It is a pretty normal circumstance in the “real world” to be working on a project and have an open items or action items list. It is just a way of tracking items that need to happen, status, who is responsible, etc.
At this point, the Astros’ open items list is pretty darned short for a team in the off-season. That is a byproduct of a team that …..won the World Series and….brought back almost all the components that produced that 2022 title. But let’s give it a shot.
2023 Astros’ Open Item List
- The first one is the open General Manager’s spot, which for a few short moments after this World Series victory, belonged to now ex-GM James Click. Do they have to fill in this spot? Well, no, they don’t. They could toddle along with some combination of Jim Crane and assistant GMs Bill Firkus, (wasn’t he in Christmas Story – the kid with yellow eyes and teeth to match) Charles Cook, Andrew Ball, and Hall of Fame kibitzers Jeff Bagwell and Reggie Jackson. But at some point they need to say how the day-to-day running of the team will be handled during the 2023 season. This could include bringing in a long-term person to take the overall job (GM/VP of Baseball Ops), bringing in someone to take the GM spot (or promoting from within) while waiting for David Stearns to get loose from the Milwaukee Brewers after the 2023 season.
Observation – Do we even know if Mssrs. Firkus, Cook and Ball actually exist? Have we ever seen a picture of them or an interview with them? Maybe Jim Crane is having fun with us all and is doing it all himself….
- What is the Astros rotation, and how do they intend to use it in 2023? Sure, we think the rotation will be some kind of five-man with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy, and Luis Garcia, with Hunter Brown as the Javier-esque swingman. But what if they decide they want to give Brown a shot at the rotation with his big arm and use Urquidy or Garcia in that swing spot? Or might they like to go to a 6 man rotation to give the young arms lots of rest? They certainly could consider that when the team has entered one of those 20 days without a game-off stretches to the season. And there is the question of whether they would bring someone up from the minors if there is an injury or might Bryan Abreu be that next man up.
- About that catching situation….are they really going to war with Martin Maldonado and either/or Yanier Diaz or Korey Lee behind the plate? They certainly have time to add a veteran catcher, who might not be better than 2022 Jason Castro or 2020 Dustin Garneau. Will they stay with what they have, and if it doesn’t work out, trade mid-season for a veteran as they’ve done before in picking up Christian Vasquez or Maldonado (twice)?
- The outfield rotation will be of interest. Will they finally pull the bandaid off and give Chas McCormick the full-time centerfield spot? Chas and his .245 BA/ .332 OBP / .738 OPS slash in 359 ABs is not Mickey Mantle out there. But he makes Mauricio Dubon (.208/.254/.584 in 197 ABs), Jake Meyers (.227/.269/.582 in 150 ABs), and Jose Siri (.178/.238/.542 in 135 ABs) look like a trio of Mickey Mouses in comparison. Hopefully, Meyers and Siri and some of Dubon’s ABs will be absorbed by the return of Michael Brantley and a bit of a boost to Chas. It will also be interesting to see what the LF/DH split is between Brantley and Yordan Alvarez.
- The bench is the other major question here. Who will be on it, and most importantly, who will take up most of what Aledmys Diaz did over the last few seasons in flexibility? The gut feeling is that David Hensley, in a small sample, put himself forward as a potential solid component off the bench with his flexibility in the infield and a very good batting eye, which shined brightly in the Astros’ huge comeback against the M’s in Game 1 of the ALDS. Does Yuli Gurriel get brought back as a veteran bat and glove off the bench? Perhaps only if he cannot find a full-time gig elsewhere. Who else gets a shot here? Looks like they love Dubon and his “invisibat” (kind of the reverse of Javier’s invisiball). They have to have a backup catcher – is it Lee or Diaz, or both? Does Meyers get another shot a year farther away from his injury? J.J. Matijevic? Joe Perez? Pedro Leon? Justin Dirden? We will see.
Are there any other open spots on your dance card for the Astros?
