Astros' manager Brad Mills has some minor headaches over his lineup's movable parts, but should competition fo spots be seen as a positive or negative?
Brad Mills' strategy is about to be tested as the Houston Astros' lineup and its' composite moving parts just got a hell of a lot more complicated. Consider Jason Bourgeois' last 10 games, where he's hitting .533 with seven steals. He and Michael Bourn are first and second in the NL in stolen bases and they fit perfectly in at the top of the order (Bourgeois is actually tied for second with the Mets' Jose Reyes, but in 98 less plate appearances and five less games).
Last night Carlos Lee returned to the lineup after his collision with Angel Sanchez on Sunday, but since Paul Maholm was on the mound, Mills sat Brett Wallace and played him at first base. However he can hardly bench Wallace, who has been the standout player so far this season for the Astros.
Nor can he realistically 'bench' Lee. He can let Bourgeois cut into his playing time, but Lee may turn it around at some point, and some will hope that playing Lee might see him rebound to the stage where some team might legitimately take a shot at trying to acquire him.
Bourgeois is riding a large BABIP, and his bat has basically no power in it, but speed at the top of the lineup with decent OBP skills is a lot better than having the sluggish Angel Sanchez there.
The wildcard in this situation is Bourgeois can play second base. Mills could start giving him ABs there when he isn't playing left field, but then the knock on effect of that is probably Bill Hall stealing playing time off Chris Johnson at third base, which runs contrary to the Astros' long-term plans which include Johnson at the hot corner.
But how good is his defense at second base? He is athletic and has a strong work ethic and took grounders there in Spring Training with the hopes of making the club. He was drafted by a second baseman by the Rangers and played there in the White Sox system, while also playing the outfield.
He has played there once this season for the Astros, but already questions have been ashed about the defensive capabilities of their infield and whether it is affecting their pitching and its' high BA against.
Perhaps a scramble for at bats is not such a bad thing, as I know several writers who have said that the Astros' have been gun-shy in the past about creating competition for positions as if it were a bad thing. Apart from Hunter Pence and Bourn, who are safe in the outfield, management now has at least two players at each position who could possibly be everyday players, even if they aren't good ones.
Sanchez can play both middle infield positions and Matt Downs is a solid utility infielder, creating even more options for Mills.
And let us not forget Jeff Keppinger who could possibly be back on the roster in two to three weeks. Who do you send down when he is ready to come off the DL? Sanchez would be the easy fall guy in that situation as he would have options left. But there are already mutterings about trading either Clint Barmes or Bill Hall, who do not fit into the Astros' long-term plans. You might get something similar that the Astros' got from the Cardinals for Pedro Feliz in David Carpenter if a team is looking for an infield bat off the bench.
Or if Johnson continues to struggle do you dare contemplate sending him back to AAA and Oklahoma City in the hope that he repairs his swing and the move does not destroy his confidence as it did for J.R. Towles?
Apart from the Examiner's Stephen Goff, who has a piece on Bourgeois others have been quiet on the subject. This could be a very interesting week as we watch how this all unfolds.