Astros 2018: 10 not-so-burning spring training questions


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.

  1. 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…..
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
  9. 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.
  10. 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?
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61 comments on “Astros 2018: 10 not-so-burning spring training questions

  1. The Astros only starters lost were Aoki (who was already replaced) and Beltran. So not much room on the 25 man. We can also say “gone” are Teoscar, Moran, Centeno, Maybin, and a few other minor players. So I see the team set – barring injuries. And ST may shift a player or two from starter to bench.

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      • Dan, in referring to the ‘h on the end’ some may think you are referring to the famous Preparation known as ‘H’, which is usually applied, well, you know. I bet the suggestion that Mr. Feliz is going to bring the “h on the end’ to his new team violates HIPAA !

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  2. Who are the Five?

    All traditional indicators point to the 5 you mentioned. But will the FO follow the playoff pattern, and employ more of a tandem approach than in years past?

    I could theoretically see us using McCullers for 4, then Peacock and/or Morton for 4, then McHugh. That would probably result in some potential overuse stress on Devenski and Harris, especially if we play a lot of extra inning games or if problems arise in the non-tandemed top three, such as:
    1. Verlander can’t keep Kate Upton off his mind;
    2. Keuchel regresses to 2016 and/or goes on the DL;
    3. Cole just can’t get his mojo in an Astro uniform.

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    • Yeah there was a rather convoluted article on Astro County that had us with two tandems separated in the rotation – like Verlander, Keuchel, (McCullers and Morton), Gerrit, and (Peacock and McHugh).
      1. Verlander has his own tandem with Upton
      2. I get the feeling Dallas is going to kick butt in his contract year
      3. Even if Cole pitches so-so like he did last season that is about a run better than Fiers

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    • Brent Strom is a WIZARD when he gets a new pitcher! Luhnow was very lucky to get him here! He’s already working with Verlander…..can’t wait to see some of that magic with Cole!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Is Ken Giles still the closer.

    Yes, unless he gets traded before the season starts. But even if he does not get traded, fair warning of a lack of confidence in him has been given. It started in the WS, when he was benched. Then, he was required to go to arbitration to get the money he thought he deserved. And then, on top of these things, Hector Rondon was brought in to be there, along with Will Harris, primed to take over the closer role quickly if Kenny G starts to implode as the tension of a playoff run rises.

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  4. Who is in Left?

    I am really not expecting to see a whole lot of Marwin in LF. I think we’ll see Fisher against righties and Marisnick against lefties. And I think Marwin will return to the supersub role.

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  5. As far as Kate Upton on the mind, I’ve noticed a certain blog where her name appears with astounding regularity. How about let’s go ahead and buy shares in Whirlpool? 🙂

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  6. Question #1. As far as the rotation is concerned I believe Dan may have it right. Verlander, Keuchel, Cole, Morton and then LMJ to make the start in the home opener, because last year and throughout his career Lance has been awesome at home and awful on the road.
    If all of the starters are healthy I expect Peacock to be an important guy in the bullpen and McHugh to be the long relief/ sixth starter.

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  7. Who is the ‘other catcher’?

    There have been some catcher options available this year, and so far Jim and Jeff seem quite content with Max Stassi as the back-up. It looks like he’s finally going to get his chance. Stubbs needs a good solid year in Triple A – and a big comeback from his really ugly 2017. Fedorowicz is insurance in case McCann or Stassi gets hurt. Quintana is a Cuban ship that is covered in rust and barnacles. Ritchie is there if we get desperate.