Former Astro prospect back in the division…
I don’t know if I would say we have other ‘open spots’, but I am curious about what roles will be assigned to guys like BRYAN ABREU [long reliever? part-time closer? along with Pressly, Neris, and Montero], HUNTER BROWN [sixth-starter? long reliever?], SETH MARTINEZ, and maybe even guys like RONEL BLANCO, ENOLI PAREDES, BRANDON BIELAK, SHAWN DUBIN, PARKER MUSHINSKI and/or J.P. FRANCE and [will any of these last 6 guys break ST with the big Club?]
And MLBTraderumors had one of their Q and A’s and they used my question
1:11 Hi Steve – is there any news on Yuli Gurriel? He’s entering his age 39 season and coming off of a poor 2022 regular season (though a good playoff run and one year removed from winning the batting title). It doesn’t look like there is a spot for him back with the Astros.
1:14 Been pretty quiet on Gurriel. If he wants to keep going, I would imagine it’ll be on a minor league deal or a one-year deal with a very low base and plenty of incentives. Marlins would make some sense here on one of those deals.
But like you said, he’s 39. He just won a ring. Wouldn’t be crazy to me if he held out hoping for a return to Houston and, failing that, just called it.
And then ironically…..
I wonder if the source from those Miami reporters that the Marlins had been in contact was actually the speculation in Steve’s response to you…creating a circular reference. Alternately, perhaps they never thought to inquire with the Marlins whether they had been in touch with Yuli before your question.
Yes Devin I really think that my question triggered them to at least research what was happening with Yuli.
Yes he’s old and coming off a poor season, but he’s a pretty big name of those left out there
I think the real question is which players are healthy coming out of spring training. That will dictate how we start the year. Ultimately, a couple of your questions are likely going to fall in the wait and see category:
– CF – Chaz should enter spring training with the inside track to earn the starting job. He doesn’t need to be amazing, but if he can play well enough to be in the lineup most games it will give them options. If not then we get more at bats by Dubon. Speaking of…
– Bench – Dubon has to make the team at this point because we have no one else to play SS. Based on last year I would hope for 140 games from Pena. He has to stay healthy…
– Catcher – Bringing value on defense offsets some of the bad offense. The risk is that Maldonado drops off so much offensively that his defense isn’t enough. Can he catch 3/5 games and Lee/Diaz give us 2/5? I agree with your suspicion that we aim for this to be plan A with the backup being another July trade.
I’ve been viewing Dubon as the liability here, but quite frankly, Mancini and Diaz were a combined 2/43 last postseason. I’m not sure he could be any worse than that.
Hensley played 1B, 2B, SS, 3B & LF in the minors. I’d like to see him replace Dubon.
I would love to see Gurriel back on a low salary MLB contract with incentives.
I think if any starters get injured we would call up Martinez or Bielak.
Yeah, but LF in the minors is not CF in the majors and I think that is why we are stuck with Dubon.
To clarify, I would want Hensley to replace Dubon as a backup SS, and Meyers to replace Dubon as a backup CF.
Regarding your inquiry about ‘holes’ to fill, I suppose there is the age old question of whether we need a lefty reliever that actually gets lefties out. Last year we did better with our tough righties than we did with either Blake Taylor [WHIP 1.56; BAA .234] (who is still with us) or Will Smith [WHIP 1.23 (for us, 1.41 for Atlanta; BAA .271] (Smith is gone via FA).
With Thursday being an off day all though April and May, seems a 5 man rotation will be the program. If the incumbent 5 are healthy when the season starts, Dusty will go with them. If at any point we go to a 6 man rotation, then Brown with Martinez taking over the long role in the pen seems to make sense. Even with a workhorse like Framber, nobody should have to close in on 200 innings during the regular season.
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I keep thinking the Astros will pick up a catcher because it’s likely Baker wants some experience in case Maldy has a significant injury. I keep hoping the Astros go to work with Lee and or Diaz. If Lee provides good defense and hits .200 with some pop, isn’t that about what we might expect from the short list of catchers available today? And there might be room on the roster for Diaz and his bat and ability to play a serviceable first base and DH every now and then. And is Diaz really terrible behind the plate?
