In 2017, the Astros Championship year, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, and Lance McCullers missed significant time for the Astros. For players, we will say significant is at least 20-25 games (5 or more starts for starters).
In 2018, when the Astros were headed off in the ALCS, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, Lance McCullers and Chris Devenski missed significant time (and some of them tried to play though not fully healed).
It is critical that every MLB team have a Plan B (and probably C and D) in mind for every player and every position as it molds its roster and sets up its 40 man roster. This is especially critical for the Astros in a season when the very flexible Marwin Gonzalez will not be the main backup at 4 or 5 positions.
So, we will jump right into the discussion of Plan B’s for the 2019 Astros, based on the best guess at Plan A.
Catchers. The most likely scenario is that former Ranger Robinson Chirinos will be that starting catcher with Max Stassi as his backup. They never had to invoke the emergency backup last season (losing/using up two catchers in a game), but if they did it would have been long gone Evan Gattis. Not sure who they would put out there in an emergency in 2019. Tyler White? When they did need a longer-term injury sub in 2018, they used journeyman Tim Federowicz, but eventually got sick of him and traded for Martin Maldonado.
Plan B. The most likely backup would be youngster Garrett Stubbs, who hit well at AA and so-so at AAA. Perhaps Jamie Ritchie might end up being next man up or perhaps they might try to do another Maldonado pickup if things did not work out.
First Base.Yuli Gurriel will be the starter again in 2019 and will be spelled by DH Tyler White. Now if Gurriel misses significant time …
Plan B.If White rakes at DH like he did in 2018, it would seem that the Astros would fill in from below for 1B long-term. That would point to AAAA talent AJ Reed (.255 BA/.857 OPS/28 HR/ 108 RBI but 128 Ks). Taylor Jones was very good in half a season at AA and below average in a quarter season at AAA.
Second Base. Hopefully, Jose Altuve goes back to indestructible in 2019 and only gets subbed by Aledmys Diaz occasionally, especially since Diaz only has 2 games at second on his MLB resume.
Plan B. For short-term this would likely be Diaz or perhaps Yuli Gurriel who played 15 games at 2B last year (though not necessarily that well). For longer term maybe this is Tony Kemp, though they did not use him there in 2018 or perhaps spring training non-roster invitees like Jack Mayfield or Nick Tanielu.
Shortstop. Plan A is, of course, Carlos Correa and hopefully healthy back Carlos, not 60-year-old back Carlos. Past that it gets interesting.
Plan B. The best SS on the team even when Correa is well, maybe Alex Bregman. They might sub him at SS once in a while, but the natural backup at SS is Diaz, who has spent most of his career there. The bet is that for a longer term situation, Diaz would take over SS and they would bring up a hot bat from the minors to take over the super-sub spot.
Outfield. The normal configuration out here will be Michael Brantley in LF, George Springer in CF and Josh Reddick in RF. If Reddick can bounce back a bit offensively that is a very solid OF, especially after a season with LF manned mostly by Marwin Gonzalez, Kemp and Kyle Tucker.
Plan B. As things sit right now, Jake Marisnick would again be the main back-up at all three OF spots with occasional help from Kemp or maybe even Diaz. If something happened longer term, young Tucker (.332 BA/ .400 OBP/ .989 OPS at AAA) might be the next man up or maybe other top prospect Yordan Alvarez (.293/ .369/ .904 at AA/AAA) for a corner OF spot. Speedster Myles Straw (.291/ .381/ .734 with 70 SBs at AA/AAA) should be the next man up if a CF is needed. And if Marisnick falters or gets traded, Straw could be a cheaper alternative at that 4th OF spot.
SPs. Well the question here is first, what is Plan A? Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and ….. let’s assume that #5 is Brad Peacock. If it is not, then he may be the first Plan B on the list.
Plan B. In 2017, ten pitchers started at least four games for the World Champions, so there has to be a Rolodex (kids ask your grandpa and grandma what a Rolodex is) of options to replace starters for injury or performance reasons. That list should include the three youngsters who showed pretty well in 2018, Josh James (2-0, 2.35 ERA in 23 MLB innings), Framber Valdez (4-1, 2.19 ERA in 37 MLB innings) and Cionel Perez (0-0, 3.97 ERA in 11 MLB innings). Of course, James has to heal first and when he does they may decide to keep him in the bullpen. Besides this set of youngsters the Astros have some other young studs in top MLB pitching prospects Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas along with AAA stars Rogelio Armenteros and Brady Rodgers. Of course, if injuries or performance threaten to ruin the Astros run this season, they might look to make another big splash at the trade or waiver deadlines for a big arm.
RPs. Currently, Roberto Osuna is the closer with Ryan Pressly, Hector Rondon, Will Harris and Chris Devenski getting a lot of the late-inning set-up innings. Two of the three young guys (Josh, Framber and/or Cionel) should slide into the bullpen behind those five and compete for higher leverage innings along the way.
Plan B. Based on history, Rondon should be the backup closer, but based on 2018, Pressly may well have usurped that spot. The back-up for high leveraged set-up innings should first come from the youngsters stated above. From the minors, Dean Deetz (2-0, 0.79 ERA at AAA) or Brendan McCurry (6-7, 14 saves, 3.69 ERA) might be called up, but remember that the Astros were not shy in grabbing Pressly and Osuna in trades during 2018.
Bottom line, no team wants to put anyone but their very best players on the field every day. However, no team can win the whole enchilada unless they have reasonable and competent Plan B players available.