For the last 56 springs the Astros have headed to various venues in Florida with burning questions about what it would take to be World Champions. OK, a little truth in advertising. For many of those seasons the burning questions were about how to eventually be World Champions and perhaps not be a laughing-stock for the upcoming season. But that is over. While the Astros do have questions to answer, the big question “Can they win a World Championship?” has been answered.
So here are ten not quite so urgent questions for the team to ponder when they head to ST in a few days.
- Who are “The Five”? Sure they will need more than five starting pitchers to get through a full season of baseball, but who will start the season in the rotation? The most likely answer (if all are healthy) is Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. Of course, that leaves out of the equation one of the best pitcher in 2017, Brad Peacock and the Astros #2 heading into 2017, Collin McHugh…..
- What about the other Two? This obviously applies to the two veterans left out of the rotation – say Peacock and McHugh and to a lesser extent youngsters like Francis Martes and Michael Feliz. Are the vets in the ‘pen? Are they long relief? Set-up guys? Trade bait? Martes and Feliz have options and may end up in the rotation in AAA.
- Is Ken Giles still the closer? He was a solid closer during the 2017 regular season, even a candidate for reliever of the year. In the playoffs he was as solid as Louisiana swamp land. Did they bring in Hector Rondon, who was the Cubs closer for about 2-1/2 years until replaced by Aroldis Chapman, to light a fire under Giles or to mentor him?
- Who is left? The Astros used Marwin Gonzalez almost exclusively in left field during the playoffs. Except for his huge home run to tie up Game 2 of the WS, he hit poorly during the playoffs. Will the Astros pin MarGo down to this spot and lose his flexibility to move seamlessly from spot to spot? Will Jake Marisnick get extended time in LF? Will they give Derek Fisher a real shot at this spot? Will they pick up a last-minute bargain off the free agent discard mound?
- Who is the “other” catcher? The Astros were pretty clear that Evan Gattis will DH and will not backup Brian McCann. So, will Max Stassi finally get a shot at a regular backup job? Is Garrett Stubbs too far away? What about veteran Tim Fedorowicz (doesn’t he play TE for the Texans?) Jamie Ritchie? What about mystery Cuban Catcher Lorenzo Quintana who appears to haven’t played since 2015? Or will they go after a Jonathan Lucroy to share the load?
- Who will DH? Sure the Astros have said that Gattis is the DH. But if he hits as a DH like he has in the past (far below his numbers when he catches) will this stand? Could Gattis be a quick trade chip? Will they have him catch in the bullpen between at bats? Will a Tyler White get a shot at DH? Could they bring in some help from outside?
- How will Joe Espada replace Alex Cora? The Astros bench coach Cora is the Red Sox new manager. Espada was the Yankees 3rd base coach and is now the World Champions bench coach. What all did Cora do? Did he help steal signs? Identify pitcher tip-offs? Will this make any difference at all?
- Will they keep a lefty or two in the bullpen? Tony Sipp is owed $6 million, so he is either in the bullpen or released and still being paid. Will Buddy Bosher be like Sipp was a few years ago – a waiver pickup who contributes? Will Reymin Guduan find the plate? Will Anthony Gose corral his big arm and make the miracle switch from OF to the bullpen? Will Cuban Cionel Perez make the huge leap to the majors? Is there a spot for Framber Valdez? An outside signing?
- Will they do a 13/12 split? The Astros have started their seasons since the shift to the AL with a 13 pitcher/ 12 everyday split on the roster. There is no reason to doubt that they will repeat this.
- What does that bench look like? With Gattis as the DH they will have the backup C on the bench and no need for a 3rd catcher. Is Marwin the only IF behind the four regular infielders? Is Tyler White in the mix? Tony Kemp? Will they have a rotation of Marisnick and Fisher between the bench and LF? Should J.D. Davis and A.J. Reed even show up? Could Kyle Tucker set himself up for an in-season call-up?