I don’t know what to expect from our manager in regards to centerfield. I don’t know if he’ll give Chas 5 days a week out there. Since Frenchy got his 1.2 million, I have to presume that Dusty will still move Chas over to left late and put Dubon in center. Jake might be the odd man out. I don’t think it’s good for Jake or Chas to be splitting time out there. Assuming Brantley and Alvarez are both healthy, our DH situation will be excellent this year. It does not mean we’ll be very good defensively in left.
Again, I hope Diaz and Lee both make the opening day roster. And I figure Hensley is our new Diaz. But I think Dubon will spell Pena at short rather than Hensley. I just don’t see room for Yuli. He’s not versatile enough and our new Abreu is used to playing 150 games a year. Maybe Jake keeps his job to Chas’ detriment!
-I believe Crane is taking his time looking for a GM is because he wants to see which of the guys he currently has is best for the spot.
-With all the days off in April, I think they go with a five-man rotation and let Brown come in in long relief regularly to spell the bullpen. Then make adjustments as necessary to the rotation with Brown as the season progresses.
-I see the playoff usage of Chas in CF as the guidebook for 2023.
-I could see Lee as the backup catcher in Houston and Diaz catching as often as possible in AAA to better learn the position and the pitchers.
-I think Dubon backs up CF and SS and Hensley backs up the rest and as a pinch hitter.
Encouraged to read that Rotographs Justin Mason rates Jose Altuve as the top second baseman in baseball.
This article about Alex Bregman is encouraging: https://www.mlb.com/astros/news/alex-bregman-preparing-excited-for-2023-season
I don’t pay much attention to sports ranking shows on MLB, but when they ranked Chas as #10 among MLB center fielders I looked at the show and it provided stats to back up their ranking.
My question is: Why are we even talking about CF as an “open item”?
McCormick is 27 already because he was a late bloomer and the pandemic slowed down his growth within the organization. So let’s be real. The Astros have four more years of control of Chas and they are his prime years, 28-31.
How about we make the last 2 or 3 spots in the bullpen as “open items instead, because when Bielak, Maton and Seth Martinez are still in the mix, my stomach gets unsettled.
The thing is OP – the CF situation shouldn’t be – if the team treated Chas like the 10th best CF in baseball. But they haven’t. Until they do this is something they need to address – I hope they address it by giving the young man steady ABs and let it roll.
Now by my counting – the Astros 13 pitchers (assuming they stay with a 13 man staff are
2) Lance Mc
6) Hunter B
12) Phil Maton
13) Seth Martinez or Bielak – likely Martinez
With Martinez coming off 38.2 innings with a 2.09 ERA and Maton coming off 65.2 innings with a 3.84 ERA and filling the very bottom of the bullpen – I just don’t see this as an open item. Almost all teams would take any of these three at the bottom of their staffs.
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I just think they can do better. If one of our top guys goes down, I don’t have a lot of confidence that these three guys can hold the line.
Maton’s fastball has all but disappeared. Neither of the other two performed well in clutch innings because they weren’t used in clutch innings.
In my head if one of the top guys is out – he’s not replaced by one Maton/Martinez guys – he’s replaced by one of the other top guys – I say that you have a top 5 of Pressly, Montero, Neris, Abreu, and Stanek. Then you have Hunter Brown as long man (though they could use him for shorter time) and then let’s say Maton and Martinez. Now maybe Maton and/or Martinez might get used more in this situation – maybe get a 7th inning once in a while – but its not the end of the world.
I’m too talked out over Chas at this point.
In other news, Frankie Montas is back on the shelf again with a sore arm. He already had that problem when the Yankees picked him up. Next they’ll announce the elbow is shot. Don’t they ever learn?
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What bothers me about Chas is that he doesn’t handle power pitchers well. He’s also a little too heavily weighted towards hitting flyballs. If you took him off the Astros and plugged him into a lesser team, what would his runs and RBI look like? How would this impact his TV ranking? Based on that asking prices for CF who could replace him I don’t think this is an open item, though. He’s good enough to start the majority of games in my opinion.
Chas has hit .189 in his career against power pitchers. He has hit .291 against finesse pitchers. He obviously handles a certain type pitcher better than others. He is one of those guys that struggles on velo, his clock isn’t quite fast enough. It can make him a matchup nightmare, but this is the advantage of 5 OFers on the roster, he doesn’t have to be in the lineup against Scherzer that day.