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  8. 1. What if one of your five has a bad spring? What if Cole gets shelled…do they consider putting McHugh or Peacock back into the rotation to start the year or wait it out?
    2. Ok, I’m having some buyers remorse right now. We had Musgrove and Feliz who showed signs of being big-time bullpen arms in 2017 and 2016, respectively. We have Martes who showed…disinterest?…in coming out of the bullpen. We’re moving McHugh and Peacock back into the pen? I feel like Cole, Rondon, and Smith represent a possible regression from the guys we already had at less cost. Were we really concerned that Cole would get traded to the Yankees or something?
    3. Giles hasn’t done well as a setup man for us. I see this as a major area of concern. I don’t like the idea of a Rondon reclamation.
    4. Marwin played adequate defense. His throws generally lack velocity, but are on target and on time. The problem is that Marwin, Fisher, and Reddick are all LHH. Marwin hit well enough last year against LHP, but you’re wasting him if he sits against RHP as part of a platoon. I think Hinch puts Marwin in LF against LHP and splits time amongst him and Fisher against RHP. If Marwin is hitting well, he then spells some of the other guys at other positions in those games. If not, we’re exploring a trade in July.
    5. Both Stassi and Fedorowicz would have one strike against them – if you decide to option them to the minors they would have to pass through waivers. Neither can hit, but they’re also not nearly as bad as Centeno or Eric Kratz. I suspect Stassi gets the opening day spot and is then out of our system by mid-May.
    6. Gattis is going to DH unless there is an injury.
    7. The Yankees are better at stealing signs than most teams. That may be an area Espada can help with.
    8. I think Sipp breaks camp with the big leaguers, but Luhnow is probably prepared to eat his salary if Crane will approve it.
    9. Yes, 13 pitchers.
    10. Bench will be Marisnick, Fisher, and Stassi.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Devin, this is possibly the darkest comment I have ever read from you. If you were here I would shake you and wake you up.
      There is absolutely no basis for this pessimism.
      * Marwin is a SS by trade and has the arm of a SS. Correa is a SS with a cannon, but Marwin has a good arm.
      * Nobody knows whether Max Stassi can hit major league pitching or not because he has 89 plate appearances spread over five seasons. The most PAs he has ever had was 31 last year. Just for the hell of it I would like to point out that his slash line over that time is .253/.318/.405/.723., way above average for all catchers in major league baseball in the last five years.
      * After looking at Gerritt Cole and Mike Fiers, whatever makes you worry about Cole?
      * Ken Giles is not our setup man, he is the closer and he got 34 saves in 39 tries last season and every pitcher in the playoffs complained about the slick baseballs affecting their sliders, which is his bread and butter out pitch.
      Here, take a big swig of this Koolaid and remember who is the World Champions.
      Sheesh!

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  9. Who will DH?

    Not much doubt that the FO thinks Evan Gattis is the guy. Not much secret that I don’t. We’ll see.

    I personally hope Tyler White, Tony Kemp, and A.J. Reed all come out killing it in Spring Training and make the FO rethink their position – or at least consider themselves as having options in case, as I suspect will happen, Gattis does DH about like Carlos Beltran of 2017 did DH.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Maybe this is a dumb question, but why are we projecting Peacock in the bullpen and LMJ in the rotation, and not the other way around? Based on last year, and just based on general demeanor, Peacock is a starter and LMJ brings the hard curveballs in later-inning situations.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Question: How will Joe Espada replace Alex Cora?
    Answer: One game at a time.

    Espada must have something going for him, because he has stayed in baseball a long time. He coached the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic. He spent a year as a ‘special assistant’ to Brian Cashman in New York – uh . . . what the heck is that? Then he moved onto the field as the Yankees’ third base coach and ‘infield coach’.

    My suspicion is that Espada knows how to tell a good joke – en espanol or en Englais – and has a reputation for keeping players calm and focused. Or maybe he has x-ray vision, super hearing, and has been surgically implanted with Artificial Intelligence, such that he knows what the other team is doing at all times. Biggest problem I see is that under his coaching the Yankees did not exactly dominate our guys last year.

    Perhaps Joe has the ‘skinny’ on how to exploit Aaron Judge’s weakness? He was also a hitting coach in the Marlins’ system a few years ago, and might have some suggestions concerning Giancarlo Stanton.

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      • I know there was an article about Carlos Correa making his home here – about his younger brother being a ball player here.
        I think Jose Altuve lives here due to the dangers of his Venezuelan homeland. Beyond that I just don’t know.

