As Christmas approaches, Astros’ fans have already received some early gifts. Still, there are some stocking stuffers and perhaps a few larger surprise gifts — even post-Christmas — that may be under the tree in a few weeks.
After all the dust settled and the cheering quietened down from the double bullpen signings earlier this week, it’s reasonable to conclude the Astros have improved since the end of the season. On paper, at least. In the bullpen, for sure.
But many of the same holes and same ol’ questions remain concerning a daily lineup that may make the difference in an 80-win season or an 88-win season.
Notes to consider.
- Once Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek are added to the 40-man roster, Houston’s quiver will be full. Only a trade, DFA, outright or other move could clear space to add a free agent.
- The unusual fact that Houston lost three players in the Rule 5 draft confirms the depth in the system. Hopefully, the astros’ calculating tacticians and numbers geeks are right on Delino Deshields Jr., Jandel Gustave and David Rollins by leaving them unprotected.
- With the GM meetings, winter meetings and Rule 5 now behind us, the next significant dates are next month when arbitration numbers will be exchanged and hearings scheduled.
- Jeff Luhnow may be keeping his powder dry on his own arb-eligible players (e.g. Dexter Fowler, Marlin Gonzalez, etc.) until he sorts out the additional free agent market.
The flurry — you may prefer to call it a full-blown storm — of activity in recent weeks isn’t surprising considering the movement in front offices this fall. Will it continue? In all likelihood, yes, if only intermittently between now and the end of the year. Here are some remaining to-do’s on the Astros’ list. We’ll rank them in separate categories: Mandatory. High Priority. Wait and See. It’ll work itself out.
- Upgrade the left side! This now seems almost inevitable and no-brainer. Now that the #1 priority (bullpen) has been at least upgraded, the focus must turn to shortstop/third base. Houston simply can not begin the season with a Jonathan Villar/Marwin Gonzalez/Matt Dominguez combination, either on the field or in the lineup. Yes, Gonzalez has been a huge contributor and I’m a fan, but his best “position” is Super Sub. Re-sign him for the Bill Spiers‘ role and let him do his thing. He’ll get 300+ at bats in that valuable role, playing 3B, SS, 2B and OF.
- Sign Dexter Fowler to a two-or-three year deal. Bring some cost certainty and lineup certainty to the team. You can argue all day which OF position he should play, but clearly he brings value to the lineup and is an asset to the organization. This is one player who should be part of the 2017 nucleus as a veteran. There should be no waiting on this one (see above note).
- Clear up some of the roster clutter. Catcher and relief pitching are taking up over half the spots and Luhnow needs to prepare for additional movement. Once Neshek and Gregerson are added, those to positions alone will account for 25 spots. It’s nice to have the catching depth and some options for the rotation and bullpen, but will Sam Deduno, Darin Downs, Jake Buchanan, Alex White and others really be around in two months?
Wait and See.
- First base. Jon Singleton. There’s no urgency here. Especially, if the team adds another bat for the left side of the infield or outfield. Singleton is young (22) and every scout and prognosticator still predicts he’ll hit in big. He’s 22, signed to a team-friendly deal for the next few years and no one is pushing him.Luhnow won’t start to panic here until mid-season. And, you shouldn’t either.
- Look, if Singleton performs ultimately at even two-thirds of his projected value, he’ll be worth the $2 million per season he’ll get the next few years. Project that as around .260/.340/.490. That would suffice this season if others produce. Plus it gives some players in the pipeline a little more incubation time.
- The rotation. Bank on it. Luhnow will add to the competition, either through non-roster invites (NRIs) to spring training or by picking up another solid mid-rotation arm through free agency or trade. As deep as the prospects are (remember Mark Appel, Michael Foltynewicz, Josh Hader?), you can never have enough pitching as they say. I’d put the odds at 50/50 that this will not be the rotation on opening day: Dallas Keuchel, Scott Feldman, Collin McHugh, Brett Oberholtzer and Folty/Brad Peacock.
It’ll Work Itself Out.
- Catcher. The Astros will need catchers in spring training and these four can get solid look-sees. Carlos Corporan, Jason Castro and even Max Stassi may actually have more value after ST begins, when other catchers are moved or hurt. What’s the worst that can happen? Corporan and Stassi start the season at Oklahoma City (wait, Fresno)?
- The closer situation. Luhnow is apparently still looking at significant bullpen upgrades. Plus, he’s already suggested a strong leaning to bringing back Jose Veras. If you had even one more strong arm to the pen, suddenly, the bullpen has been transformed from the absolute weakest of the areas for Houston into one of the strongest, if not the strongest! At least, on paper. But who closes? New manager A.J. Hinch will have three options at this point — Chad Qualls, Gregerson, Neshek, perhaps Foltynewicz eventually — but none are particularly obvious.
Some thoughts and questions for your consideration…
- How important is it to bring back Fowler?
- Would Veras add to the bullpen mix significantly?
- Here’s a question for you: Domingo Santana is #3 of the Astros’ prospect list. He had a disastrous cup of coffee and showed his potential downside? Will he cash in on his perceived value?
- Rank the remaining priorities. Here are mine:
- Left side of the infield.
- Outfield bat, if not Fowler and no one is added to the left side of the infield.
- Bullpen (yes, another solid arm would be valuable).
- First base option if Singleton fails.
- Would you be satisfied with this closing “rotation”: Neshek 7th, Gregerson 8th, Qualls 9th?