HOUSTON -- We are only five weeks away from Astros pitchers and catchers hitting the field in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the start of Spring Training. The Astros have made a handful of moves this winter, including the signing of Michael Brantley, but they're still in the market for a starting pitcher and another bat.
The Astros didn't make their biggest move of last year's offseason until late January, swinging a trade to land Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. The Astros have money to spend still and the free-agent market remains slow, so another impactful move could still be looming for president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
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What will the Astros do with Kyle Tucker with Brantley on board through 2020?
-- Pete S., Houston
Tucker, the No. 5-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, will be fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster this spring, something that became more difficult with the signing of Brantley to join George Springer and Josh Reddick in the outfield. With Brantley, Springer and Reddick all in the lineup, Tucker likely opens the season at Triple-A Round Rock. Jake Marisnick is returning as the fourth outfielder and Tony Kemp will be in the outfield/designated hitter mix, so unless there's a trade or an injury, Tucker might have to wait for an opening on the big league club.
If no further additions are made to the offense, who do you see on the Opening Day roster? Who doesn't make the cut?
-- Jeremy, Rockwall, Texas
The Astros typically carry 12 position players, so at this point that would be Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Aledmys Diaz, Robinson Chirinos, Max Stassi, Brantley, Springer, Reddick and Marisnick. The other spot would be between Tyler White or Kemp, I'd imagine. White's power potential -- he had a .888 OPS last year in 210 at-bats -- makes him a strong candidate to get at-bats at designated hitter.
With [Justin] Verlander, Cole, and [Collin] McHugh all set to enter free agency after this season, how might the Astros address their rotation going forward? Are they more likely to address their rotation with in-house names (such as [Forrest] Whitley) or will they try to extend one, if not all, of the top three pitchers in their rotation?
-- Joe A., Sugar Land, Texas
In the near term, the Astros are seeking to add another veteran starting pitcher to join Verlander, Cole and McHugh and give them another proven arm beyond 2019. I wouldn't rule out the Astros re-signing any one of their top three starters after this season, but they'll have Lance McCullers back healthy in '20 and Whitley should be in the rotation by then. They love their young pitchers coming up -- Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas, Josh James, among others -- but trying to extend Cole or Verlander to lead the rotation beyond '19 would provide some more stability.
Not used to Astros spending so much money. What has changed with the economy in Houston? Is it the new ownership? Is it my DirecTV subscription??!! I'm willing to spend if ownership is, too.
-- Omar S., McAllen, Texas
Winning changes everything, right? The Astros drew nearly 3 million fans last season, and those increased revenues go a long way to improving the club's bottom line. Also, television rights and other media revenue remain very lucrative for clubs, especially in larger markets. Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com last month the Astros could have a payroll in 2019 that pushes $200 million, which would be a club record.
Do you think Josh James has more of a future as a late-inning reliever than as a starter?
-- Sam K., Austin, Texas
Considering he has a fastball that tops 100 mph and has an evolving changeup, he could be a devastating weapon in relief. Still, with an arm like that, it would behoove the Astros to develop him as a starting pitcher for as long as they can. He struck out 29 batters in 23 innings in six games last year (three starts) in the regular season and is an intriguing starting-rotation option heading into '19.
J.D. Davis was traded, which makes sense since he won't get much playing time this year, but why for three prospects when the Astros are in "win now" mode? Couldn't he have been a trade piece along with others to get someone who can help now and not years down the road?
-- Daniel W., Houston
Yes, the Astros are in win-now mode, but they also have to keep an eye on the future. The emergence of White and the signing of Diaz meant Davis wasn't going to get playing time in the big leagues, so why not trade him if you can? They got a few prospects for him and if one of them hits down the road, it's a good trade for the Astros.
Rather than upgrading at catcher (which seems like it would be very expensive), what would you think about someone like Nicholas Castellanos at DH? I think that would be much cheaper.
-- Evan K., Houston
I could certainly see how Castellanos would fit here, but the Astros are facing a bit of a roster crunch when it comes to position players (see above) and they would have to create a spot for him. Not that they can't do that. They were in on Nelson Cruz to come to Houston right until the signed with the Twins. Astros manager AJ Hinch has said repeatedly to give him enough good players and he'll figure out how to play them.