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  12. #4. Who is left? I think Marwin will play some in LF. I think Marisnick will play some LF. I think Reddick will play some LF. I think Fisher will play some LF.
    #5. Who is the other catcher? Luhnow said Stassi gets the first shot. I think that is who gets it. I think Gattis is the #3 catcher and primary DH.
    #6. Who is the DH. The Astros say Gattis is the primary DH. I think Marwin gets some starts at DH and I think some other players will occasionally DH when Marwin subs for them to get some rest. I think Fisher may get in some DHing.

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  13. Lets take a look at the AL Central. This one is easy:
    The Indians won the most games in the AL last year and their projected current payroll is $1 million higher than last season. They lost their good first baseman and replaced him with Alonso and appear to be fairly set with their team.
    The Twins were a wild card team and their current projected payroll is already $3 million higher than last season and they still need and want starting pitching.
    The White Sox are in a complete rebuild and yet their current projected payroll is only $5 million less than last year and they don’t appear to be looking to sign anyone.
    The Royals are in a rebuild and their current projected payroll is $39 million less than last season, but is still at $113 million and they want Hosmer only.
    The Tigers are tearing it down in a rebuild and their current projected payroll is $124 million, $64 million less than last season. They appear to be not too interested in the free agent market as they try to shed payroll. Fiers replaced Verlander in their rotation. The Tigers’ reduced payroll is a huge void in the free agent market.
    Cleveland owns the AL Central and their only competition would be the Twins, who need starting pitching on a limited budget.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Now a look at the NL Central.
    The Cubs are the Division Champions and their current projected payroll is $164 million, or $21 million less than last season’s payroll. They are fairly well set as a team except they want a top of the line starting pitcher and are the favorites to win the Whirling Darvish Sweepstakes which would put them at or below last season and just below the salary penalty line.
    The Brewers are currently projected to have a payroll of $94 million or $24 million more than last year and they need and want more starting pitching. Notice that the Brewers increase in payroll is almost a perfect match for the Cubs decrease.
    The Cardinals current projected payroll is $142 million, just $1 million less than last year’s and some experts think they aren’t fairly set with their roster yet.
    The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t rebuilding, they’re just getting rid of their best players. Hah Hah. The Pirates projected current payroll is $85 million, or $21 million less than last season’s. The Pirates may not be quite finished with their “not rebuild” so don’t look for them to add a lot between now and the start of the regular season.
    The Cubs are a heavy favorite to win this division and their payroll will be near the top spenders in baseball. but they don’t stand to lose many players in 2019 and they may be looking at one of the available free agent superstars in next year’s bonanza free agency, even to the point of breaking the salary barrier.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks Old Pro for giving us a feel of how the teams are heading salary-wise.
    I feel like if I were a free agent I might take a little less a little sooner before the money spout runs dry.

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  16. Mr. Darvish may have gained a little leverage as the Twins Ervin Santana will have some finger surgery. Twins were interested in him and that interest may intensify.

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    • He wants a 5yr contract, somewhere in the area of $150 million. Unless the Twins think Santana won’t be effective, I can’t see them signing Darvish…..but you never know!

