Breaking down the Astros’ locks, probables and bubble guys


There has been — and it will continue for the next few weeks — much speculation about the Astros’ 25-man roster and just who will break camp with the big club when new manager A.J. Hinch leads his first Texas team onto the field next month. Is the roster better than 2014? Is it deeper in certain places? Who will play where? That question applies to positions and cities (e.g. Houston, Fresno, Corpus Christi, etc.).

To be sure, fewer roster spots are up for a battle royal than in the recent past. However, several positions are still undetermined, though you could argue they are “filled” and it’s just a matter of which player will settle in. Technically, it could shake out several ways, but the real decisions may involve only a handful of players.

So, let’s take a look.  There are four classes of players. We’ll call them the locks, the probables, the bubble guys and the long shots. Barring trades, injuries or a 2-hit spring training (10.50 ERA for pitchers), here are the categories. An asterisk (*) denotes non roster players.

The locks (16). These are the guys who could probably hit .200 or give up 10 HRs in 5 IP and still make the club.

The probables (4). These guys need only to hold their own, be solid and not have a bubble guy have a 1991 Bagwell-like spring. In other words, they aren’t locks, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all for these guys to slide over to the first list.

The bubble guys. These guys may not necessarily control their own destinies. Whether or not they break camp with the Astros may be determined by other players, injuries, trades or other acquisitions.

The long shots. Players who are in camp, but have little or no chance to leave town with the big club.

The real battles. There are several, but here are the basic battles for roster spots, not necessarily by position.

  • Marisnick vs. Singleton. It may come down to who makes the better case in spring. It’s obvious the Astros like Marisnick and have hedged their bets with Singleton. If Singleton blows it up this spring, it will push Gattis into more OF starts and perhaps send Marisnick to Fresno to start the season. If Marisnick is the guy, it will push Gattis to 1B or DH and result in Singleton starting in Fresno.
  • The fifth starter. It may be the best group of legitimate options a Houston manager has had for this role in several years. Straily has the inside track, Hernandez has a nice MLB contract if he makes the squad, but all eyes will be on Wojo and White not to mention Appel, who is already making noise this spring.
  • The bench. Four guys, that’s it in the American League. Versatility counts, so does experience. That means Gonzalez has the edge. Presley has a major league contract. As for the rest of the bench makeup, put ’em in a hat. You can make many arguments here and they would all be right. It may come down to the Singleton-Marisnick battle and where Gattis and Carter end up.
  • The bullpen. Seriously, this “position” may be set better than at any time this decade. With Qualls, Neshek, Gregerson, Fields and Sipp all likely pegged, it leaves only two spots available. Think a long guy (Sam Deduno or Jake Buchanan?) and another lefty (Thatcher?) or another surprise (Harris? Downs?) and you’re set. Either Wojo or White could also be swing man candidates since they are already on the 40-man roster.

By position. Settled or up in the air? To punctuate the decisions that remain, here’s a rundown of each position. Some are “settled” though it’s not necessarily a head-to-head battle for the spot.

  • Catcher. Settled.
  • First base. Up in the air.
  • Second base. Settled.
  • Shortstop. Settled.
  • Third base. Settled.
  • Outfield. Two out of three settled. Springer and Rasmus.
  • DH. Settled.
  • Rotation. Three of five settled. Oberholtzer a solid pick for fourth spot. Fifth spot up for grabs.
  • Bullpen. Five of seven appear settled. Two spots remain unclaimed.
  • Bench. Next to #5 starter, the only Donnybrook left.

 

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41 comments on “Breaking down the Astros’ locks, probables and bubble guys

  1. Chip, this post sums it up so well that there is quite frankly not much left to say – except ‘Play Ball!’

    But then again . . . there always seems to be an injury monster prowling around in the shadows of our camp, looking for whom he may devour. Quick, somebody please buy that slimy rascal a gin and tonic to go along with a one-way bus ticket back to Surprise, Arizona.

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    • daveb, I think that’s part of the “unsettled” nature of first base. Obviously, if Singleton comes even close to his previous projections, he could be entrenched a first for a while. So, I would indeed think — for the short term, at least the beginning of the season — that Gattis is in LF and Carter at DH. Long term? Move Carter. Or be satisfied with Gattis in left.

      That’s why I’ve suggested the “real” battle is between Singleton and Marisnick.

      It’s hard to find another solution of getting everyone in the lineup (Gattis, Singleton, Carter) without having Gattis in LF. Especially since it seems clear he won’t be catching often, if at all.