He also has hit well in higher leverage situations. He is very much the hitter we saw in the playoffs. He is going to give you frustrating at bats, but he has that ability to turn on the focus in big at bats, and that is the kind of guy you like to have.
He is only the 10th best CFer in baseball because CF has become devoid of excellent offensive players. As long as he bats 8th and plays at minimum salary he is a bargain given his strengths, but you probably don’t want him in he lineup for 150 games given his weaknesses will get more exposed and affect the bottom line. Use him 110-120 in CF and mix and match and give him advantageous matchups, and he will do better than .230. Of course the problem is Dubon or Meyers are not counters to that strategy either. Myers struggles against power pitching as well, and Dubon struggles against pitching. What is he doing here?
This is interesting. You rank the Astros #1 in your brand new Power Rankings and then spend the entire paragraph explaining why they might not be.
ESPN and MLB are so tired of the Astros being so good!
In just a little over a month the Astros will kick of the 2023 Spring Training schedule with a game against the Mets at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, FL. What prospect would you rather see take the hill for the SpringStros opening inning? [Hunter Brown? J.P. France? Shawn Dubin? Spencer Arrighetti? Jayden Murray? Forrest Whitley? OR someone else?]
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Keep in mind, the latter part of ST is going to be a little crazy this year because of the World Baseball Classic, which runs from March 11 through March 21.
Is “all of the above” one of the allowable answers?
Purely for intrigue, Forrest Whitley.
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I will never forget Hensley waggling a hit by pitch (that was basically a walk) in Game 1 against the M’s in the ALDS. Led to Yordan’s winning HR.
How come Hensley’s father was stuck way up in the rafters for his sons first World Series base hit?
Unless the guy has a flat out bad spring, he’s our Aledmys entering the season, no?
If Jake is already getting penciled in as our 4th outfielder, then the roster is pretty much set. With Alvarez, Brantley, Chas, Tucker, Hensley, Dubon and Jake all able to play out there, there is no room for Yuli or Y. Diaz on the 26 if Lee gets the nod behind Maldy.
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Leon out a couple months and a list of the non roster invitees for the Astros Spring Training
Why do players wait until January to have surgery done??? Not a question but wondering… shake my head.
He played 33 game in the Winter League, Sarge, so guessing it happened there or in preparing for next season
This team has done a really good job of making the bathroom look really great. I don’t know how much they have invested in the plumbing though.
Right now if a significant injury happens to anyone in the IF you will see them replaced in the starting 9 by Dubon. The thing about Aledmys, when he was available, you could spend 2 weeks penciling him in every day and he will give a few good offensive games. Dubon just exposes us, pushes Pena to 6th and McCormick to 7th. While I am fine with those swing and miss guys in the lineup given their salaries and spots in the order, I don’t think we are going to be effective long term with them higher in the order AND adding an even worse hitter behind them in front of Maldy. I guess the gamble of signing Abreu and putting all the eggs in the one basket is that everyone stays upright.
I would bet the Vegas odds are the Astros break camp with 2 Cs, Lee and Maldy. Given that Maldy is a year older and coming off surgery I think Diaz and Lee will handle the biggest part of ST so Diaz will get a shot to show he can catch big league pitching. If you were just some nerd statistician guy you would think Diaz is the third best catching prospect in the game behind the kid in Baltimore and the kid in NY but nobody thinks that, so there is something about the catching part of his game that isn’t instilling confidence in scouts. I hope he proves them wrong. He got a mention on top 10 catching prospects as a just outside the top 10 keep an eye on guy. Lee didn’t even get a mention, and I am not surprised, he looks a lot like a AAAA guy – same pattern – as he climbs levels his K/BB ratios and contact rates have declined.