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  17. My final Report is on the NL East:
    Washington won this division without competition last season. Their current projected payroll is $181 million and that figure is $8 million over what they spent last season. Their roster is pretty set. Their team will have a significant number of expiring contracts at the end of this season. That is one reason why they do not want to part with either of their two top prospects. They are going to need them soon.
    The Mets have a current projected payroll of $147 million, including Frazier, and that is $5 million more than they spent last season. The Mets only hope is that their pitching staff stays healthy and pitches like they were predicted to when they were prospects. There is a lot of potential in their rotation.
    Philadelphia is in the tail end of a rebuild and their projected current payroll of $65 million is $43 million less than last season, but they do not have the players to compete this year. They may try to get a real bargain on one good free agent this year but they may have as much as $140 million to spend on free agents in 2019 to go with some prospects who are getting ready and some young good players who arrived in the last two years. You can see the Phillies lining up their ducks and storing up huge amounts of cash ammo to use next winter. Currently, every player they have under team control is there for two years or more.
    The Braves current projected payroll is $117 million which is only $3 million less than last season. They stand to drop a ton of payroll at the end of this coming season, they have the #1 rated farm system and they will have well over $100 million to spend next season if they choose to and I think they will choose to because Philly and the Braves arrive next year, coinciding with the Nationals having a ton of players becoming free agents.
    The Miami Marlins and their new ownership and front office all match up perfectly. They suck! Their current projected payroll is $91 million and is still only $12 million less than last year. So they traded their team to save money for the future while stabbing today’s fans in the back.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve completed my research and I have some conclusions.
    1. These eight teams
    Dodgers
    Rangers
    Phillies
    Cubs
    Royals
    Tigers
    Yankees
    Orioles
    have combined current projected payrolls for 2018 that total $344 million less than their combined payrolls for 2017. Don’t look any further than these 8 teams for the free agent situation as it currently is. These are all wealthy teams that have decided not to spend money this year, apparently.
    2. These three teams have all upped their spending by at least more than $20 million each for 2018:
    Brewers
    Astros
    D’Backs.
    3. The Giants and Red Sox are spending as much as they can and as much as they have in the past.
    4. Even most of the small market or rebuilding teams are spending as much this year as they did last year.
    5. At least half of the teams in baseball can’t wait to get their hands on 2019 free agency.

    Liked by 3 people

    • OP – I think you are the first person I’ve seen who has looked at this situation this particular way and come to this conclusion. Most folks would knee jerk and say that this is being driven by the teams that are the small market / rebuilding teams. But it is obvious from what you have shown that the teams that have always driven this ever rising $$$$ market are the ones who have pulled back on the reins. Fascinating.
      The Scott Boras’ and buddies have always had in their back pocket that they can go to the Yanks or Dodgers or Orioles or Cubs and get an offer that their client will take or will use to get a better offer out of someone else. But what happens when they decide they want to stay below the luxury tax line or want to wait for a better free agent class?
      It seems to me that there will be some folks without a home when the season begins unless they throttle back their expectations or jump in their now like Frazier just did.
      Really great and unique look op!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. This goes to an earlier Chipalatta discussion but still an interesting quote from Huston Street.

    I’ll never understand the greedy player argument – in any negotiation there is an opposite side of the table, and in this case it’s a multi-billionaire or a group of them. Profits have never been better. A true fair market value will always establish itself in a true fair market!

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    • This is the same Huston Street that, in the last three years, has delivered four tenths of one Win Above Replacement for the Angels, in return for $24 million in salary.

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      • I have a special warm place in my heart for Huston Street. In 2015, the Astros were the beneficiary as he gave up 5 runs in the 9th inning after there were 2 outs and nobody on – capped by Jed Lowrie’s pop fly homerun just inside the foul pole assisted by Kole Calhoun’s inability to get more than 2 inches off the ground….
        The first time a player hands back money after being useless to their team after signing the big contract, I will feel sorry for them. And when an owner cuts home tickets in half when they have decided to tank a season I will change my opinions on them.

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      • Yes op – The Astros started with 2 outs and then Preston Tucker hit what looked like a nice but futile dinger at the time. But it wasn’t …..

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  20. I was just reading some of the back and forth between Scott Boras and the mlb front office.
    https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2018/02/scott-boras-dan-halem-mlb-free-agency.html
    Boras is upset that the front office is quoting that there are 9 figure offers out on the table, saying this is proof of collusion because how else would they know. It is kind of laughable because anyone can use Google and know what types of offers have been made through the leaks that are out there (most of them outlined in mlbtraderumors.com itself).
    I was more interested in JD Martinez’s frustration with the Red Sox not wanting to up their offer beyond the 5 years $125 million mark. JDM has been a very good hitter the last few years – super numbers last season with Detroit and Arizona. But the problem is:
    – He is not durable – only played more than 123 games once in his career
    – He is not a good fielder – we can all attest to that
    – He does not currently have more than one team vying for his services
    Should the Red Sox raise their offer when no one else is bidding for JDM. Well they may have to if they want him to sign any time soon.
    I don’t think the teams are doing this to break the back of the union. I think if this free agent class included the Kershaws and the Trouts there would be plenty of action at the top of the FA class.
    The players salaries right now run about $3 billion/year (about $4 million / yr per player on average). That is a chunk. The owners could afford more – but I think they are figuring out that you can be competitive and a winner without hitting the salary tax limits.
    It will be interesting to watch what happens, but with a recently signed agreement between baseball and the union – I don’t expect anything to change unless someone heads to court with collusion evidence.

