The Astros cleared the decks of one decision Monday, naming off-season acquisition Scott Feldman as the opening day starter.
No major surprise given the $30 million investment. Still, with opening day two weeks away, Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter have several significant questions remaining. Here are five remaining key decisions.
- Okay, maybe not a major decision, but with Jesse Crain notavailable, do you really believe Porter will go with closer-by-committee? That would mean no setup roles, no seventh inning guy, just whoever’s available on a night-to-night basis. Eight players saved at least one game for Houston last season. Porter could spread the love again in ’14, but Chad Qualls, Josh Zeid or Josh Fields may be April’s closer.
Left side of the infield.
- Since only Marc Krauss and Marwin Gonzalez are tearing it up with the bat, other positions stick out. Porter can hide only so many bats, you know. 3B Matt Dominguez is just 24 and SS Jonathan Villar only 22. But the question is: How patient will Luhnow be with either, especially since the primary (maybe only) option is Gonzalez (gulp). Hunch here is that Luhnow acquires another fallback by opening day.
- Yes, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth if Springer is sent to Oklahoma City, but the yelling won’t be as loud since he’s hitting .192. Remember, Springer has only 266 ABs at the AAA level, though he did light it up: .311/.425/.626 in those 62 games. But a full season in Houston screams — yes, screams — Rookie of the Year candidate. Perhaps the more intriguing question, though, revolves around the Astros’ #4 prospect. Singleton hasn’t been himself since that 50-game suspension and he doesn’t appear to be finding himself this spring. Scary? Indeed. Problematic? Only if he doesn’t start to resurface between now and July. There’s no need to rush the likely future first baseman of the next decade. After all, he’s only 22, so the OKC decision is not pressing.
- Porter used 139 different lineups in 162 games last year. It shouldn’t be as tricky this year as some spots should be more stable. For example, Dexter Fowler should hit leadoff for 150 games. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising if Marc Krauss is the de facto cleanup hitter for as long as he can maintain it. But who hits second (Jose Altuve? Robbie Grossman?), third or fifth may not be as clear cut. The temptation for Porter may be to experiment, but here’s hoping he resists that temptation. Fowler, Grossman, Jason Castro, Krauss and Chris Carter would be a good start.
- Everyone is waiting for Springer, Singleton, Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and other stars to ascend the throne and lead the way. One of the many keys to the 2014 season and beyond, however, may lie in which of the non-stars takes a step forward to become serious contributors. So, how is that a decision? Luhnow’s personnel team will need to be shrewd and not pull the plug on some of the under-the-radar players like Dallas Keuchel, Paul Clemens, Nolan Fontana and others. Frankly, with so many top pitchers in the system, it would be easy to sell high on Keuchel.
What are the most important decisions for Luhnow and Porter before opening day?