As off season turns corner, Astros still have payroll room

The baseball off-season is about to turn the corner. Many general managers, owners and managers will tell you they like to have the bulk of their roster work done by Christmas.

For some teams — and I emphasize some — that has happened in 2013.  For others like the Astros, some shuffling and rearrangement still lies ahead. In the case of some teams, considerable shuffling remains. The dominoes should start to fall soon as teams begin to prepare for the next stop on the off-season calendar: Spring Training.

Despite the recent trade for Jesus Guzman, the Astros are likely

among the teams still trying to upgrade in some areas.  Specifically, first base, another starter, perhaps even more bullpen help. Houston’s 40-man roster is full, so adding any more players will require trading or releasing someone.

And, if $60 million is the figure GM Jeff Luhnow has his eye on, the Astros still have some wiggle room. Let’s recap where the numbers stand right now. Assuming they aren’t traded, these seven players are guaranteed contacts for 2014. Figures for Castro and Guzman are projected as they are both arbitration eligible.

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Scott Feldman $10,000,000 $10,000,000 $10,000,000
Dexter Fowler $7,350,000
Chad Qualls $2,750,000 $3,000,000 $3,500,000
Matt Albers $2,250,000 Option
Jose Altuve 1,250,000 $2,500,000 $3,500,000 $4,500,000 $6,000,000
Jason Castro $2,000,000 Arb 2 Arb 3
Jesus Guzman $1,300,000 Arb 2 Arb 3
$26,900,000 $15,500,000 $17,000,000 $4,500,000 $6,000,000

That means Luhnow has to fill out the team with 18 others, many of whom will have salaries in the $500,000-$750,000 range. So, for fun, let’s just say those 18 average $700,000, assuming that Luhnow will snag another player or two in the $1 million range.

At this moment, that puts the projected payroll at approximately $40 million give or take seven figures. And, that doesn’t count the $5.5 million Houston will pay Wandy Rodriguez to pitch for Pittsburgh in 2014.  Even if those figures are off somewhat, it’s clear Luhnow still has some of Jim Crane’s money left to spend.

Of course, some of those $500,000 salaries could become higher if players like Brett Wallace, Carlos Corporan, Lucas Harrell or others are jettisoned and replaced with more proven major leaguers. And, remember, Luhnow could spend some of that $60 million during the season as well.

At the risk of opening the door(s) to plenty of cynicism and sarcasm, where is the weak spot in this lineup? Or perhaps I should just say the “weakest” spot? Which of these projected starters need to be upgraded if the Astros are guaranteed improvement in 2014?

With a rotation of Feldman, Brett Oberholtzer, Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock, Dallas Keuchel.

Even with Feldman, Fowler and Qualls in the fold, you can see that Luhnow still has plenty of money left to buy a few extra Christmas gifts.


46 comments on “As off season turns corner, Astros still have payroll room

  1. Weak spots? Well, since most pitchers are right-handed, that means Wallace gets the bulk of the ABs at first. Sure, he’s doing OK against righties at the moment. But this is Wallace. He could mess up a free lunch.
    At DH we have the potential for 30 HRs and 180 Ks. I don’t care how his OPS pans out, that many whiffs is a problem.
    Villar is not a proven major leaguer at SS. He doesn’t get on base enough and he doesn’t have enough power. I won’t even begin to talk about his glove. Oops, I did. Well, he can make amazing plays one minute and botch routine grounders the next.
    Will the real Jose Altuve please stand up? My guess (hope) is that without Paredes running him over, he’ll top .720 in OPS this year.
    And that pitching staff, I’d expect some serious growing pains with the rotation. The only good news there is we have a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 starter candidates at AA and AAA who we can experience growing pains with as well.
    Do we have a closer?
    Gee, I feel like Bo with this negative comment.
    Still, I think we are looking at 65-70 wins. That’s a big improvement, but it still stinks.
    When do the Hall ballots start coming in again?


