Now that Aaron Boone is gone for the season, who will take up the backup job behind Geoff Blum? And will this free up the payroll to possibly get somebody new, or do we still have to pay Boone?
-- Greg S., Kingwood, Texas

I'm betting the Astros find someone from outside the organization, either via trade or after clubs start releasing players at the end of Spring Training. Boone will be paid the full $750,000 he signed for.

While the Astros are very happy with the way Chris Johnson performed this spring, I don't believe he'll make the team. The Astros appear to be leaning toward having him start every day at Triple-A. They do not want him to be in a platoon situation, and I don't think they're ready to hand him the every day job in the big leagues just yet.

Here are some third-base options that may be available. This is purely speculative on my part -- please do not take this as an indication that the Astros are in talks with these teams. I'm sure they're doing their due diligence with every team that may have a third baseman on the trade block.

• Tigers: Mike Hessman, 31. Hitting .209 this spring with two home runs and four RBIs. He's a good power bat, but will rack up the strikeouts -- he has 13 K's in 43 at-bats this spring. Considered a good defender. Right-handed hitter.

• Reds: Jeff Keppinger, 28 [turns 29 in April]. He's out of options and could be potential trade bait if the Reds like their other options more. He's primarily a shortstop, but has experience at second and third. He's hitting .163 [8-for-49] this spring.

• Rangers: Travis Metcalf, 26. Hitting .186 this spring [11-for-59] with 16 strikeouts.

• Angels: Matt Brown, 26. He's hitting a whopping .513 this spring and is solid defensively. He starred for the US Olympic team and has one year of options left. The Angels have Chone Figgins and Brandon Wood in front of him. I'm guessing the asking price may be too high for this one. Robb Quinlan, a 32-year-old veteran with a .285 career average, would be another possibility. He's hitting .306 this spring.

• Giants: Juan Uribe, 29. Hitting .278 this spring.

• Rockies: Jeff Baker, 27. He's out of options, and he has potential for power and run production with regular playing time. Hitting .355 this spring.

Reggie Abercrombie has put up some great numbers this spring, whereas Jason Michaels and Michael Bourn have not. At this point, do you think Abercrombie will make the team and, if so, could he challenge for a starting spot in center?
-- Martin B., Prague, Czech Republic

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This will be an interesting one to follow as we near the seven-day mark to Opening Day. Right now, Bourn is the starting center fielder, Abercrombie is likely ticketed for Triple-A, and Darin Erstad and Michaels are considered the backup options in center.

This is hardly written in stone, and if the Astros aren't convinced Bourn has done enough this spring to merit the starting nod, things can change. What if Bourn started the season at Triple-A, Abercrombie made the team as a backup outfielder and Erstad and Michaels platooned in center field?

I'm not saying this will happen, but it's something to think about. As it stands, I do believe Bourn with be the starting center fielder on Opening Day.

How many years does Kaz Matsui have on his contract? Drew Sutton really impressed me this spring and looks Major League ready.
-- Andrew B., Scarborough, Maine

Matsui is signed through 2010, so any second basemen will probably be considered strictly as a backup. That is, assuming Matsui stays healthy, which is, of course, always a big if.

Assuming young guys step up next year, one of our biggest holes might be at closer if Jose Valverde does indeed move on? If Wesley Wright has a great season, do you think he could be our ninth-inning of the future? Is there any other option within the system?
-- Brian S., Houston

I wouldn't rule Wright out completely, but I think the Astros like him as a lefty option in the middle innings. Keep your eye on Bud Norris; the book on him is he has "setup-type stuff." To me, that means he could possibly be a closer someday. We'll see how he develops this year. If he can integrate a good changeup into his repertoire, he could be a starter in the big leagues. If he ends up as a fastball/slider pitcher, I think at that time we can start talking about him the same way we used to talk about Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge, two former Minor League starters who went on to achieve great success in the 'pen.

Obviously, if the Astros can replace Valverde with someone making the big league minimum, that is a great way to maintain a payroll. That is not to say they won't want to retain Valverde, but if he has a big year, which I expect, he's probably going to price himself out of the Astros' range as he hits free agency for the first time next winter.

Will it be Jose Capellan or Russ Ortiz for the fifth starter job? If one makes it will the other get cut or will he go to the bullpen or Minor Leagues?
-- Tim D., London, England

Barring injury, it'll be Ortiz, who can become a free agent if he doesn't make the team out of Spring Training. Capellan has no such clause in his contract and therefore can go to the Minor Leagues. I would expect to see him sooner than later, however, depending on how the starting five hold up. I don't envision Capellan pushing someone out of the bullpen.

Have there been any rumors of the Astros trying to entice Pedro Martinez with a low-base, high-incentive contract a la John Smoltz in Boston?
-- Matt, Austin

Unless the "low base" is considerably less than the $5 million I'm hearing he wants, no.