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      • dave, I’m wondering if earlier in the winter, Luhnow had other moves on the table that didn’t pan out. For example, moving Castro. Moving Singleton. Moving Carter. And Gattis was merely a stop gap to replace one of those. Then…the move(s) didn’t work out and he’s left with a game of musical chairs.

        Either that…or the organization is sooooo down on Singleton that the numbers guys and the coaches agree they just cannot depend on him. There is very little margin for error and the team cannot afford a bad start for April/May. Luhnow has already mentioned that the team will not have the patience this year that it has not had in previous seasons.

        Of course, we’re all counting on Singleton being the guy who doesn’t pan out. We’re also assuming that Carter will be the second half Carter rather than the first half Carter. A good bet to be sure, but still an unknown.

        To your original point, though, acquiring Gattis for the bounty he gave up without a clear game plan, is somewhat puzzling.

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      • What specifically do you – or anyone -think it will take for Singleton to beat out Marsinick and give Springer, Rasmus, Presley, Gattis and Carter the keys to the MMP outfield to start the year.

        We pretty much know what Marisnick offers defensively in the OF is way above what Singleton brings to the table at 1st. So in your mind is it all about their respective ST offensive numbers [and if so, which ones do you think will be the critical ones], OR do you see there being some ‘intangible’ factors that Mr. Hinch and Mr. Luhnow are looking to see develop in those two?

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    • dave, I think the Astros want Carter for the time being. I really think they want his bat in their lineup and it is their intention to keep him until they think they have a better alternative to him.
      If somebody came along and offered some players that they valued more than Carter, that is a different story. I don’t think they are shopping him, right now.

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  2. It was refreshing, last night, to watch the MLB network crew blast the Cubs for (expectantly) keeping Bryant in the minors so he cannot accrue 180 days service time this year, like Springer in 2014. The arguments for promoting him are that they spent $180 million in the off season, the ChiSox may push Carlos Rodon to the rotation to start the year (Luhnow take notice), and it’s Chicago (as opposed to KC), so they should have a good shot at keeping him beyond 5 years if he is a star. The argument against is that Bora$ will not sign a Mike Trout extension and at least force them to bid against other teams.

    Why am going talking about other teams? I think service time and player options are more important to Luhnow right now than on field performance. Appel, Moran, etc. have no chance at making the team because it gives up a year of control. Castro and Conger only don’t make it if injured. Marwin is your utility guy because you can’t send him to Fresno. Sipp is a lock as at least your designated LOOGY for the same reason.

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    • Devin, at the risk of starting a thread within the thread, where do you stand on the “business” of playing within the system rules to keep a player as long as possible?

      Player after player cites the “business” in making their decisions. The players union frowns on players not taking the most money in a deal and will adamantly use the rules to “protect” a players financial rights. With no real cap in place and players’ guaranteed salaries still part of the landscape, teams must have some type of cost certainty.

      Now, I’m not necessarily advocating punishing a player per se if he won’t negotiate, but playing the business of the game may be the only thing a team has at its finger tip, especially if you are in a rebuild like the Cubs and Astros.

      As for Luhnow, take a look at the pipeline and the bottleneck of which i’ve written a few times. Major decisions loom and he’ll be faced with some tought choices. I will say this, however. If nothing else, he has left himself quite a bit of flexibility with the short term 2 and 3 year signings. But! It. Will. Catch. Up. Soon.

      As Mr. Bill might say: There is coming a day when . . .

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      • Chip, thanks for asking. In retrospect, I agree with what the Astros did last year and with what the Cubs will do this year. I expect the odds to signing an extension are indirectly proportional to how good both players become for their current teams. I disagree with the Pence situation – mainly because he likely would have resigned with Houston given a fair market offer (instead of being traded).

        As for the coming glut of expensive contracts, there is always another story. If a player becomes too expensive, you have the option of trading him. When a lot of talented players are present, you will likely find more players interested in joining your club via free agent or trade.

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    • I happily disagree. I don’t think Moran and Appel are major league ready and I don’t think the Astros do either. What do you think JD Martinez, Jonathan Villar and Domingo Santana’s experiences in the majors have taught Jeff Luhnow?
      Marwin is the utility guy because he is a real good utility guy. Sipp is going to make this team because he was terrific last year and is the best LH reliever in our organization.
      Castro and Conger are the two best catchers we have and I am happy to have them. If Max Stassi matures this year he might be in the mix next year, but since he is still way under the average age of AAA players, I want him there this year and maybe next year, too, since Castro is due to be a free agent after the 2016 season is over. If one of our catcher’s gets injured, Stassi is on the 40-man and can be called up and sent down anytime.
      Finally, even if the Cubs insert Rodon into their rotation doesn’t mean he’s ready, and even if he is ready, that doesn’t mean Appel is. Appel has pitched in a tiny amount of minor league games and he doesn’t need to pitch in the majors until he proves he can get AAA players out. It was a different deal with Springer. He had proven himself in the minors and was ready. Appel hasn’t, but he sure could prove it this year.

