Inbox: Could Moehler crack rotation?
Beat reporter Brian McTaggart answers fans' questions
Just when we thought the Astros were done spending major money on free agents, they open their pocketbook and land veteran right-hander Brett Myers. This is undoubtedly a boost to the rotation and should satisfy the majority of fans who have filled the Inbox with questions about why the Astros hadn't addressed the rotation.
If Myers is healthy and focused, he could pitch 200 innings and win 15 games. The rotation got better, but it still has a few question marks. All this talk has given me a case of spring fever, and with Spring Training only five weeks away, I can hear the popping of mitts in my head.
The closer we get to Spring Training, the more optimism I have for this season. Perhaps that's a natural reaction to a mild case of spring fever, but if Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez and Myers deliver and Bud Norris continues to progress, this could be a pretty good rotation.
The Astros will be much better defensively on the infield with Pedro Feliz at third and Tommy Manzella at shortstop. And two-thirds of the outfield defense will be terrific with Gold Glove winner Michael Bourn in center and freewheeling Hunter Pence in right. Pitching and defense, right?
Those are just some of the things that are on my mind. So let's find out what's on your minds:
With the Myers signing, the big question at this point is who will be getting those last two rotation spots. Ideally, it would be Norris and [Felipe] Paulino, but do you think the Astros would have the guts to put [Brian] Moehler back in the 'pen after giving him $3 million? He's done great work for us and I like him a lot, but there's no way he should get a spot over a young stud like Paulino. Point to his numbers if you will, but the fact remains that he has fewer than 120 innings in the big leagues; giving up on him in favor of Moehler would be a huge mistake, don't you think?
-- Brian S., Houston
The signing of Myers will create competition, which is a good thing. I certainly believe Norris looks as if he'll have a place in the rotation unless he really struggles this spring. Paulino could be on his final chance in the organization and hasn't had the type of success experienced by Norris, however brief it has been. What I'm trying to say is Paulino is going to have to win a spot, and I think Norris probably has one locked up at this point.
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This leaves Moehler's chances of sticking in the rotation hinging on how well Paulino performs. Ed Wade doesn't want a veteran standing in the way of a prospect, but he loves Moehler and the workmanlike attitude he's brought to the club the past few years. Moehler does have experience in long relief and would certainly take that role and do the best for the team if the club deemed Paulino worthy of a shot in the rotation.
Don't forget Wesley Wright, Yorman Bazardo and Wilton Lopez will be in the mix as well.
The Astros appear to have an opening in the outfield for a left-handed bat. Can this be filled by a prospect like, say, Brian Bogusevic, or could the team add a veteran like Brian Giles? I personally like the idea of using a prospect in the Major League lineup twice a week instead of working full-time on hitting Triple-A pitching.
-- Mike B., Nantucket, Mass.
Yes, Wade would still like to add a fifth outfielder who swings it from the left side. Bogusevic is left-handed and could fill that role, but he's still only a couple of years into his development as a hitter, and I don't see him being used that way. They want him to play every day and get at-bats, which likely means he'll be returning to Triple-A Round Rock.
The kind of player Wade has in mind is a veteran, professional hitter who's comfortable coming off the bench and maybe starting every now and then. Certainly Giles is still out there, along with perhaps a guy such as Rick Ankiel, who provides some power. Whomever the Astros bring in for that role would have to take a non-roster deal and try to make the club in Spring Training, though.
With shortstop still being a question mark, what do you think the status of Orlando Cabrera is? I think he could be a good mentor to [Tommy] Manzella.
-- Chuck H. Yantis, Texas
The Astros don't see shortstop as a question mark. They've said all along they feel comfortable with Manzella beginning the season as the starter, and it appears that's what's going to happen. Manzella is a terrific defensive player who, when playing alongside new third baseman Pedro Feliz, should give the Astros strong defense on the left side of the infield. Don't expect any late additions at shortstop.
Other than Jason Castro, Manzella and Chris Johnson, which youngsters should we be excited about watching this spring?
-- Matt S., Houma, La.
Keep an eye on the pitcher's mound, where we'll get another look at left-hander Polin Trinidad, who was 13-10 with a 3.75 ERA in 26 games (24 starts) between Triple-A Round Rock and Double-A Coprus Christi, and lefty Fernando Abad, a 24-year-old who struck out 92 batters in 97 innings between Class A Lancaster and Corpus Christi last year. And don't forget right-handed Taiwanese reliever Chia-Jen Lo, who posted a 2.10 ERA and struck out 75 in 64 1/3 innings between Lancaster and Corpus Christi.
