp. and Hall have experience at third. (It should be noted that Keppinger has been involved in trade talks recently and may not be on the Opening Day roster.)
We're already at the minor signings? That tells you how the offseason is going so far for the 'Stros. They have accomplished very little. To be general, their offense needed a bump to improve in 2011. Bill Hall and company is not that bump. Regardless, we should examine two lesser signings (briefly).
Gustavo Chacin: left handed pitcher, minor league contract
Chacin had one good season a few years ago and has not been productive since. He spent 2010 in the minor leagues and didn't do much there. I don't see Chacin being much of a factor for the Astros but he has had one good season so it's more likely than some other in-house options.
Ryan Rowland-Smith: left handed pitcher, minor league contract
Ryan actually pitched 100+ innings for the Mariners last year but didn't have good results. In previous seasons with Seattle he bounced from AAA to the majors and produced like a back-end starter/long reliever at best. This is probably the most major of their minor signings since he's most recently produced (albiet somewhat poorly) at the major league level.
After looking over this short, insignificant list of signings it's pretty clear that the Astros are planning on doing little to improve their club. Some have metioned a possible trade of Carlos Lee to get a few prospects and move some salary but Lee hasn't been producing well enough to guarantee much of a return.