Astros 2019: 10 questions heading to spring training


Last spring most of the questions revolving around the Astros were concerning whether they could repeat as champions and not who was going to do the repeating. Their biggest loss was Carlos Beltran, who was also their worst everyday hitter. Of course, the loss of Beltran along with now World Champion manager Alex Cora may have had more of an effect on the offense than anyone following the club actually knew at the time.

The contrast is that this season there are major changes with this team. Three starters from the 2018 rotation will not be pitching for them this year. The injured Lance McCullers, the family man Charlie Morton, the disappointed (so far) Dallas Keuchel will all be out or likely elsewhere in 2018. Two of their three catchers, Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are gone. Their main DH Evan Gattis is gone and the player they used all over the map and both sides of the plate, Marwin Gonzalez will sign elsewhere it appears and reliever Joe Smith will be sidelined for the second season of his two-year contract.

There are also coaching changes and front office changes, but those are not really areas that will get much attention during Spring Training.

There are a lot of moving pieces here, but here are 10 questions headed into this Spring Training:

1) Are the Astros done adding to their roster before the start of the season?

The answer is you never know. There could be injuries. There could be availability at a big discount of someone they never thought they could sign. But with GM Jeff Luhnow you never know in the best of circumstances and he seems to be clutching those cards very close to his chest. Will they chase another starter, big bat, or even catcher? Probably not, but…. you never know.

2) Will Carlos Correa be “back”?

Usually, injuries to younger players are not a huge concern. Players often come back from blown ACLs or Tommy John surgery as good or better than before. But backs can be another thing altogether – sometimes chronic and debilitating. Fans will be breathing easier if they see the “old” Correa in the spring.

3) Will Jose Altuve be all the way back from his knee surgery?

This is a lesser concern than Correa’s back, but this is the 2017 MVP. Altuve is a smaller player and the leverage of his swing, along with his second base pivot relies heavily on those knees.

4) Who will be the 5th starter and where do Josh James and Framber Valdez end up?

James, Valdez and Brad Peacock are probably the most likely candidates fighting for the final spot in the rotation behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh and Wade Miley. Peacock was terrific as a sub starter in 2017, but his ability to go multiple strong innings out of the ‘pen is valued. Valdez’s control problems might be less harmful in the rotation. James’ big-time fastball and change would seem to work in the rotation or out of the bullpen.

5) Is Tyler White the main DH in 2019?

He shoved Gattis out of the DH spot with strong (but a bit inconsistent) numbers in 2018. Will he get the full season shot folks believe he deserves? Will the front office pick up a bargain power hitter to challenge him? Does Michael Brantley get more time out of the field and more time as a DH?

6) Does Forrest Whitley have a shot at making the team out of spring training?

The answer is no unless there is an injury run on pitchers. Now if the question is whether he will make his MLB debut in 2019, then there is a much better chance of an affirmative answer.

7) Does Kyle Tucker have a shot at making the team out of spring training?

He has a better chance of it than Whitley, but barring an injury or an out of the blue trade of Josh Reddick it is not likely they will have him on the team as the 4th OF. He had an uninspiring start to his MLB career in a short cup of 2018 coffee, but so did Alex Bregman and George Springer in their first small samples of major league life.

8) What does Michael Brantley mean to this offense and where does he fit?

Traditionally, a professional lefty hitter like Brantley who has some (but not overwhelming power) and who is a very good base runner, should slot into the second spot in the lineup behind Altuve. But this is not a traditional lineup as Springer will probably stay at the top. What would make sense is that if Altuve is still in the third spot, then put Brantley in the fourth spot with Altuve getting on base and holding that 1B near the bag. No matter what, the Astros should figure out how to slide this lefty somewhere in between the all-righty top of the lineup of Springer, Bregman, Altuve and Correa.

9) What can the Astros expect out of likely #3 McHugh and #4 Miley in the rotation?

McHugh missed a huge chunk of 2017 with an injury and in 2018 pitched great out of the bullpen, so it has been 3 seasons since he was a regular out of the rotation. Miley pitched a strong 1/2 of 2018 (missing time with an injury) after pitching poorly in 2016 and 2017. They are both only assured of being Astros through 2019 and there are a lot of pitchers knocking on the door from the minors including James, Valdez, Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas, Rogelio Armenteros and others. Are they half season placeholders until the trade deadline?

10) Tyler White, Jake Marisnick and Tony Kemp are out of options and probably fighting for two spots on the team. Will one of them get traded or released?

Again, injuries or signings/trades between now and April can affect things. However. the gut feeling is that unless Marisnick shows a solid bat (after an off-season swing change) that has been missing for most of his career, he may be the odd man out of this trio.

Bonus question for you to answer – Will they extend any of their players and who would it be…Cole, Verlander, Springer, others……?