  2. It’d be nice if we had a closer and one more starter with a decent performance history at the major league level. If we could find a stop-gap upgrade at SS, that’d be nice too.
    If Springer starts in Houston, I’m OK leaving the outfield as is.
    But for those other pieces, we have Corporan to trade. He’s valuable, and I could see him getting packaged for a starter, maybe with Harrell.


  3. We have this annual exercise of spending every offseason saying the team has improved at every position, blah blah. To me this team look worse than at this point last year. We should be pretty much static at 2B, upgraded in RF, and possibly better in CF (given that he is replacing Maxwell, hard to not be better). The rest, very meh.

    Despite being 24 and appearing to be trending upward, Dominguez has something I can’t quite put a finger on statistically, he just seems to me to be a guy that matches the profile of a short termer, not a long termer. I am skeptical that he will even match last year’s power numbers, and without them he hurts you more than his glove helps you.

    It’s going to be hard for Castro to become a force offensively, one that teams prepare for, as long as he is limited by catching duties. I am not even sure he has that kind of talent offensively anyway, but maybe.

    Shortstop is a trainwreck with a high strikeout, poor glove guy with limited power. Speed is a great thing, if you can get on boss more than 31% of the time.

    I don’t expect anything significant from LF, a position that will find itself likely the worst producing LF in all of baseball.

    The real albatross, and the one that will keep us in the 100 loss category for another season, is the rotation. We are still playing the waiting game on Folty, McCullers, and Appel. Cosart will give us moments of what the future holds, but its still the future. Feldman is an expensive stopgap to that – and in my opinion statistically doesn’t look much different than the Woody Williams signing – except the Astros of 2006 didn’t ask Woody to be the ace.

    The only thing I see being better, albeit on slightly, is the bullpen. Always been a Qualls guy. Been at minute maid for the qualls call, fun stuff.


  4. A better lineup – Villar is a weak spot hitting and fielding.
    I really want to see Springer – want to see Dominguez hitting like the end of the year – want to see 2012 Altuve.
    I agree with Brian T – if the folks up here do not perform in the rotation we will see folks coming up from the minors and they could stick.
    Closer – Fields? Pitched well from Mid- August on – I guess we will see.
    I’m not sure if Luhnow is going to spend much more. Maybe a vet middle infielder?


  5. There’s so many glaring holes that’s it’s difficult to predict where Luhnow will free up roster space, exactly, but trimming fat in the bullpen is likely.

    For example, look at all the gristle among the bullpen lefties:

    Luis Cruz
    Rudy Owens (who?)
    Raul Valdes

    I think both Darin Downs and Kevin Chapman are probably keepers, but unspectacular. Dallas Keuchel is a suspect starter (at best) but could be a lefty mop-holder out of the pen.

    So these three probably make it through spring training.

    But the rest?

    Are they really MLB 40-man roster worthy? Why are they protected? Does Luhnow take ALL these scrubs to spring training? Do they have any trade value?

    I don’t think so.

    Punt now.


  6. Steven, I wasn’t trying to suggest that the Astros have upgraded, only that here’s where we are today, that Luhnow still has some work to do and that he has some $$$ left to get that work done. I’ll save the “Is this lineup better than…” conversation for another day after Luhnow has finished putting his puzzle together. I do find it interesting that fans generally believe that Villar is/will be a bust and consider SS the weak spot in the lineup, but that we’ve heard absolutely nothing from the Astros about upgrading there. Even the one SS-type acquisition (Ryan Jackson) was traded away in an attempt to fill a hole at 1B.
    At the risk of sounding cliche-ish, it’s too early to draw final conclusions about the Astros’ offseason, especially with so many free agents still available and other teams in search of help.