No matter what holes we are worried about none is as important as the 7th and 8th starter bits. We used 8 last year, and that was with 5 guys still making 25+ starts. We can’t deal with 2 starter injuries at the same time right now. As great as it will be to see CJ finally penciled in as a starter only, you have to be concerned about Lance making 25 starts, something he has done only once, and there is NO guarantee that Hunter Brown is ready to make 30 starts. He was inconsistent at AAA, wowing people one start and following that up with a start where he threw 40% non strikes. No doubt his adrenaline was up, his focus was sky high for his major league debut and first few appearances, let’s see how he settles in on the 10th, 15th, 20th appearance. He could be a star, he could be a .500 pitcher this year.
And the bullpen, great on the leverage side, seems lacking 6th inning quality.
This team lacks last years depth, but it doesn’t lack for star power. Even minus Verlander there are 3 guys in the rotation that wouldn’t surprise anyone stuff wise if they ran off and won a Cy. There are former MVP’s and current MVP candidates in the lineup. There are top notch swing and miss bullpen guys. But in every aspect, the guys behind them are more than one step down. Let’s hope for a full, healthy season.
That is a very pessimistic observation. I think you left out that there is no GM, that their manager is too old to win and that they don’t have a catcher who does the robot dance.
Hey I’m the OG glass half empty guy.
I am very optimistic about the season. I think they can win another one. This team is constructed well.
I also think a GM (or whomever is filling that role) has to plan as a pessimist. Everything needs to be thought out 3 deep, and if your third option at a position is bad, you have to look for ways to change that. It might not happen, you might just enter the season with Frenchy as your second choice at SS, but you should try to within the constraints of the resources you have. The Astros may have very well done that, who knows the internal process.
Last year we were deep enough in the rotation that we speculated what might happen if Lance returns in June and there are 7 starters with legitimate major league experience, especially after Odorizzi had posted 3 consecutive good starts. They used that depth to try and help the lefty situation in the BP, and when LMJ didn’t return until August it didn’t matter that much. Now, looking at France, there is a lot to like. Enough to be the 7th option? I don’t know. But they did address it by making sure he was on the 40 and available to fill the role.
I like where you are coming from on the front office needing to think through options A thru D or whatever.
Lets’ face it – if four starting pitchers go down – it might be a tough season. If two starting IFs go down same thing, but….this is a team that knows how to win and does have a lot of talent to throw out there.
Who is that CJ guy, you mean the Reptile? I think we’ve got a better team in 2023 potentially. We did lose Verlander’s depth. But I’m not so sure we’re lost depth in letting Mancini, Yuli and Vazquez go. At this point, that’s an opinion. We’ll see. But I’m pretty sure we’ve improved first base significantly. I’m also thinking back to the year Mike Fiers turned on the Astros. He had led the team in innings pitched and got left off the post season roster. We’re going to have injuries. And we’ll work through them.
I’ve read comments in a number of places that Diaz is not interested in playing catcher. It’s possible this is a misinterpretation and he is interested in doing whatever will get him to the big leagues (to stay) the fastest.
Your comments on depth and concerns of injury are valid, but I don’t know that many teams are in a better position. The fortunate teams will be the ones who either stay healthy or have injuries occur to players where they have some organizational depth. Look at the Braves last year. They lost guys and were able to call up players who performed far better than should have been expected during the stretch run. I don’t think Houston has that luxury, but in a small sample anything can happen.
Based on our starting pitching, my concern is that we will see a lot of exits during the 5th inning which will wear on the bullpen. How fresh they are late in the season may well determine whether we have a chance to play deep into October.
And I forgot to mention Dirden. I am very high on the guy. I wish he hadn’t played 4 years of college and be contending with the lost season, at 26 he is a little old for a prospect but Nelson Cruz didn’t make the majors until 26 and didn’t become a starter until 28, and he is arguably a hall of famer.
I don’t know that he controls the strike zone enough, but he does look like a guy with a hit tool – he doesn’t K at an over the top rate and maintains good BABIPs at every level. I think it translates, and he can play CF, which can give him a role on this team.
My hopes for the camp breaking roster – Maldy, Lee, Abreu, Altuve, Pena, Bregman, Hensley, Brantley, Alvarez, Chas, Tucker, Dirden and carry 14 pitchers. I suspect it will be 13 pitchers, Meyers instead of Dirden, and Dubon in place of that 14th pitcher. I guess one could argue that the extra position player gives extra time off to starters that you are hoping stay healthy all year due to the lack of depth, and that would be a fair argument to make. I just hate the idea of watching Dubon bat 250 times this year. It’s demoralizing.
