Diving into the depths: Houston Astros

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This is part of a 30-article series looking at each team’s depth chart headed into spring training.
Houston Astros
Rotation
1. Roy Oswalt
2. Wandy Rodriguez
3. Brett Myers
4. Bud Norris
5. Brian Moehler
6. Felipe Paulino
7. Yorman Bazardo
8. Wesley Wright
9. Gustavo Chacin
10. Polin Trinidad
11. Chris Sampson
12. Josh Banks
Who knows just what Myers has left, but the Astros rotation sure looks nicer now than Moehler can be viewed as a fallback, if that’s the way manager Brad Mills wants to go. Given that GM Ed Wade just committed $3 million to Moehler, he’d probably like the veteran in the rotation. Paulino, though, needs to be given every chance to win the fifth spot. The Astros will have to catch some breaks in order to have any hope of contending, and a breakthrough season from Paulino would qualify as a big one.
Bullpen
1. Brandon Lyon
2. Matt Lindstrom
3. Alberto Arias
4. Tim Byrdak
5. Jeff Fulchino
6. Sammy Gervacio
7. Wesley Wright
8. Chris Sampson
9. Brian Moehler
10. Felipe Paulino
11. Roy Corcoran
12. Gary Majewski
The top five should be locks for spots. Gervacio might well prove to be better than any of them, but since he has options left, it’s possible he could be pushed back to Triple-A for the start of the year. It’d become a more likely scenario if Paulino wins a rotation spot, putting Moehler in the bullpen. That’s leave just one opening for Gervacio, Wright and Sampson. Sampson was a forgotten man in the second half of last year, but the Astros kept him in their plans when they decided against non-tendering him in December.


Catcher
1. J.R. Towles
2. Humberto Quintero
3. Jason Castro
4. Brian Esposito
First base
1. Lance Berkman
2. Geoff Blum
3. Chris Shelton
Second base
1. Kaz Matsui
2. Jeff Keppinger
3. Edwin Maysonet
Third base
1. Pedro Feliz
2. Geoff Blum
3. Jeff Keppinger
4. Chris Johnson
Shortstop
1. Tommy Manzella
2. Edwin Maysonet
3. Geoff Blum
4. Wladimir Sutil
Plenty of weak links here. The Astros aren’t likely to suddenly start trusting Towles, and Quintero isn’t even a good backup. Since Castro would benefit from another year in the minors, the team could use Rod Barajas or Yorvit Torrealba. They’re out of budget room now, but maybe they’ll be able to steal one of the two for $1 million.
The rest of the infield is set. At the end of last season, it sounded like Maysonet would have a utility job. However, since the Astros retained both Blum and Keppinger and brought in Feliz, there’s not going to be any room for him unless someone gets hurt. Manzella will be the shortstop and should do a decent Adam Everett impersonation.
Left field
1. Carlos Lee
2. Jason Michaels
3. Brian Bogusevic
4. Alex Romero
5. Yordany Ramirez
Center field
1. Michael Bourn
2. Jason Bourgeois
3. Jason Michaels
4. Brian Bogusevic
5. Yordany Ramirez
Right field
1. Hunter Pence
2. Jason Michaels
3. Alex Romero
4. Yordany Ramirez
5. Brian Bogusevic
Between Michaels, Blum, Keppinger and the backup catcher, four of the five bench spots are set. Bourgeois is still the in-house favorite for the one opening, even though he’s currently on waivers after being dropped from the 40-man roster. Ideally, the Astros would find a better backup center fielder. Michaels lacks range, and neither Bogusevic nor Ramirez figures to prove a capable replacement in the event that Bourn gets hurt.

Diamondbacks working on a deal with Tyler Clippard

at Citi Field on July 28, 2015 in Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.
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Last week Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart revealed that he was interested in signing free agent reliever Tyler Clippard and now Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that the two sides have “made progress toward a deal.”

Piecoro notes that by trading Aaron Hill and his remaining contract to the Brewers the Diamondbacks created a bit of payroll flexibility that they could use to sign Clippard.

Clippard has a long history of excellent work as both a setup man and closer, but his raw stuff and secondary numbers have declined even though his ERA remained very good at 2.92 last season for the A’s and Mets. His strikeout rate dipped to a career-low 8.1 per nine innings, which is drop of about 25 percent from 2009-2014.

Two elite Cuban players defect

cuba hat
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Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com just reported that Yulieski Gurriel & Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who are brothers, reportedly defected and will be seeking MLB deals. There aren’t any details yet, but Sanchez will be updating with a full story that we’ll link here when he has it. UPDATE: Here it is.

Yulieski is a 31-year old third baseman and, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler he was the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba. He was one of the Cuban players who was permitted to play in Japan recently, and he just put up a .305/.349/.536 season with 11 homers in 62 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars and has continued to rake in Cuba. He is likely major league ready right this instant. He’d be an unrestricted free agent given his age and team’s signing him would not be subject to international bonus pool limits.

Lourdes is only 22 years old. He’s hit .269/.355/.414 in 1036 Serie Nacional plate appearances and Badler thinks he has 20-homer potential in the majors one day. He’s currently a shortstop, but is probably destined for a corner. He is young enough to where he would be subject to bonus pool limits. Several teams have already exceeded those limits for the current signing period, limiting the number of teams who could sign him. If, however, it takes MLB a long time to clear him as a free agent — and with immigration issues and the like, that’s very possible — he may not be eligible to be signed until next year, which could bring some other teams into the fold.

 

Indians close to signing ex-Nationals reliever Craig Stammen

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Right-hander Craig Stammen, who spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Nationals, is expected to sign with the Indians.

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Indians “hope to finalize a deal” with Stammen today, adding veteran depth to the bullpen. It’ll likely be a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Stammen missed nearly all of last season following elbow surgery and the Nationals non-tendered him, but he’s scheduled to be ready for spring training. After struggling as a starter early in his career he’s posted a 3.02 ERA in 280 innings out of the bullpen, so if healthy it’d be a nice addition for Cleveland.

A Mexican team wins the Caribbean Series for the third time in four years

Mexican players celebrate their victory in the Caribbean Series baseball final against Aragua Tigres of Venezuela, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Designated hitter Jorge Vazquez hit a game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, lifting Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory and the championship of the Caribbean Series. (AP Photo/Roberto Guzman)
Associated Press
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For those who aren’t familiar, Serie del Caribe, or the Caribbean Series, is the highest club level baseball tournament in Latin America, pitting the champions of the winter leagues in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela against one another in a bacchanalia of baseball that, if there was justice in the world, we’d all be watching instead of football.

This year’s installment ended last night with Mexico’s Mazatlan Venados beating Venezuela’s Aragua Tigres 5-4 in the final game at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Jorge Vazquez — who Yankees fans may remember from a few years back — provided the winning margin when he hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.

This is the third Serie del Caribe title for a Mexican club in the past four years, with Naranjeros de Hermosillo winning in 2014 and Yaquis de Obregón winning in 2013. Pinar del Río from Cuba won it last winter. This is the first time the Venados have won it.

As we noted yesterday, this was longtime MLB starter Freddy Garcia‘s last game. He gave up four hits and allowed two earned runs over five and a third innings for the Tigres, getting a no-decision.