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What awaits Astros in '20? Key dates and info

@brianmctaggart
January 20, 2020

HOUSTON -- The Astros will enter a new era in 2020, with fresh faces at manager and general manager after owner Jim Crane dismissed manager AJ Hinch and president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow in the wake of MLB’s report on the sign-stealing scandal. The Astros suffered

HOUSTON -- The Astros will enter a new era in 2020, with fresh faces at manager and general manager after owner Jim Crane dismissed manager AJ Hinch and president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow in the wake of MLB’s report on the sign-stealing scandal.

The Astros suffered some key losses this offseason with starting pitcher Gerrit Cole signing with the Yankees, reliever Will Harris heading to the Nationals -- the team the Astros lost to in seven games in the World Series -- and starting catcher Robinson Chirinos returning to the Rangers after one year in Houston.

Still, the core of Houston’s 107-win club from last year returns intact, which means the Astros should be the favorites to win the American League West title for a fourth consecutive year.

Here are some key days coming up for the Astros:

Feb. 13: Pitchers and catchers report

Pitchers and catchers will work out together for the first time.

Feb. 17: Full squad reports

The Astros’ entire squad works out as a team for the first time.

Feb. 22: Grapefruit League opener

The Astros will kick off their Spring Training season with a 2019 World Series rematch against the Nationals at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The Astros and Nationals will square off a total of six times during the 2020 Spring Training season.

March 26: Opening Day

The Astros host the Angels at Minute Maid Park to open the 2020 regular season.

Here are three questions still lingering as the Astros hit 2020:

1. Who will be the manager and GM this year?

The Astros are expected to hire a manager by early February and then turn their attention to filling their general manager position. Among the names on the team’s early list of candidates to replace Hinch are bench coach Joe Espada and veteran managers Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter. Other names on the team’s early list are former Rangers manager Jeff Banister, Cubs third-base coach Will Venable and Dodgers special assistant Raúl Ibañez. The search for a GM figures to take longer as the Astros look at candidates from other front offices.

2. What will the rotation look like?

The return of Justin Verlander, who won the 2019 AL Cy Young Award, and Zack Greinke gives the Astros a solid 1-2 combination. Lance McCullers Jr. is returning from Tommy John surgery in 2020 and will back in the rotation. The final two spots will be competitions between newly acquired Austin Pruitt, José Urquidy, Brad Peacock, Framber Valdez, Josh James and prospects Forrest Whitley and Cristian Javier, among others.

3. Will designated hitter Yordan Alvarez play in the field more next season?

Alvarez, the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year, is working on his agility this offseason in an effort to be nimbler and play the outfield more next season. Of the 83 games he started in ’19, only nine were in left field. That meant he was sometimes on the bench when the Astros played in an NL park, and that’s a bat you want in the lineup. With George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick set to be free agents after next season, there will be plenty of playing time in left field, and the Astros would like Alvarez to be in the mix.

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