So…..what are your answers to these 10 questions? What questions do you want to be answered in the spring?

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46 comments on “Astros 2019: 10 questions heading to spring training

  1. The first question about adding any more pieces gets a big “maybe” from me. Maybe they have a chance to trade for another piece to their rotation, but that appears to be something that is best determined by spring training health. Maybe they have the chance to sign Keuchel at a value that they like. Maybe they say they’re happy with their team but aren’t saying they could be happier with an addition and a subtraction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 1. i think they will add another player
    2. yes i believe he will. they will keep a close eye on how is back reacts. and the excitement of being a newly wed wears off a bit.
    3. yes. first real injury for altuve.
    4. james will be #5
    5. main dh? at least at the beginning of the season
    6. unless the starters are buzzing along with no injuries and no poor performance, i think you see whitley this summer.
    7. no, but probably will see him by summer as well
    8. brantley is a BIG addition and adds to the versatility of the lineup.
    9. i dont expect much more than .500 from either unless the offense carries them
    10. if one goes, it will be kemp
    bonus. yes they will try to extend verlander or cole.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. #2. I think Carlos Correa will make the All-Star team.
    #3. I think Jose Altuve will make the All-Star team.
    #4. I think Cionel Perez has an equal chance to be the fifth starter. Perez, Valdez, Peacock and James fight it out. The first one to get even a slight injury misses out. I think the Astros want James to win that job, because they want him to be ready to claim an automatic spot in the rotation for years.

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  4. I think the “intention” is to have Tyler White as the main DH. I believe at this time last year the “intention” was to have Evan Gattis as the main DH.
    I’m hoping White gets the job, keeps the job, and rakes at the DH position. I’m hoping that White does so well that Michael Brantley is allowed to be the main guy in LF and he rakes.

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  5. 6. Does Forrest Whitley have a shot at making the team out of spring training? No chance.
    7. Does Kyle Tucker have a chance of making the team out of spring training? Absolutely. All he has to do is prove to the team he is a much better player than Josh Reddick.

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  6. If what Buster Olney is reporting is true it is no wonder Keuchel is still not signed.
    He supposedly started off looking for 6 to 7 years between $25 and 30 million per year. So a contract between $150 and 210 million total.
    Supposedly Marwin was looking for something like 4 yrs $60 million.
    Have to wonder how much each player settles for…..

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  7. 1) No one of significance, at least at first glance. Guys brought in on minor league deals or trades for people who might have some options. I think Question 10 means someone will be moved.

    2) Correa needs to take up yoga or make regular appointments to a good chiropractor to keep in shape.

    3) Altuve always strikes me as a guy who knows how to press himself just enough but not too much. I’m betting he’ll be fine.

    4) I think James has the inside track followed by Peacock. Both make the team.

    5) Again, looking toward Question 10, I think White is the guy. No one is keeping Kemp or Marisnick around to DH.

    6) No. Short of a long list of injuries, Whitley will start the season in Fresno, making AAA hitters look like fools.

    7) Probably the same is true of Tucker. A long list of injuries and an amazing spring would be needed to send him to Houston for opening day. I don’t think anyone is ready to give up on Reddick, and Tucker needs more playing time than a fourth outfielder might receive.

    8) Agreed with Dan. He’s a lefty who makes contact, drives the ball and always seems like trouble for opposing pitchers. I’m damned glad we have him.

    9) Healthy, I think McHugh is the best No. 3 starter in the league. Miley might be the best No. 4. That gives us, likely, Josh James as a No. 5. I like this rotation. It’s not last year’s rotation, but it’s pretty darned good.

    10) I hate to say it, but I think, barring a poor spring by Jake, Tony Kemp might be the odd man. Jake’s defense is just too valuable. Ask any pitcher on the staff, and they’ll tell you they’re grateful for Jake roaming the outfield. Taking away a hit or two a game is as valuable as getting a hit or two a game.

    Bonus question: They’ll extend someone. Just not sure it’ll be done this spring.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Very well written, Dan, especially your reasoning why Brantley should bat behind Altuve in the order.

    With our depth, Correa batting 5th will still give him tons of baserunners and plenty balls to mash. I think Marisnick WILL be the odd man out unless Tucker or Reddick are packaged in a trade, like you opined.

    But I DON’T see Kemp going anywhere as Hinch knows his value in the clubhouse and coming off the bench.

    Here’s my take on augmenting the rotation: wait until the trade deadline for a possible ace — IF there’s even a need. Why? Because it’s entirely possible that Josh James will tear up the AL. Either way, ace or no ace coming at the deadline, Whitley will be amped to step in and contribute after destroying AA/AAA. Don’t do anything rash like paying Keuchel or Kluber crazy money for the long-term. I’m meh on the Wade Miley acquisition; anything better than his filling in as a lefty stopgap is gravy. I bet his roster spot gets REAL scarce down the stretch, injuries notwithstanding.