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    • How much can a smart team justify paying a guy that belongs in a DH role long term? Today he’s a poor outfielder, a couple of years into that contract he’s a terrible outfielder.

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      • This is a point a number of writers made – the Red Sox have a dilemna if they sign him because they are paying Hanley Ramirez a similar annual amount to not play in the field and putting JDM in the outfield over one of their other guys makes about as much sense as putting Gattis in ours.

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      • I wonder if JD would have any aptitude around first. We used to talk about converting him from time to time. He’s never played an ML inning there.

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  21. The 30 brightest minds in baseball figure things out, looking at the World Series trophy in the hands of the team with the $136 million payroll, while the team with the $260 million payroll stands with empty stares in their home dugout on their home field.
    I can guarantee you that the Astros will not be the aging team with the $260 million payroll four years from now.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Who Will Start the Year as Fresno Grizzlies? Here is a list of “likely’s’:

    1B- A.J. Reed
    2B – Nick Tanielu/Tony Kemp
    SS – Jack Mayfield
    3B – J.D. Davis
    C – Garrett Stubbs/Tim Federowicz
    OF – Jon Kemmer, Drew Ferguson, Alejandro Garcia/Tony Kemp
    DH -Tyler White

    Starting Pitchers:
    Martes
    Armenteros
    Paulino
    Rodgers
    Hauschild
    Winkleman
    Thornton

    Relievers:
    Gustave
    Guduan
    Hoyt
    Dorris
    McCurry
    Thome
    Ramsay
    Nunn

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I would like to delve into the Astros catching situation.
    First off, I would like to point out that McCann is the Guru, the guy everybody respects who is the teacher. And McCann bats from the left side which is also important.
    Then there is Stassi. The guy we traded for five years ago who is inexpensive, young, spry and is the guy the Astros really want to succeed. And, he bats from the right side, which is important.
    If McCann and Stassi can do the job and complement each other, that allows Stubbs to put in his time in AAA this year, which he definitely needs to do, and then Stubbs could be put on the 40-man, which they need to do, and joins the team in a September callup and gets a taste of life as a catcher on a World Series contender in a playoff atmosphere. Stubbs bats from the left side, which is important.
    This scenario gives the Astros a chance to view their catchers of the present, Stassi and McCann, with Gattis as a true 3rd catcher who is the primary DH.
    But this scenario also gives the Astros a view of what could be the future, to see if Stubbs and Stassi could combine as a platoon tandem of young athletic catchers who hit from opposite sides of the plate and could be good affordable catchers in the years to come. Years when the Astros would need young, affordable players, to go along with their experienced, expensive players.
    This fits in with the Astros trying to weave their young prospects into the fabric of the team at a steady pace, to help keep youth on the team as the Astros fight to maintain their payroll according to the plan they had from the beginning.

    Like

      • Think of him as a draft pick out of college. He will come to minor league camp and they will look at him and decide if he is good enough to send to a full season minor league team or if they want him in extended spring training to work with. If he is who they think he is, he will start to factor into their plans next year .
        That is just my opinion.
        The only thing we know about him is that he has hit pretty well in the same league Gurriel played in.

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  24. #Never settle, is this year’s slogan. I like it….but I liked “earn it” better.
    Rumor mill, is the Twins are asking about McHugh, and or Cobb. I really like Collin, but really I don’t see a starting spot in the rotation this year. I’d really prefer him go to the NL, because it would be our luck to trade him to an AL team and he has a REAL breakout year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting rumor. McHugh is going to be a lot cheaper. For a franchise like Minnesota that might swing the momentum toward giving up some quality prospects rather than giving out a big free agent deal. I’d hate to see it happen, but McHugh may prefer starting games in a pennant race to coming out of the bullpen.

      Like

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