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Astros could split playing time at catcher

Neither Chirinos nor Stassi defined as front-line starter
@alysonfooter
February 21, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Although the Astros know which catchers they'll be carrying on their roster when the season opens in five weeks, they still have some questions to answer, mainly about playing time. Assuming the club doesn't opt to carry a third catcher, their two backstops will be

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Although the Astros know which catchers they'll be carrying on their roster when the season opens in five weeks, they still have some questions to answer, mainly about playing time.

Assuming the club doesn't opt to carry a third catcher, their two backstops will be Robinson Chirinos and Max Stassi. How many games each will play is still to be determined, and it's a question that may linger even as the regular season gets underway at the end of March.

"The playing time will be the biggest puzzle to figure out," manager AJ Hinch said. "But there's 162 games we're playing for all those guys. We use four catchers a year, basically. It's a tough position, and you can never have too much depth there."

Though Chirinos and Stassi have been marked down on the depth chart for most of the offseason -- ever since Chirinos signed as a free agent on Dec. 6 -- that did not mean the club, earlier in the offseason, had completely settled on these two to absorb all of the catching duties in '19.

All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto was one of the premier names on the trade market throughout the offseason, and the Astros, along with several other teams, were interested. How engaged they were is up for debate, but what wasn't disputable was the Marlins' asking price, which, in the end, reportedly proved too steep for Houston.

Instead, the Astros are opting to split the catching duties between two backstops with enough experience behind the plate to account for a full season's worth of games, even if neither is awarded the title of front-line catcher.

Stassi said he paid mild attention to the Realmuto rumors, and did so more as a fan than as someone concerned about his job status. He knows Realmuto from their time playing together in the Arizona Fall League, and he insisted his interest in the ongoing saga, resolved when the Marlins traded Realmuto to the Phillies, was solely based on his friendship with him and nothing else.

"The human side, and just as a fan of the game, I pay attention to what's going on," he said. "I would see [the rumors] but it doesn't change my mindset at all or make me have anything against anyone. You just take care of your business."

Stassi appeared in 88 games last year, gaining more playing time when Brian McCann was sidelined with injury, and losing some when the club acquired Martin Maldonado ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

With the Rangers, Chirinos played in a career-high 113 games as their main backstop, and he saw a chance for similar playing time with the Astros, which was one of the main reasons he signed with them. Though the playing time has yet to be divvied up, he's optimistic about how he'll contribute this season.

"I'm 34 right now, and I don't feel like I want to be a backup catcher right now in my career," he said. "My body feels good. My defense, my hitting is good enough to be an everyday catcher. Houston was the right place to be."

Stassi's playing time may be partly determined by his ability to be more consistent at the plate. In the first half of last season, he slashed .253/.335/.457, but the numbers dropped in the second half, to .153/.265/.220.

"He's more than equipped," Hinch said of Stassi. "He can really help a pitching staff. He can hit a few homers. The contact has got to go up a little bit for him to be more than a platoon catcher. He has the ability to catch winning games which is important back there."

Hinch noted Chirinos' long history with the Rangers, which includes playoff appearances in 2015 and '16.

"He's got some presence to him and that's big for the type of pitching staff we have," Hinch said. "The presence behind the plate is going to be really big."

While neither is auditioning for a spot on the team, there is still opportunity to sway opinions as to how often they’re on the field.

“Chirinos and Stassi are on our team and they're going to work on some individual things,” Hinch said. “The playing time will be divvied up based on how I feel is the best guy back there to give us a chance to win."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.