Despite Ed Wade's half-baked acquisitions, the Astros' pre-season has been dominated by two questions: Who will be their fifth starter and who will play first base and left field?
While Brad Mils and Wade seem pretty sold on Brett Wallace as their everyday first-baseman in 2011, the General Manager's comments, published by Zachary Levine, caused some consternation among Astros fans yesterday.
The idea that Brian Bogusevic and Matt Downs might get some playing time at first base behind Wallace and Carlos Lee can probably be put down to a brain fart on Wade's part and discounted as a logical option. Mills is put in a real bind because Lee's abysmal defense in left-field wipes out any offensive contribution he might give the team, and on balance playing him at first base might make greater sense if Jason Michaels and Brian Bogusevic were effective options in the outfield.
But I digress. We were talking about pitching. You should know the candidates by now: Ryan Rowland-Smith, Aneury Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton, Jordan Lyles and Nelson Figueroa. Rowland-Smith and Figueroa would be easier to slot into the bullpen if they missed out on a rotation spot; Rowland-Smith because he is a lefty, and Figueroa because he has been the long-man in the bullpen a lot in his career.
I could see a scenario where Figueroa starts the season as a starter, but only as a stop gap until one of the other pitchers is deemed ready. Since he will be 37 in May, and given his meager innings pitched in the majors, It is unlikely he could go 150 IP in a season without adverse affects. While he has touched 180 IP in a minor league season, there were signs of fatigue last September eve if he did shut down the Cubs and Reds in his last two starts of 2010.
If either Pendleton and Rodriguez do not claim the final space in the rotation the Astros need to do all they can to keep them around as picks in the Rule 5 Draft. Pendleton, a Kingswood native, has suggested in some of his comments that going back to the Yankees organisation is not something he would relish and at 27, it might be easier to swing a deal for him if the Astros have to send him down to the minors this season.
That option might not be available for Rodriguez as Tampa Bay, while not saying so, might want him back since he is a more conventional prospect. While he may not be of much use to the Astros in 2011 the Dominican may be a very useful starting pitcher in the near future. But can they keep him on the major league roster the entire season if he isn't in the rotation? Would it be too much to have him occupy a bullpen spot just to keep him on the roster?
Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez, Mark Melancon and Fernando Abad will likely lock out the first four spots of a seven-man bullpen, but after that there are a huge amount of names to choose from. Jeff Fulchino and Samuel Gervacio both return after injuries, Wesley Wright or Gustavo Chacin could return as the second left-hander, and then after that it is much less clear.
And then we have not even mentioned 20-year-old Lyles yet. If the Astros were a small piece away from putting it all together as a team, then starting Lyles in the majors at the start of 2011 might make sense, but since he still has room for development, an extra year at Oklahoma could only be beneficial for him. In the meantime Brad Arnsberg can liase with Redhawks pitching coach Burt Hooton and manager Tony Defrancesco with a list of things Lyles has to work on.
Or they can chuck him in at the deep end and hope he becomes the next Doc Gooden.