Spring training is two weeks out and there is still plenty of movement occurring at this late date. The Astros may not be done either, but the fun and festivities are only a plane ride away for A.J. Hinch, who will begin his tenure in earnest as manager of the Houston Astros in less than 336 hours.
So, as is our ritual, here are some thoughts to get your weekend rolling on another Free Blog Weekend. As you know, you can follow the outline below or start your own conversation.
Jim Crane unravels the mystery?
- Yes, the Astros’ owner is providing some more insight into the philosophy and game plan for 2015. Evan Gattis appears destined for first base (or DH), not left field, which aligns with the earlier comments of GM Jeff Luhnow. That likely means Jake Marisnick will join Cobly Rasmus and George Springer in the OF, but leaves the great speculation open regarding incumbent 1B Jon Singleton. Call it a no confidence vote.
- Crane also suggests that Luhnow is still working the phones and that other deals are not only possible, but likely. You’d have to consider that Singleton, Chris Carter, perhaps Jason Castro, Alex Presley or some other lesser players or prospects might be involved.
- And, Crane has indicated told the Chronicle that signing free agent James Shields is perhaps out of the budget. He also cited Shields’ age as a potential stumbling block for a four-year-type deal.
- Here’s guessing we’ll learn later that the Astros’ kept tabs on Shields until the final hours before he signs.\
Consider this lineup.
- The possible Astros’ lineup has been hashed, dissected and turned inside out and upside down. But, if other moves are likely, if not imminent, how does that jumble new manager A.J. Hinch’s lineup card? For example, if Carter is traded? What if Castro is moved to upgrade the rotation?
- It’s fair to say that Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie, Rasmus, Luis Valbuena and Springer are solid. But are any other position players a lock to be on the roster on opening day? Methinks I wouldn’t sign the lease on that apartment just yet.
Houston house of cards?
It’s very clear that Luhnow has upgraded the team over last year’s version, not to mention allowed for great flexibility. Still, however, the reconstruction process is at a critical, still fragile, point and it’s a tedious task. One or two injuries can undo that improvement and put the team into regression. Houston can ill afford another spout of injuries a la 2014. To demonstrate, would you still predict a .500 season or better is Dallas Keuchel or George Springer or Evan Gattis go down with an injury that kept them out for 50-60 games? The organization just doesn’t have the resources to replace one of those — much less two of those — significant contributors.
Long term plans.
You’ve read my thoughts on adding a player or two to the long-term mix each season. The Astros added Altuve, then Keuchel and Collin McHugh and George Springer. But, if we’ve seen anything this winter, it’s that Luhnow doesn’t mind juggling, shuffling and exchanging pieces of the puzzle, so Astros’ fans shouldn’t start collecting bobbleheads for any specific player. That said, which of the current roster of players do you see most likely to be part of the so-called 2017 team, which is when many agree the Astros will be ultra-competitive. From my vantage point, it would appear that Altuve, along with Keuchel and McHugh, are the only sure things for 2017. Springer’s contract could be a stumbling block and cause Houston to move him. Same for Castro and perhaps even Carter.
And, some starter questions for your weekend discussion.
- Have fans over-estimated the improvement? In other words, is a .500 season on the outside of the improvement bubble and the playoffs are only a figment in a dream’s imagination?
- If Castro is traded for an upgrade to the rotation, can Hank Conger and Max Stassi handle the catching duties? Or does Gattis then shuttle into the conversation for some reps?
- Which of the suggested starters could the Astros most not afford to lose to injury?
- Has Crane’s way of doing business caused you even in the least to wish Drayton McLane — perhaps the one from the early years — would return?
- What did Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know about DeflateGate and when did they know it?
- Will Gary Kubiak fare better in Denver than he did in Houston?