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.

Rotation
1. Wandy Rodriguez
2. Brett Myers
3. J.A. Happ
4. Bud Norris
5. Ryan Rowland-Smith
6. Nelson Figueroa
7. Wesley Wright
8. Jordan Lyles
9. Aneury Rodriguez
10. Cesar Carrillo

The scary thing is that this probably qualifies as the strength of the team. Myers will be hard-pressed to match his 2010 season, but a full season from Happ should help the group and Norris could take a bit of a step forward, though I still believe his future lies in the pen and the closer’s role. … I expect that the team will add a veteran to battle Rowland-Smith and Figueroa for the fifth spot in the rotation. Jeremy Bonderman, Rodrigo Lopez and Dave Bush are a few of the pitchers likely to be forced to accept minor league deals.

Bullpen
1. Brandon Lyon
2. Mark Melancon
3. Wilton Lopez
4. Nelson Figueroa
5. Fernando Abad
6. Jeff Fulchino
7. Alberto Arias
8. Aneury Rodriguez
9. Wesley Wright
10. Gustavo Chacin
11. Sergio Escalona
12. Sammy Gervacio
13. Casey Fein
14. Enerio Del Rosario
15. Henry Villar
16. Lance Pendleton
17. Chia-Jen Lo

Beyond Lyon, it’s a pen full of relative unknowns. However, Melancon and Lopez impressed after getting opportunities last season, and Arias could function as another solid setup man if he returns from shoulder surgery as hoped. Giving away Matt Lindstrom was a mistake, but the Astros should be OK here.

Catcher
1. Jason Castro
2. Humberto Quintero
3. J.R. Towles
4. Carlos Corporan

First base
1. Brett Wallace
2. Carlos Lee
3. Brian Dopirak
4. Koby Clemens

Second base
1. Bill Hall
2. Jeff Keppinger
3. Matt Downs
4. Angel Sanchez
5. Anderson Hernandez

Third base
1. Chris Johnson
2. Jeff Keppinger
3. Matt Downs
4. Oswaldo Navarro

Shortstop
1. Clint Barmes
2. Tommy Manzella
3. Angel Sanchez
4. Oswaldo Navarro
5. Anderson Hernandez

The infield is going to make a whole lot of outs, especially if Barmes bats second as anticipated. I don’t see Johnson as a long-term regular, and Wallace has an awful lot to prove as well. The Astros do have the option of playing Carlos Lee at first, but given that they haven’t upgraded their outfield at all, Wallace figures to get every opportunity to win the job. … I’m listing Keppinger as the primary backup at two spots, but he’s expected to miss at least the first few weeks of the season after toe surgery last month. The Astros could again seek to trade him once he’s healthy.

Left field
1. Carlos Lee
2. Jason Michaels
3. Jason Bourgeois
4. Brian Bogusevic
5. J.D. Martinez
6. David Cook

Center field
1. Michael Bourn
2. Jason Bourgeois
3. Jason Michaels
4. Brian Bogusevic

Right field
1. Hunter Pence
2. Jason Michaels
3. Brian Bogusevic
4. J.D. Martinez

I could have copied this depth chart from a year ago. Unfortunately, Bogusevic was a disappointment again last season and it no longer seems likely that he’ll turn into even a legitimate fourth outfielder. Martinez could be one candidate to step in if Wallace struggles and the Astros decide to move Lee to first base during the season.

Players are waking up and getting ready to fight

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There’s this idea out there that the owners have been eating the players’ lunch at the bargaining table in recent years because the players are, generally, rich and happy and maybe don’t care about a lot of the stuff the previous couple of generations of players did. There is probably some degree of truth to that. The difference between a good deal and a bad deal, in both collective bargaining and on the free agent market, is way less dire now than it used to be and thus the urgency may not have been there over the past several years the way it was in 1981 or 1994.

But it goes too far to say that such a mindset is universal among players. Or that it’s a mindset which, even among those who hold it, will always persist. Players may not have been as vigilant about labor matters over the past several years as they used to be, but they’re not idiots and, at some point, the owners are gonna push ’em too far and they’ll respond.

As we find ourselves in the second straight offseason in which teams simply don’t seem all too keen on signing free agents, it’s starting to happen already.

Earlier this week Dallas Keuchel tweeted out some things critical of the current market and teams’ approach to it (and took another swipe today). This afternoon Giants third baseman Evan Longoria chimed in on Instagram, posting a picture of Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and saying the following:

We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.

Most of that is common sense, the sort of which we’ve been arguing for around here for some time. Fans should care about good players and winning baseball games, not whether or not their front office can get a great bargain for its own sake. It may be interesting to talk about payroll and salaries and wins/$, but the point of baseball is to win, right? When so many teams seem rather uninterested in that, it’s a problem that all of the interesting analytical insights can’t really make up for.

The second part is worth keeping your eyes on. Maybe players have not been on a war footing the likes of which their predecessors were in the 1970s through the 1990s, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get back there if pushed. As is abundantly clear, the owners are pushing. Salaries are dropping in both an absolute sense and, especially, compared to baseball’s revenues. Players are getting a smaller piece of the pie than they have in a while and ownership seems quite pleased to see that continue.

If players are saying stuff like this publicly, it means that players are talking about it amongst themselves privately. The last two years have likely served as quite a wakeup call for them, and they seem to be waking up. Evan Longoria is. Dallas Keuchel is. So are some others. If current trends continue, more and more will wake up.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2021 season. What happens over the rest of this offseason and the next two is going to determine the mood of the players. The mood of the players, in turn, is going to dictate the tenor of negotiations. If they were to begin right now, those negotiations would be very, very rocky.