  7. I think we should spend one dime and sign a dozen shortstops. Then we bring these twelve plus Marwin to ST and keep the best defensive one and bring him in off the bench in the late innings as a defensive replacement for Villar. The late inning I have in mind would be the fourth inning..
    We should keep Wallace on first base and send Singleton down because of his what his salary would be in 2045.
    Since Springer is now our #2 prospect we need to keep him at OKC because in 2019 he will be way too expensive, plus we would surely like to have that #1 pick in the 2015 draft, and set ourselves up to get Mark McGuire III in the 2034 Draft.
    Yu Darvish is allready writing down his pitch selection for his first start against us facing Fowler, Altuve, Castro, Carter, Wallace, Dominguez, Hoes, Grossman, Villar and the Rangers are desparately looking for enough poster board material to put K’s on.


  8. Luhnow had better start looking at a guy who can play 3rd. base, to give Matty D. a break…….or he’s gonna be screwed if Matt get’s hurt. This clu has more OF’s looking to get a chance, than I have grandchildren. Pick up one more bullpen piece, and a guy who can play all three infield positions……..or do you keep Marwin “just in case”. I gotta feeling Luhnow is working on a trade as we speak, and it might be a guy we protected from the rule 5 draft PLUS a couple of guys already on the roster.


  9. I also noticed yesterday a lot of people were talking about a Wallace/Guzman platoon. With Carter on the roster also, are we really talking about having to platoon 1B? In the AL teams generally only carry 4 bench players, with one C, two infielders, and an outfielder. Are we ready to make one of those infielders be debilitating defensive players that only help you at the plate? Besides, neither of those three are situational hitters, they are poor contact, high strikeout guys with power, not pinch hitting matterial. AT least Carter can take a walk.


    • whoops hit the wrong button, im new here comment wise but have been reading for a few weeks. i enjoy the well thought out comments, even when i disagree. but oh my goodness at some of you. never experienced the type of negativity that mr weaver brings, the intolerance of differing opinions of daveeb and the fits thrown by oldpro. that must be a self appointed tile, he seems more like a six year old. anyway just my take. thanks.


      • Scruffy,

        Welcome. There are some string personalities here, and some have been “making their points back and forth at one another” since this blog was on the Houston Chronicle’s website.
        Feel free to give your own opinions. I guarantee someone will agree … and someone will think you’re dead wrong. And that’s OK.


      • Scruff, for years I was Mr. positive Astros minor league guy at chron. com until I got blasted every time by haters of the Astros. But it is two years later and my team is lousier in comparison to their AL West competitors than they were last year. While they go out of their way to get the best players available, we sign third tier players and talk about how we have improved and then we get to hear about how great we are going to be in five years, as if those teams will suddenly get bad because they have the best baseball players tied up in long term deals.
        We were the worst team in the league last year and we will be again this year because we have kept the same players.
        In 29 other American cities it is about the team winning games and in this town it’s about limiting losses to an indecent level


  10. ps. i’d like to give a shout out to Sandy and any other military families here. for all the sacrifices you and yours make for the rest of us—–a great big THANK YOU


      • hey oldpro. it was rhiner. and i have a question for you. we talked about sat baseball and dizzy dean awhile back. do you remember the advertisement for i believe falstaff beer that had a little character that would say something like ‘dirty rackle fritz’?


      • i ask because i was a little kid and that would consistently crack me up. wondered if that was close to what he would say.


      • Not to correct, but Pee Wee Reese was still playing when Ole Diz started on TV with Buddy Blatner. One game Diz was explaining signs from 3rd base coach. And they would have the camera on the coach going through his signs. Toward the end of the game, Diz announced this could be the most important sign of the game. And the Coach then scratched himself, you know where. Another game, the camera kept showing a boy and girl kissing all the time. Diz announced that he saw a pattern. He was kissing her on the strikes, and she was kissing him on the balls. Loved his in game stories.


      • that was alittle before my time astro45, but diz and pee wee worked together as well. google search ‘dizzy dean and pee wee reese’ and you’ll get to see an old broadcast of the two together. one of my favorite exchanges of the two -“Diz (Dizzy Dean), you’ve watched this pitcher out there for four innings, and he’s doing a great job. What would you say he’s been throwing out there?” Dean replied, “Well Pee Wee, I have been watching him for four innings and I believe that’s a baseball he’s throwin.” thanks for the info on Blatner im gonna look him up as well. and Merry Christmas!