    I like the team’s depth everywhere — inning eaters like Peacock and McHugh to wit — except for CA, and perhaps a lefty hurler out of the pen. Luhnow needs another CA pronto. My humble opinion….

    Oh and did I mention that I think Josh James is gonna be a superstar? This is gonna be fun to behold! (:

    Liked by 2 people

    • James’ potential is very exciting to me. It’s not just that he has a big arm, but he seems to have a lot of poise too and that is a great combination!

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  9. 1. Not done but I look for a head scratcher- like Morton. The only difference is now the team on the other end will sa “what are we missing?”
    2. Yep. He will be fine. 3. Yep. Him also.
    4. Initially Peacock. But the bottom 3 may be on a short leash. 5. Yes at least through the All Star break. He may sit a lot if he takes off real slow. 6. Nope. 7. Nope. I want to add Bregman hit the ball when he came up. The breaks did not go his way initially. KTuck was not making good contact. If that changes, he will be here for years. If not, hw will be AJ Reed II, or Brett Wallace II or ……. 8. Unless AJ takes Springer out of lead off ( which nahhonnahappin) we will have 4 righties at the top most games. If 6, 7, & 8 are Brantley, White, Reddick – looks good to me. One probably gets flipped with catcher. 9. McHugh or Miley will give us DK or better to start the year. Neither will give us 2017 or early 2018 Morton. I expect one to be gone at the break or earlier. 10. Kemp will be gone. Average at best on defense and no one 5’6” can play in the majors. Font Change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It appears that Myles Straw is not in the discussion. It also appears that weaker teams know the Kemp, White, JFSF, ??? Somebody has to be released. (See JD Davis). We will get nothing or someone very, very far from MLB ready. It is a good problem to have.

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      • Agreed on the excess outfielders. We will either need to make a trade or release someone. Kemp, JFSF, Fisher. Straw and Tucker could play another year in the minors but the log jam is Reddick. He’s signed through 2020 as is Brantley. Springer is going to get another big payday next year and will be a free agent after that. It’s a good problem to have, too many good players and not enough room. I have confidence the brain trust will figure it out.

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  10. 8. Michael Brantley could offer the Astros 600 PAs in LF. If he does that I think he will really help this team.
    9. What can the Astros expect out of Miley and McHugh. How about a total of 300 innings at a 3.75 ERA? That should work fine.
    10. I would trade or release Marisnick, but I think the Astros are blindly in love with him.

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  11. #10 looks to be the most significant question in my mind at this time, but it bleeds over into #1. There will be some disagreement, but I feel we still have a pressing need to address our bench. Can Brantley play CF for us? Realistically we need someone who can spell Springer once a week when healthy AND provide relief should he get injured. I expect the ultimate plan is to keep Marisnick on the roster and hope he can hit above the Mendoza line in very limited at bats while playing strong defense in the late innings. Straw would go to Round Rock where we’ll pray he learns how to hit (but will ultimately be disappointed). Kemp will get moved in the last week of spring training. Houston should trade him to Miami in my opinion.

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    • I don’t know how you are going to get Straw to learn how to hit. His .302 MILB career average and his tiny MLB average of .333 shows little ability to hit, especially if you throw out….his ability to hit!
      Why should Brantley play CF? He’s an All-Star LFer. Springer is an All-Star CFer. Put them out there and let them play and use your #4 outfielder to rest them when needed.
      Every projection I see has Tyler White penciled in as the Astros DH.
      So, question #10 boils down to who is your backup outfielders and that is not a significant question in comparison to other questions. At least, to me it isn’t.

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      • It’s obvious to me that Straw has adjustments to make in Round Rock. I personally think his ceiling is that of a fifth outfielder but would love to see him prove me wrong. Now, you’ve been following this blog and commenting for long enough to know that I’ve wanted Springer in CF all along. The problem is he’s not going to play 162 games there. We need someone else to fill in when he needs a rest or hits the DL.

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      • Dan, Reddick had a rough time in CF filling in during those games. I know we’ve thrown such luminaries as Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman out there for extended stretches as starters so it’s not out of the question to sacrifice some defense. The reason I asked if Brantley can play any CF anymore is that we already know Reddick is not ideal.

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      • I don’t see a problem with Reddick filling in for the few days that Springer takes off. If he gets hurt then you bring up someone (Straw?) to take his place on a longer basis.

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      • Devin, there is always going to be a 4th outfielder on the squad to play center on Springers days off, likely Jake, if not him, then Kemp if he’s around (although I’d much rather have Reddick out in center than Kemp) and in the unlikely event Straw comes into the mix, I’d feel very comfortable with him out there defensively.