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      • OP, I agree on Moran and Appel, but the question I think goes more to last year’s Springer scenario, when he appeared to be MLB ready, but was held back to preserve an extra season of team control.

        Totally agree that Moran and Appel aren’t ready. Appel is basically only a half season into his game to be honest. The Astros pushed the envelope last spring after his surgery and ended up regretting that I believe. Then, there’s Lancaster. Then, there’s the tandem pitching. He didn’t really start to get things together until he arrived in Corpus. Wouldn’t be surprising if he spent all 2015 in the minors, but he may not be happy with that. Stay tuned.

        There doesn’t seem to be anyone — at this point — in the system who is where Springer was last spring. Correct me if I’m wrong.

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      • Chip, I agree with you on Springer. I was adamant that he should have been on the field on opening day. I said it then and I say it now. He was ready and the team done him wrong and what they did is going to stick in his craw.
        But it doesn’t mean they are going to do the same thing with all their prospects. What really got me was that Springer was a better player than any other outfielder on that team was last year except for Fowler, and they still kept him in the minors. I absolutely don’t think Correa is ready to push Lowrie out, Moran to push Valbuena out or Appel to push other starters out at this time. But they might be ready by next spring to do it, on a player by player basis, not because the team wishes it so.
        If the team had gone out and gotten a good first baseman last offseason and left Singleton in AAA all year, we might have a completely different opinion of Singleton right now.
        At Least Luhnow went out and got major league players to fill the holes he had this offseason so that we can leave our prospects in the minors until they burst out and push guys out of the way, like Springer has pushed Hoes and Grossman aside. Springer is here and he is replacing someone who won’t be. Gattis and Rasmus are in this lineup and if somebody like Tucker wants to move up and push somebody aside he needs to do it like George did it last April. If Tucker doesn’t do that this year, he had better do it next year because guys like Phillips and Hernandez or Fischer might end up pushing him out.

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  3. Sez here that Matty D. will be getting the Brett Wallace treatment – a release early in Spring Training to give him his best chance of latching on elsewhere.

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    • Steeeve, there is a little difference in the two I believe. Wallace was 27 and out of options when he was sent packing. Dominguez is 25 and still has options I believe.

      Now, that 40-man roster spot is another question, though he could simply be outrighted if that avenue hasn’t previously been used.

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  4. Chip – I think you pretty much summed up where the Astros see themselves at this time.

    I certainly have different views on where I would go – but it’s the same old tired argument and now its just time to see how it pans out.

    I think the Marisnick versus Singleton argument is valid. I agree that one of the two is going to see significant playing time. I think it also comes down to being able to only keep 2 of the 3 on the roster at all between Singleton, Presley, and Grossman. I would move Carter, but it looks like the clock is going now and it’s time to stop saying what we would do and start having fun arguing about what they did.

    Exciting season incoming. Look forward to a seasons worth of debate, conjecture, and baseball.

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  5. Since our division is loaded with quality Southpaw starters, I would actually like to see some consideration given in determining our 25 man to a respectable line-up vs. lefties. We know Valbueno, Singleton and Castro are extremely weak vs. lefties. We know Rasmus did not do well at all against them last year either. On the other hand we know that MarGo and Marisnick both have historically hit lefties well (although not for power). Lowrie is not horrible vs. lefties. So, if we follow this line I would want Lowrie at SS, Gonzalez at 3B, Conger behind the plate, Gattis at 1B, Carter at DH, and an OF of Marisnick, Presley and Springer. That offense, plus Altuve at 2nd, of course – should do very well against left handed pitching. And we would have Rasmus to come off the bench and pinch hit when a righty reliever took over if we needed/wanted some quick power potential, and Valbueno to pinch hit or take over if we needed OBP vs. a righty reliever.

    For this reason – in addition to the off-season intangibles – absent a trade I see Singleton as clearly marked for Fresno. If any infielder goes down, I see Sclafani as ready for a shot before Singleton, as he has hit both lefties and righties extremely well.