Other intriguing pitching prospects include right-handers Evan Englebrook, Matt Nevarez, Jose Valdez and Henry Villar, all of whom are on the 40-man roster. I'm anxious to finally get a look at shortstop Wladimir Sutil, a defensive specialist.
Another Phillie? I understand that Wade has a certain level of comfort with his prior organization, but this is getting ridiculous! It seems that the Astros have become the Phillies' retirement plan.
-- Charlie S., Houston
Hey, it's not like the Astros are signing a bunch of the Washington Nationals' castoffs. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and the National League pennant in 2009 with many key players acquired while Wade was the general manager in Philadelphia.
It's not uncommon for GMs to feel more comfortable making deals with former teams. They're more familiar with the players than those from other clubs and have a good idea of what they would bring to the clubhouse. So far, the Astros' additions from Philadelphia have been pretty good.
Center fielder Michael Bourn was the club's Most Valuable Player last year, reliever Geoff Geary had a strong season before getting injured and demoted and Jason Michaels does well in his role. There's no reason to believe Pedro Feliz and Brett Myers won't be good additions, too. Let's give it some time.
Last year the Astros got rid of Drew Sutton for [Jeff Keppinger]. Drew was really hitting the ball well, and I was just wondering how he did this past season and if there are any regrets for dealing him. He seemed MLB ready once Kazuo Matsui was done.
-- Andrew B., Scarborough, Maine
My first question from Maine. That's exciting.
Sutton was a pretty good Minor League hitter, but didn't have much power and didn't project to get any. There really wasn't anyone in the organization who believed he was going to be a frontline starter in the future, and the Astros jumped at the chance to add a proven, versatile player like Keppinger who could help them in the short term.
As for Sutton, he hit .261 at Triple-A Louisville last year before getting his first big-league taste with the Reds. He played in only 42 games and hit .212. The Astros have no regrets.
Why did the Astros let go [Miguel] Tejada after a wonderful year of hitting and driving runs in? He made a big difference and many people would like to see him in an Astros uniform again.
-- Brandon C., Houston
You're not alone. Everyone in the front office and the fans loved Miggy and what he brought to the team and the clubhouse, but his departure was a matter of economics. He made around $14 million last year and would have had to have taken a substantial pay cut, a one-year deal and move to third base to return to the Astros.
And the Astros aren't alone in their thinking. Tejada is still on the free-agent market looking for that multiyear deal, but at 35 years old and with declining offensive skills -- yes, I know he had 199 hits last year -- he's going to have to settle for less and a likely position switch.
What exactly is our depth at catcher? We have [J.R.] Towles and [Humberto] Quintero, and Castro is the next [Brad] Ausmus from what I've heard, read and seen. I know the 40-man is full and all we are doing is signing Minors deals, but is there even a chance that we will see a few more catchers invited? What is the possibility to get a quality catcher before camp breaks?
-- Charles R., Cheyenne, Wyo.
I'm not sure what you're reading or seeing, but I have never read or heard Castro compared to Ausmus. By all indications, he's going to bring much more offensive potential to the plate, but if he's as good behind the plate and in the clubhouse as Ausmus, the Astros will be giddy.
With five weeks left before camp opens, it appears Castro, Towles and Quintero will battle for the two spots on the Opening Day roster. Make no mistake. Castro will be the starter at some point this year and perhaps for the foreseeable future, but I guess it wouldn't surprise me if the Astros brought a veteran to camp on a non-roster deal to add to the competition.
Does Koby Clemens have a legitimate chance to make the Major League roster? If so, do you see him as a catcher or at another position? Do you think his batting statistics for 2009 are an aberration, or can he hit for average and power, and can his hitting translate to the Major League level?
-- Jon H., Spanish Fork, Utah
Clemens has no chance to make the Major League roster this year and isn't coming to Major League Spring Training. I'm thinking he'll start the season at Double-A Corpus Christi. He put up huge numbers last year at Class A Lancaster, which is a hitter's park in a hitter's league. He hadn't come close to those numbers before, so it will be interesting to see if he can duplicate them.
If he does, perhaps the Astros have a hitting prospect on their hands. If not, he's a long shot to reach the Majors. He really doesn't have a defensive position (he'll try the outfield this year), so he's going to have to hit his way to the Major Leagues. But keep in mind he's a great kid and has kept his head on straight and handled his business through tough times. Don't count him out.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.