  11. Gathering my wits with all these grandkids screaming in the background, I remember Dizzy holding up a can of Falstaff, on camera, and grinning and saying” pour yourself another Falstaff!” Then the next commercial would be for Lucky Strike cigarettes. LSMFT! Lucky Strike means fine tobacco!


    • lol i had forgotten the lucky strikes commercials. but lucky strike means fine tobacco rang a bell. i searched you tube for old falstaff commercials and found a few but none from the baseball games.


      • wow i went back and looked some more and found “Falstaff Beer “Old Pro” radio ads, May 1959″. video of an old juke box playing what looks like a .45 record. i copied the address that showed on the computer im not a computer guy so i hope it works if you would like to have a look.


  12. Welcome scruffy to the *BEST* Astros blog on this planet! We are all friends here, and yes……we disagree sometimes……but that’s the best thing about Chip’s blog!
    Most if not ALL have been with Chip Bailey since the beginning……glad you found us!

    1oldpro……I see a gentle man behind that mask you are wearing. We *all* want these guys to get better, but it takes time… know that. I like ALL the moves Luhnow has made….they are going to be place holders for the kids in Corpus Christi.


    • Becky, you are right because every time I read a comment from you I pray for your back. My lack of patience is probably a panic about my own health and the fact I may not be around for a winning team again. I so want my team to try to win and the fact that every year that goes by makes Bo look like the guy who knows better, makes my investment in the Astros prospects look so weak. Then to have to listen to the GM talk about maybe Springer can win a job in spring training just tears me up.


      • oldpro — don’t worry about your boy, George Springer. This will be his break-out year. With his rare speed plus power combo, all he needs is experience, and he’ll be on his way to becoming a superstar. I believe Luhnow when he says he’ll play regularly this year.

        The Astros will be terrible, once again, but there IS one bright spot to look forward to…


  13. 1oldpro……..Thank you for the sweet (and much appreciated) prayers! You will still be here when the guys get better……..not your time yet! Check out the kids in CC
    Hooks, and you will see the future of this club, along with the guys in high A ball!
    I can NOT WAIT to see Nolan Fontana, Ruiz, Correa, Folty……..ect… to show up
    but Lunow knows what he’s doing with Springer……trust him! Take good care of yourself!:) 🙂 🙂


  14. Scruffy – welcome and bring lots of friends. We are like family here which means we love each other when we are not driving each other crazy. Chip pushes for civility – but not unanimity. The more opinions the better as long as they agree with me!


  15. I probably complain about Luhnow’s moves more than anyone here. Can someone explain to me the logic in a salary ladder for Chad Qualls? Would Qualls have turned them down if they reversed the offer such that he made the most in 2014, then successively less in 2015 and 2016? I ask because Crane has already shown any possible profits to be squeezed out will be funneled into investor pockets. 2014 is a lost year and we’re only hitting the $60M target if they take on salary dumps or overpay some more Scott Feldman types. Why not save some change for 2016 when we’ll hopefully have all the cavalry arriving?

    Weakest spot is going to be the bench. Forget how you feel about Villar’s shortcomings. There is no backup 3B, SS, or 2B right now other than Marwin Gonzales. Unless Wallace is dropped/traded we’ll enter spring training expecting a platoon situation at 1B that won’t scare any opposing pitchers. That would leave us with three spots on the bench – one will be a catcher (Corporan unless he’s moved), whichever of Grossman / Hoes does not start in LF, and an outfielder/utility player to be named later.


    • I am sure its more about the “tradition” or precedence of contracts. I think most teams designate a certain amount of money to a player, then negotiate with the agent how its going to be split over time. I also suspect that when you are in a closed door setting with said agent, and you might suggest a salary scale that would decrease from say 5 to 4 to 3 mil a year, that he might suggest limiting the contract to those first 2 years, or even 1 year. Just a thought.


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