Inbox: Are the young arms ready to contribute?
Beat reporter Brian McTaggart answers fans' questions
Astros fans certainly have plenty of questions, which is understandable considering the team coming off a 106-loss season and could soon see a change in ownership.
There were a few questions submitted this week about a possible move to the American League, but until such a decision is made there's really not much to say. The Astros pending sale to a group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane could be approved at the Owners Meetings next week in Milwaukee, and we should find out more about a possible move to the AL around that time.
If the Astros do move to the AL -- which would balance out the leagues at 15 teams apiece -- it wouldn't start until 2013 at the earliest. By that time, the Astros will be another year down the road in the rebuilding process and should have their ownership situation stabilized.
What we do know for sure is that the Astros will be looking to climb out of last place in the National League Central in 2012, and they have plenty of work to do this winter to try to make that happen. It's not going be an easy job, but it certainly makes for some good offseason dialogue.
Let's go to the Inbox:
If the Astros trade Wandy Rodriguez, and Brett Myers gets traded at the Deadline, who will the Astros put in their place? The Rockies are very interested in Wandy, and I see him getting traded before Myers. Are there any pitchers at Oklahoma City ready to make the jump to the big club? Also, what's your feeling about the Astros keeping Humberto Quintero? His defense is awesome, and Jason Castro could learn a lot from him. Thanks!
-- Becky B., Kingwood
I certainly expect the Astros to try to move both Rodriguez and Myers at some point in the offseason, and into the regular season, in an effort to cut some payroll. Taking those two from the rotation is certainly a scary notion considering their ability to eat up innings, but the Astros are getting close to the point of being able to plug in some of their young arms.
Some of the young pitchers who could be in the mix to start next year will be Henry Sosa, who did pretty well in his Major League debut last season, and Lucas Harrell, who came over from the White Sox. Sergio Perez, a second-round pick in 2006, might finally get his chance at some point next year.
The talent level rises the deeper you look down into the Minor Leagues with Jarred Cosart, acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade, possibly at Triple-A next year, along with left-hander Dallas Keuchel and Ross Seaton.
Another pitcher to keep an eye on is Paul Clemens, who came over from the Braves in the Michael Bourn deal. There are those in the organization who are convinced he'll pitch in the big leagues at some point in 2012.
As far as Quintero goes, I'm sure the Astros will have him back, even though his salary is getting a little high. He's done a nice job in a backup role for years, and Castro could certainly learn a few things from the tough-as-nails veteran.
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What are the chances Jimmy Paredes will move to shortstop? It looks like he has the tools to play shortstop, and it's not like he has been playing third base his whole career. Plus Chris Johnson and Matt Downs would have a chance to play third, even if it's temporary until Jonathan Villar is ready.
-- Eduardo M., Channelview, Texas
There have been some preliminary talks about moving Paredes to shortstop next season, but the feeling in the organization right now is it might be too big of a transition for him to handle at this point, considering he switched positions last year.
The switch-hitting Villar is the shortstop of the future, but he's unlikely to reach the Majors this year. If the Astros don't re-sign Clint Barmes -- which is likely -- they're going to have to look at some internal options at shortstop or take a plunge into the free-agent market to find someone to play there.
The Astros have options at third with Johnson and Downs, like you mentioned, and Paredes, who performed better offensively in the Majors last year than he had been doing in the Minor Leagues. His defense remains a work in progress, but he's got enough athleticism to play somewhere.
Has the Chris Johnson-Brett Wallace era already passed us by?
-- Scott H., Buda, Texas
Not at all. Both Johnson and Wallace will be in Spring Training next year trying to win jobs after beginning last season as the Opening Day starters at third base and first base, respectively.
The Astros haven't ruled out moving Carlos Lee back to left field -- and moving J.D. Martinez to right field -- to open up a spot at first base for Wallace, who needs to find his power stroke if he's going to be an everyday player in the Major Leagues.
Johnson got off to a slow start at the plate last season and slowly improved his numbers before being sent to Triple-A when Paredes was called up. The Astros haven't given up on Johnson, but he's going to have to come to Kissimmee and open some eyes. If he proves he can play, the Astros could wind up moving Paredes.
Johnson and Wallace will get another shot, but they certainly need to take advantage of it.
At this point, it looks more likely that Clint Barmes will not be re-signing with the Astros. Considering that he's a Type B free agent, isn't the only smart move to offer him arbitration? If he accepts, we only have him for one year and could deal him at the Deadline, and if he declines, we'll be getting an extra draft pick. What's the deadline for offering arbitration, and what are the chances that we will do so?
-- Brian S. Houston
I agree that re-signing Barmes is unlikely. Still, the Astros have to decide whether or not to offer him arbitration. The danger is that if they offer him arbitration and he accepts it, they'll be on the hook for more than $5 million for next season, and under new ownership the club won't initially be too excited about taking on that kind of contract.
The Astros have until Nov. 23 to decide if they're going to offer salary arbitration to Barmes. He would have to sign with another team before Nov. 23, or reject the Astros' offer of arbitration in order for them to get a compensatory pick in next year's First-Year Player Draft. He has until Dec. 7 to accept or reject arbitration.
Kody Hinze had an impressive year last year, especially after making the big jump to Double-A Corpus Christi. He's also currently having a very nice showing in the Arizona Fall League. With Brett Wallace struggling in winter ball, what are the chances that Hinze gets a shot at first base to start the year, with Wallace starting the year in Triple-A?
-- Brian S., Houston
Hinze, a Houston native who was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, had a terrific 2011 season, hitting .306 with 29 homers, 98 RBIs and a .420 on-base percentage combined between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. I could see him at Triple-A this year, but I don't see him pushing anyone at first base as early as Spring Training.
Do you know if Jordan Schafer will face a mandatory suspension from Major League Baseball following his arrest?
-- David L., Tampa, Fla.
Schafer, who came to the Astros from the Braves in the Michael Bourn deal, was arrested on drug charges last month and on Monday will be arraigned in a Hillsborough (Fla.) County courthouse to face charges of possession of marijuana (third degree felony) and possession of drug paraphernalia (first degree misdemeanor), according to public records.
The Astros have been true to their policy about not talking about police matters, but the sense I get is that the Schafer situation will be resolved before Spring Training. Whether or not he is suspended, you can bet the Astros will have private conversations, though, with Schafer regarding the arrest.