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Projecting Astros' 2020 Opening Day roster

@brianmctaggart
January 14, 2020

HOUSTON -- As the Astros wait to find out who will manage the team in 2020 after owner Jim Crane dismissed president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch on Monday in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, the club should return to the thick

HOUSTON -- As the Astros wait to find out who will manage the team in 2020 after owner Jim Crane dismissed president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch on Monday in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, the club should return to the thick of contention.

The Astros will return their core four homegrown star players -- José Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa -- next season, along with starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke and several other key pieces from a team that was eight outs from winning its second World Series championship in three seasons.

Houston will have to put its offseason turmoil behind it as it tries to win its fourth consecutive American League West title in 2020, as well as to once again be a contender for another AL pennant. With Spring Training starting next month, let’s take a really early stab at predicting what Houston’s '20 Opening Day roster might look like.

Catcher

Locks: Martín Maldonado, Dustin Garneau
Possibilities: Garrett Stubbs

The Astros re-signed Maldonado to a two-year contract after trading for him in each of the past two seasons. Houston signed Garneau in November, meaning Maldonado and Garneau will handle most of the catching duties. Stubbs could force his way onto the roster as a third backstop considering rosters will expand to 26 this year and he can play some outfield, as well as taking up some infield this spring.

First base

Locks: Yuli Gurriel

Gurriel is back after having the best season of his career, during which he hit .298 with 31 homers and 104 RBIs and was named a Gold Glove Award finalist at first base. In November, Gurriel agreed to a contract for 2020 worth $8.3 million, up from the original $8 million, with an opportunity to earn $250,000 more in bonuses. As was determined when he signed his original five-year, $47.5-million deal in '16, he will become a free agent after the '20 season.

Second base

Locks: José Altuve

Altuve rebounded from right knee surgery to have a strong season, hitting .298 with 31 homers and 74 RBIs. He led the AL in hits and total bases after the All-Star break. Altuve signed a long-term contract extension prior to the 2018 season.

Shortstop

Locks: Carlos Correa

Correa played in only 75 games after two stints on the injured list with a fractured rib (May 29-July 26) and back discomfort (Aug. 21-Sept. 17), but he produced when he was healthy, hitting .279 with 21 homers and 59 RBIs. Correa has two more years of team control before he hits free agency.

Third base

Locks: Alex Bregman

Bregman had an MVP Award-type season, batting .296 with 41 homers, 112 RBIs, 119 walks and only 83 strikeouts. He led the AL in walks and was second in on-base percentage (.423). Bregman signed a five-year contract extension prior to the 2019 season.

Utility

Locks: Aledmys Díaz

Díaz played in only 69 games, but he started 18 games at first, 16 at second, 15 at third, three in left and two at shortstop. He hit .271 with nine homers and 40 RBIs.

Outfield

Locks: Michael Brantley, George Springer, Josh Reddick, Kyle Tucker
Possibilities: Myles Straw

The Astros traded Jake Marisnick to create some room in a crowded outfield that now includes Tucker, the former prospect who figures to battle Reddick for playing time in right field this season. Reddick is in the final year of his contract, and the Astros are ready to move forward with Tucker. The Astros could choose to use the 26th man on the roster to carry an extra outfielder, which would be good news for Straw, as he would step into Marisnick’s speed/defense role, and he can also play shortstop.

Designated hitter

Locks: Yordan Alvarez

Alvarez, the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner, will return for his first full season in the big leagues after hitting .313 with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in only 87 games. He could see more time in the outfield this year, too.

Starting pitchers

Locks: Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr.
Possibilities: Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock

Forrest Whitley, Houston's top prospect per MLB Pipeline, will get a shot to win a spot in the rotation coming off a disappointing 2019 season in which he was demoted to the Class A Advanced level, though he finished with a 2.88 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 25 innings in the Arizona Fall League. Urquidy’s strong showing last year -- capped by his terrific start in Game 4 of the World Series -- puts him at the forefront of the rotation race. Considering the Astros have yet to acquire a starting pitcher, Peacock could be used in such a role entering 2020. McCullers is returning from Tommy John surgery.

Relievers

Locks: Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith, Josh James, Joe Biagini and Chris Devenski
Possibilities: Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor, Francis Martes, Cionel Pérez, Cy Sneed, Rogelio Armenteros.

The Astros took a big step to bolstering their bullpen by re-signing Smith in December, putting him with Osuna and Pressly -- both former All-Stars -- at the back end. Hard-throwing James will be in the mix if he’s not stretched out to be a starter, and the club tendered contacts to Biagini and Devenski. The Astros, who didn’t have a lefty on their pitching staff in the playoffs, acquired 24-year-old left-handed pitcher Blake Taylor from the Mets in the Marisnick deal and are seemingly set to compete for a spot in the bullpen this year.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.