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    • Why would Alex Presley (career .665 OPS v LHP) be in the lineup against LHP? Rasmus was .684 OPS last year against LHP and .648 for his career, so there doesn’t seem like a significant reason to swap them. Singleton has been more consistent against both sides in his career (mostly milb) than Gattis or JFSF.

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      • Just looking at the splits from last year vs. lefties, here is what I saw:
        Marisnick – .327, .370, .367 with 1 K every 5 ABs
        Rasmus – .195, .293, .391 with 1 K every 2.8 ABs
        Singleton – .247, .337, .368 with 1 K every 2.8 ABs
        Gattis – .343, .356, .614 with 1 K every 3.3 ABs

        We have plenty of righties with SLG; we need to get some people on base regularly – and not whiff so often – vs. the power lefties we will face in the AL West.

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      • I left out Presley’s splits vs. lefties last year: .375, .360, .417, and 1 K about every 6 ABs. Compare that with Rasmus’ .195, .293, .391 and 1 K about every 2.8 ABs

        If all you look at is SLG, you go with Rasmus. I think we need to actually play real baseball vs. our division rivals, not rely on a slow pitch softball approach where it is home run or nothing.

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      • Can’t remember who it was, but someone found that Presley’s numbers spike dramatically when he plays CF. Indeed, in 218 PAs in CF, he’s hit .338/.373/.520. Not too shabby, but a marked difference than when he plays LF or RF.

        This came up in a discussion about players not performing well when they’re out of position.

        My guess is perhaps the stats gurus found other info, leading Luhnow to want to secure him early on. Of course, he was heading into arb, so a settlement was likely anyway.

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      • Bill, Presley’s stats against LHP last year was a mirage. He had 24 AB’s against LHP and had 8 singles, 1 double, 3 K’s and no BB. His OBP was lower than his BA.
        His career #s against LHP are pretty bad, though not horrible.

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      • Did I mention that I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY don’t like seeing guys in the line up who you know are going to strike out more than once every 3 ABs when facing lefties yet will never offset that by getting on base at least once in those same ABs? Getting k-ed not only takes the starch out of our team and our fans, it builds up the confidence of our opponents. It’s not like we are going to be facing a bunch of minor league lefties either – the ones we will be facing are legitimate guys with legitimate major league quality stuff.

        In my experience absolutely nothing good can happen offensively if your big bombers can’t put the ball in play regularly against lefties. You can’t score a runner from third. You can’t beat the BABIP odds. You can’t luck out and get on base on an error. A bad bounce or a close call cannot go in your or your team-mate’s favor. A bloop down the line cannot drop for a double. Every K we absorb is so much more than just an out – it is an in-your-face slam dunk.

        I’ll take a few k’s from a guy like George Springer, who more than makes up for the ks in every other phase of the game, including his offense. But not a guy like Rasmus or Singleton, who didn’t even come close – at least last year against LH pitching. Even Whiff-King’s Gattis and Carter struck out less frequently against LH pitching last year than Rasmus or Singleton.

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  6. It wasn’t too many months ago that Luhnow gave Singleton the 10 million. I think there’s a pretty good chance that Luhnow now thinks he’s got damaged goods on his hands, which may well have helped him determine that the Gattis deal needed to get done. So I agree Chip. I still think it’s a shame though, based on what I think we gave up. In the outfield I would have preferred a platoon of Marisnick/Grossman along with Springer and Rasmus. And if Singleton were to self destruct, (or continue to) I would have lived with Carter at first and a DH by committee. Not ideal, but then again, we’d still have those three prospects we gave up. Along with a better outfield defensively than Gattis will provide. And a guy like Tucker might have gotten a chance to make an impact sooner on the big club..

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  7. @Mr. Bill. You asked: “What specifically do you – or anyone -think it will take for Singleton to beat out Marsinick and give Springer, Rasmus, Presley, Gattis and Carter the keys to the MMP outfield to start the year.”
    —————————————————————————–

    I’m not sure the answer is that cut and dry. It may be more of one of those things that they’ll know it when they see it. The higher “burden of proof” may be on Marisnick though. Singleton has the contract and if he comes close to the minor league numbers and previous projections, he could be long-term at the position.

    And, remember, Marisnick has only 377 AAA ABs himself, so it’s possible that both Singleton and Marisnick start the season in Fresno. Bet you hadn’t considered that one, eh? 🙂

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    • Chip, you probably know me well enough by now to know that I had indeed considered that, and would be just fine with it – especially if neither of those two impresses and we get an eye-popping spring from either Robbie Grossman, Joe Sclafani, Tony Kemp (in the OF?), Preston Tucker, Domingo Santana, or Andrew Aplin.