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I’m high on Dirden too. Just two seasons of minor league ball with an OBP of .389 and an OPS of .939. And his age equals maturity. I suspect he’ll get some more time in AAA but we’ll see him this year.
We won 106 games with Frenchy being a terrible hitter over those 243 at bats. But his defensive metrics are solid, and as Dan notes, he should not hit so poorly two years in a row based on his career stats.
I think the one thing that could derail this team is a slew of injuries. I think they can handle the loss of a player or two at a time for a few weeks, that is pretty normal. Losing folks long term is a problem no matter your team makeup.
Now they went through that in 2020 with all the injuries – Yordan, Verlander for the year and it seemed like half the pitching staff. And in truth they fell off so bad that in a non-pandemic season they would have stayed home. But they didn’t and bounced back well.
My gut feeling here is that they are going to let this play out and if they have a big need during the season, they will pursue help as they still have room in the budget.
And we do not know who they might bring up from the minors to help for a specific need.
I do wish they had a bench that did not include Dubon, but who knows – maybe he will bounce back to his 2019/2020 production which would be quite acceptable.
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And I have to give Hensley some credit. He’s old too. Four years of minor league ball, but consistently getting better. He must work his butt off. I think losing 202o really sidetracked him. But he put up really solid stats in 2021 and then broke out last year in AAA. .420 OBP? .898 OPS? I don’t know how to find his defensive ratings from the minors, but if he stays healthy when Diaz could not, that improves our depth too. I have to believe the experts see the guy as being a viable ML ballplayer. So he’s another guy I’m enthusiastic about.
I’m a fan too. The few at bats I have seen him take I saw the same thing the stats told me, the game isn’t too fast. I am not sure about his natural talent as a hitter, is he good at hitting the barrel, can he consistently maintain his swing and follow through, but it does appear his internal clock is fast enough to differentiate balls and strikes fast enough. Instinct doesn’t appear to be an issue.
It’s a small sample at the MLB for Hensley, but do really like the batting eye he showed at AAA and MLB last season. 80 walks vs. 100 BBs at AAA and 5 walks vs. 6 Ks at the majors.
And to me that is darned good for somebody who is 6′-6″ – a very large zone for the pitcher to pitch to….
80 walks vs. 100 Ks
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I really like Hensley to make this team. Even in his college days he played all over the field. He’s played a lot of outfield and a lot of infield.
His late bloom doesn’t matter because he is entering his prime years and those years should be with Houston.
His least played position is SS and that could be where Dubon comes into the mix for the last spot on the club, because Dubon can play SS and also outfield, whereas Jake Meyers can’t.
Yeah, that all but guarantees Frenchy a job. I just hope he can at least hit in line with his career stats. And I just hope the need for him to start is infrequent.
Yeah, I would be real happy if he could match his career stats. After fitting in so well in SF, I’m hoping his jitters are over with and he settles into a good utility role with us.
I’ve been running errands this morning listening to 790 AM which is broadcasting from the Astros Fest at Minute Maid.
They talked to Jose Urquidy, who was speaking very well without a translator. Sounded like he is working on control and also working on a fourth pitch but I could not catch what it was.
They talked to Dusty about his rotation. He is saying the things we are about the rotation as far as the top 5 plus Hunter. He said he will be using the 6 man rotation at times. He said that with his home in Northern California, he kept his eye on the Giants and he felt that their deep playoff runs wore on and shortened the careers/effectiveness of some of their pitchers. He may even go 6 man at times early in the season when they have days off, just because he doesn’t believe the players get enough rest with these short off seasons.
They are talking to Lance McCullers right now – he wants to try and to deeper in games (we want that too).
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I know everyone threw 200 innings back in the day, but if a playoff team has the regular season depth to have their playoff rotation enter October below their career high in innings, then that’s huge. Fewer starts, more starts of 6 innings. And I love to hear that guys are working on another pitch. I suspect Urquidy won’t be the only one.