Offseason Outlook: Houston Astros

Next up in our Offseason Outlook series, the Astros.  Their likely commitments for 2010:

C – Humberto Quintero – $610K+
C – J.R. Towles – $402K
1B – Lance Berkman – $14.5MM
2B – Kaz Matsui – $5MM
SS – Tommy Manzella – $400K
3B – Chris Johnson – $400K
IF – Jeff Keppinger – $428K+
IF – Edwin Maysonet – $400K
LF – Carlos Lee – $18.5MM
CF – Michael Bourn – $435K+
RF – Hunter Pence – $439K+
OF –
? –

SP – Roy Oswalt – $15MM
SP – Wandy Rodriguez – $2.6MM+
SP – Brian Moehler – $3MM
SP – Bud Norris – $400K
SP – Felipe Paulino – $405K

RP – Tim Byrdak – $1MM+
RP – Chris Sampson – $449K+
RP – Wesley Wright – $425K
RP – Jeff Fulchino – $400K
RP – Alberto Arias – $402K
RP – Sammy Gervacio – $400K
RP – Yorman Bazardo – $400K 

Other commitments: Doug Brocail – $250K buyout

Non-tender candidates: Geoff Geary, Chris Coste, Sampson, Paronto

Assuming Brocail's option is declined, the Astros use rookies at the two open position player spots and on the left side of the infield, and Geary, Coste, and Paronto are non-tendered, they'd have $66.4MM committed before arbitration raises to Quintero, Keppinger, Bourn, Pence, Rodriguez, Byrdak, and Sampson.  Bourn and Pence are first-time arbitration players and Rodriguez had a stellar year, so the raises will be significant.  I'll put the Astros around $80MM committed.  GM Ed Wade on how the team's 2010 payroll will compare to 2009, courtesy of's Brian McTaggart:

"Our payroll is in all likelihood going to be lower than it was this year.  It could be appreciably lower, but we don't know until we sit down and get the actual numbers."

If payroll is sliced to $90-95MM, Wade would have $10-15MM to spend.

Talk is that the Astros could use rookies Manzella (shortstop) and Johnson (third base) as starters in 2010.  Manzella hit .289/.339/.417 in 580 Triple A plate appearances after struggling at that level last year.  He is a defense-first player, likely an easy out at the plate.  Meanwhile Johnson hit .281/.323/.461 in 412 Triple A plate appearances at age 24.  Thrusting him into a big league role would be a huge gamble as well.  If contending in 2010 is the plan, the Astros need to upgrade the left side of their infield.  Tejada could return and play third base, but he'd presumably want at least $7-8MM a year.  The third base market has other interesting names such as Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa, Chone Figgins, Troy Glaus, and Juan Uribe.

With Moehler retained, the Astros' 2010 rotation could be set.  Paulino is not guaranteed a spot, but he deserves one.  Even with poor rotation depth, I think the Astros would be better-served spending most of their cash on a shortstop and/or third baseman.  They probably cannot afford to allocate more than a few million toward a veteran starter, similar to last year's Mike Hampton signing for $2MM.

Jose De Jesus Ortiz's latest article at the Houston Chronicle covers the Astros' unsettled bullpen situation.  Closer Jose Valverde is probably gone, and I can see the Astros preferring not to risk an arbitration offer.  They'd like to bring LaTroy Hawkins back, but after a 2.13 ERA season he'll want more than this year's $3.5MM base.  He also may be too pricey to sign and/or risk an arbitration offer.  Wade figures to sign a few free agent veteran relievers one way or another.

Despite the griping about Berkman, a .399 OBP and .509 SLG is a very good year.  Lee, Bourn, and Pence are solid hitters as well, but the contributions of these four could be nullified if Wade surrounds them with easy outs.  The rotation has sleeper potential, though it lacks depth.  The bullpen is a question mark.  This is an unfortunate time for the Astros to be cutting payroll, because they could contend with the right free agent additions.

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