      After all, I have gone on record and said I don’t really have any expectation of playoffs in 2015, so I am just looking for the next star to rise. I see both Singleton and Marisnick as less than stars – although both have potential to be fairly solid contributors as a ‘supporting cast’ in 2017 and 2018 to Altuve, Correa, Springer, Phillips, Keuchel, McHugh, Appel, Velazquez (if he can stay healthy), McCullers, Hader and either Moran or J.D. Davis.

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    • I don’t see Marisnick proving to be any better than he has been past high A. I would agree that 377 AB’s is a small sample if you are looking at the traditional stat lines – homeruns, avg, rbi, etc. I would disagree that is a small sample when you are looking at swing rates and contact rates.

      I’ll say this – I will agree that I might be wrong about Marisnick when someone finds me ONE example of a player that swung at 37% of his pitches outside of the strike zone in his first 400 plate appearances and turned into a better than average major league outfielder. Caveat though – when you find that one, I will find you 100 that didn’t. The odds are very long that Jake Marisnick will turn into a full time, productive enough hitter to allow that fantastic glove to stay in the lineup everyday.

      Even Singleton’s Oswing rate is 24%, as a rookie, right around major league average. The guy should trend upward.

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      • Pitch trax didn’t exist in 1996, so we don’t know. We know that Vlad’s oswing rate actually worsened as is career progressed when they finally did start tracking it, with multiple years on the 40s. His O contact rates are unreachable by Marisnick though – Marisnick is no Vlad (very few are). Vlad without the O contact rate is a guy that would have been out of the league in a year.

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  8. Brad Peacock has not been mentioned in this entire post and comments. I noticed it before there were any comments earlier today and I wondered if it was just me or does nobody even think about him as a part of the team. There is a chance he will make more starts as the #5 starter this year than anybody else.
    I haven’t written him or anybody else mentioned in this entire article from the team, but what I have seen throughout the week in watching all the interviews is that one player looks and acts like he doesn’t have a prayer and that’s Matt Dominguez. When I saw him being interviewed, he looked like a guy on the way to the gallows. When I saw him swing at a half a dozen pitches in batting practice, I don’t think he made solid contact with one. It’s sad and I hope he can stay with the organization and somebody can help him find himself.

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      • I’m not ready to settle for a “serviceable” guy at the back of the rotation. But that’s accurate and reminds us we’ve still got a ways to go.

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      • daveb, I want my #5 starter to be in the best shape of his life, add a pitch, lose a pitch, change a grip, throw higher in the zone, keep the ball down, use both sides of the plate, tunnel his pitches, switch ends of the pitching rubber, focus better, study more film, earn the league minimum, be servicable and grow a full beard.
        Any more than that is asking a lot.

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      • OP, you pretty much nailed it, but you left out channel his inner man via his alter ego. Every #5 starter must have that trait and characteristic. Don’t you think?

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  9. i wondered the same op. i guess he isn’t expected to be ready by the time real games start, so he isn’t mentioned until he is ready to go. i expect him to do well when he does start playing.

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  10. Not sure if Peacock has any options left, so if he does try to come back, and flames out…….he’s done here. Matt Dominguez deserves better treatment, than just telling him he’s out at 3rd. base. I’ll go on the record, and say both Matty D. and Singelton start the year in Fresno……along with the human error machine we call VILLAR!
    Ken Rosenthal has an interesting view about this team going into this season.
    He says the same thing we do……too many players to figure out what to do with.
    Do you send Marisnick, and Grossman both to AAA? What happens when Gattis
    can’t play left field? He was treated for dehydration yesterday, because he was
    out of shape, and all the running around out there “tuckered” him out. I didn’t “get” the Gattis signing, and still don’t.

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  11. Well as of today, I am very glad that Singleton, Grossman & Dominguez – all three – did not sign those “long term contracts” that were supposedly offered. Add those to the team with Presley and we have 100% of the places locked up with one of them needing to pitch.

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    • Ah, with you on Grossman and Dominguez, but Singleton actually signed one of those deals. While it’s quite reasonable, he’s locked up through 2018 and the team has options (with buyouts attached) for 2019, 2020 and 2021. It’s a guaranteed 5 year/$10 million deal that starts this season (he’s earning $1.5 million in ’14). FYI, the ’21 option is for $13 million.

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      • So, after finally getting rid of our “AAA first baseman” last spring, this is who we have now. I am glad we have both Gattis and Carter.

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