Every season, every team has an ever-morphing set of decisions to make season to season. And so it is with the Astros as they come off the oddest year in baseball history. Some thoughts on some prime decisions that have to be addressed…
- 13-13? A fairly normal roster split might be 13 pitchers and 13 position players, but this is the first time a season will begin with a 26 man roster, which is normal. Occasionally, the team might boost up the pitching side for a small segment of games. When there are doubleheaders (an archaic practice that saw life again in 2020), an extra body is allowed, but in general, an even split may be what is expected….until we begin discussing bullet two.
- Five-man rotation vs, ?? With the season going from 60 games to 162 games and pitchers that threw 50-70 innings in 2020 expected to ramp that up this season, several teams have mentioned going to 6 man rotations to try and lighten the individual loads of any particular starter. The problem with heading down this road is that it takes one bullpen arm away unless…..they go back to the first bullet and have 14 pitchers and 12 positional players. The 12 positional players turn the American League bench into a three-man force, which is what it was in the 25-man roster days.
- Is the rotation set in stone? The Astros ended the season with a pretty solid five of Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy. It would seem to be a slam dunk that these five would start the season as THE five. But what if they thought the best way to get young Javier through a whole season after a partial season was to use him out of the bullpen for part of it? How to ramp up all these pitchers will be a constant undercurrent story throughout the season.
- Will the Astros use the Tampa Bay Ray openers concept? Newly signed Ryne Stanek excelled as an opener to games with the Rays in the past. Will he do the same here?
- What will that lineup look like – usually? All manager change up the lineup card throughout the season. A.J. Hinch seemed to have almost as many iterations as there were games. But in general, how will the Astros handle losing their long time leadoff hitter George Springer? Will it be stars Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman sliding into that spot? Where will they place the newly returned Yordan Alvarez? Will Kyle Tucker earn a higher spot in the lineup than he had in 2020?
- Who will be closing? Yes, the reigning closer Ryan Pressly is returning, and he did a good job in his first chance at pitching the end game. But the Astros also have Pedro Baez, who has closed and Steve Cishek, who has closed and returning youngster Enoli Paredes, who has what might be considered closing “stuff”. Will they follow the Rays way of doing things, which is to share saves across multiple relievers?
- How to cover the outfield? With Springer and Josh Reddick gone and Michael Brantley returning but aging, the outfield coverage will be an interesting area to watch. Tucker will be out there every day, Brantley most days, but how will the centerfield and the backup outfield spots be covered? Myles Straw? Chas McCormick? Steven Souza Jr.? Pedro Leon? Aledmys Diaz? Jose Siri? Who will receive the “other” ABs for the team when the season begins?
- How many side-winders can they have in the bullpen? Non-roster invitee Steve Cishek and returning veteran Joe Smith both throw out of that right sidearm slot. Would they dare have two of the same kind of pitcher throwing high leverage innings for this team? Or does that hurt their effectiveness?
- How will youth be served? The Astros used a ton of young pitchers in their major league debuts. Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor, Brandon Bielak, Nivaldo Rodriguez, Humberto Castellanos, Brandon Bailey, Luis Garcia and Carlos Sanabria all debuted for the team. However, Bailey, Castellanos and Sanabria are all gone from the organization. There is no apparent room for all those arms still left on the pitching staff. On top of that, there is the next set of young arms on or off the 40-man roster, including Brian Abreu, Forrest Whitley, Tyler Ivey, Jairo Solis, Peter Solomon, and Brett Conine, who are in line for a shot at the gold ring. How will the two sets of young arms be used to best support the big club?
- Third catcher? – It would be a surprise if the top two catchers heading out of Spring Training are anyone but Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro. There is always a question about having a third catcher on the roster, even with the newly expanded (26-man) roster. Garrett Stubbs can play the outfield gives him a shot at making the team as a potential utility man/ third catcher. The fact that he has not shown he can hit at the major league level hurts that chance.
- Next man up? Along with deciding who will break camp with the team, the front office and coaching staff will undoubtedly make some decisions on which youngsters would be the next man up when inevitable injury or illness occurs during the season.
This is just a quick shot at some major decisions to be made during Spring Training. What else do you think needs to be decided?