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  12. 8. We had a .702 OPS from our left fielders in 2018. Only the catcher position was lower. Even in 2017, the guys in left produced a .751, which was the lowest of all positions. In 2016, a terrible .649, which was also the second lowest on the team. You’ll remember who was out in center for a good part of the 2016 campaign. We got a .625 from Gomez and friends that season. Michael Brantley will correct what has long been the biggest flaw for our club. No left field should produce a three year OPS of .700.

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  13. 9. If Miley produces what he did in 2018 (I’m dubious) he’s a coup. But as OP notes, I do expect 150 mostly good innings from McHugh. Collin is a professional pitcher. And with all the other guys we’ve got in house, I’m not concerned about the rotation.

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  14. 10. Unless Jake gets traded, or Luhnow produces a shocker and moves Reddick, which I doubt, Tony has to go. We’ve got two outfield lefty bats in Brantley and Reddick. Tony does not run as well as Jake. Tony is a defensive liability. Jake is not. And if Tony’s second half offensively is any indication of his future, there is not much Kemp upside.

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  15. If things go as planned, the Astros open 2019 in Tampa with matchups of Verlander vs Snell and Cole vs Morton. How could anyone not see that as ironic and fabulous baseball?

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  16. 3. I don’t know if there is any medical reason to be more concerned about Altuve and his knees based on the fact that he’s a short guy. He’s a bull and in great shape. He’ll age well. But he won’t be stealing 40 bases a year either. There’s no need.

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  17. 2. I don’t know about Correa and his back. But I do think he has great years ahead of him.
    1. It’s impossible to guess what Luhnow could do. I’m sure he wakes up every morning looking for opportunities. I don’t think he ever thinks that he’s all set.

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  18. Hopefully a bonus to the Michael Brantley acquisition…..
    Since 2014 – Brantley has stolen 62 bases and been caught…… 6 times!!!
    Since 2014 – Springer has stolen 41 bases and been caught ….. 27 times!!!
    (Note that is 68 attempts for each with very different results)

    Hopefully – Mr. Brantley can pass along some wisdom to Mr. Springer and others on the team.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. The Kyler Murray draft pick always had a 25% chance or less of working out.
    He had a 50% chance of making it to the majors if he chose baseball and a 1o% chance of being worth a top 10 pick.
    Then, he had only a 50% chance of actually picking baseball over football.
    Oakland messed up.

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    • This is a strange one to me. I thought the pick last June was a bit of a reach – great athlete with some serious holes in his baseball game? It will be interesting to see who picks him in the NFL draft.

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    • Trying to figure out who was the driving force behind the pick, it probably wasn’t Kubota but Billy Beane. And of course that slick salesman, Boras. Murray will only keep $210,000 of his 4.3M bonus. Check out this expert analysis.

      “He’s really fun to watch on a football field, and he’s going to be fun to watch on a baseball field. It’s neat that he gets to do both, and that the country gets to see both, but we’re going to get the best years, and he’s going to have a great baseball career.” -Beane

      Said Melvin: “We have a little vested interest in watching Oklahoma football this year — with our eyes closed and our ears plugged.”

      Well, Bob, the Astros just benefitted from your “vested” interest.

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    • They will not get a draft pick replacement for him because they actually did sign him. That is why they ended up making a huge draft mistake. They covered his butt and didn’t cover theirs.

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  20. I am getting genuinely curious, in light of some twitter comments I have read. Does anyone know how much money and other benefits/terms FA guys like Harper, Machado, and for that matter, Keuchel and Gonzales – and their agents – have been offered – and turned down – this off-season?

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    • What I know Mr. Bill
      – Supposedly the Nats offered Harper 10 yrs / $30 million as an extension before he went FA – no word what has happened since
      – Reportedly Machado was offered 8 yrs / $250 million from the White Sox
      – We have heard Keuchel was offered 5 years / $90 million extension back in 2016 / We know Keuchel turned down the 1 yr / $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Astros / Reportedly a number of teams are balking at Keuchel’s request for a 5 year contract – but have not seen $$ tied to that and not heard what he may have been offerd
      – Have really heard nothing on Marwin other than he wants something like 4 years $60 million and that the Astros did not make a qualifying offer

      By the way – I have a Marwin / Keuchel post coming later today or tomorrow

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      • Wow! That brings to mind the age old legal definition of ‘fair market value’ – the price a willing seller who is under no compulsion to buy will agree to pay to a willing seller who is under no compulsion to sell. Mr. Harper and Mr. Machado – and their agent – may just have priced themselves right out of the market. They may have to wait until someone gets hurt, and some team/owner is under a ‘compulsion to buy’.

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