added 3/21/2012 by Bob Hulsey
Tuesday's trade of catcher Humberto Quintero and outfielder Jason Bourgeois to the Kansas City Royals clarified one area of the roster and muddled another one.
There's no question that Jason Castro and Chris Snyder are now the catchers for the 2012 Astros with recently-signed Landon Powell as the first reserve from the minors. Quintero was out of options and carried a $1 million salary so sending him to Oklahoma City was highly unlikely but the defensive specialist lacked the potential of young Castro and the power of the veteran Snyder. This trade resolves that issue.
Bourgeois was expected to win a reserve outfield spot with the Astros. He had the advantage of being useful as a defensive replacement and a pinch-runner. In limited play, Bourgeois swiped 31 bases out of 37 tries last season. So, even though he wasn't expected to start often, a roster spot for the Houston native was virtually assured.
On the Astros' 25-man roster, 12 spots and possibly 13 will be going to pitchers so Manager Brad Mills will need to whittle down the list of candidates to either 12 or 13 position players.
Carlos Lee is assured as the first baseman. Jed Lowrie with be the shortstop. Castro and Snyder will be the catchers. Jordan Schafer appears to have won the job in center field, especially now that Bourgeois is no longer in the mix.
J.D. Martinez appears to have won the job as the left fielder and Jose Altuve looks like the everyday second baseman. Matt Downs will play a utility role around the infield and be an important righthanded hitter off the bench. That's eight spots so far.
A utility infielder will come from Angel Sanchez, Brian Bixler and Rule V selection Marwin Gonzalez. The third base job will likely be won by Chris Johnson. Now, we're at ten.
Brett Wallace is making a surge for a roster spot, either to back up Lee at first or Johnson at third. I think he has shown enough to stick but he could be the odd man out if Mills decides to go with 13 pitchers instead of a dozen.
There's no right fielder yet and no backup outfielder. That's where the Bourgeois departure comes in. Brian Bogusevic has been the incumbent right fielder but he hasn't hit that well this spring (.115 batting average through Tuesday). Fernando Martinez was expected to be in the mix after he was claimed on waivers from the Mets but he hasn't hit well either (.182). Veteran Jack Cust, expected to be a power source in the lineup, is 0-for-24 this spring.
On the flip side, veteran Travis Buck is batting .412 with three doubles and a homer. Jack Shuck is hitting .321, although he has little power.
All five borderline candidates for the last one or two outfield spots hit lefthanded. Bogusevic and Shuck can handle center field, although neither has the skills of Schafer or Bourgeois. In a pinch, Lee, Bixler and Downs can play a corner outfield spot although Lee is probably suited only for left field and Cust may not be suited for any field.
So the choices for Mills are whether to keep an extra pitcher, keep Wallace (another lefty hitter) and go with just three outfielders on the roster or go with two of the five and push Wallace or a 13th pitcher to the minors.
One final option might be to put Wallace at first, move Lee back to left field and switch J.D. Martinez to right field where his lack of fielding skill might become more exposed. Then one of the five candidates (likely Shuck or Bogusevic) would become the fourth outfielder.
With a little over two weeks until Opening Day, and barring more personnel moves, this appears to be the decisions left for Mills and Jeff Luhnow, at least among the non-pitchers. With what I've seen so far, I would choose to go with 12 pitchers, keep Wallace, Buck and Shuck and send the others off to Oklahoma City or to unemployment.