added 12/17/2014 by Greg Thurston
Much like the Houston Texans' recent signing of former backup and fan favorite Case Keenum created a quarterback controversy, the Astros' signing of Jed Lowrie has created a left side of the infield controversy. After upgrading the league's most inept bullpen by adding veterans Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek last week, improving the left side of the Houston infield became Jeff Luhnow's top priority.
Incumbent third baseman Matt Dominguez and shortstop Jonathan Villar were among the worst offensive players in the league last season. Dominguez "produced" an OPS+ of 65 and Villar came in at 74 (100 is league average). Meanwhile, Marwin Gonzalez posted an OPS+ of 105 and Gregorio Petit, who was called up from AAA in mid-season to replace the inconsistent Villar, finished at 102. In addition, Gonzalez and Petit were dependable defenders while Dominguez and Villar both seemed to take a step backwards.
Lowrie's return significantly strengthens the left side of the Astros' infield. And, while the assumption is that Jed will be the everyday shortstop, I think it makes more sense to have Lowrie man the hot corner on a daily basis. Both Dominguez and Villar still have minor league options remaining and, based on last year's performance, neither deserves a spot on the big league roster. Sending both players to AAA would leave room for Gonzalez and Petit to platoon at shortstop. While Dominguez and Villar are both limited to only one position, the triumvirate of Gonzalez, Petit, and Lowrie would possess more value due to their versatility.
(Editor's note: Petit was designated for assignment on Monday to make room on the 40-man roster for Lowrie.)
2014 was Marwin's most productive season in the majors. Gonzalez made the most of his opportunities, hitting .277/.327/.400 in 310 plate appearances despite being hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the season. Although his overall numbers against lefties were good, all six of the switch-hitter's home runs came against righthanded pitchers.
Petit hit .278/.300/.423 in limited duty (100 plate appearances), including a .379 batting average against lefties. Both of Petit's home runs came against southpaws. Neither player has been a regular starter at the big league level but, to me, this seems like an ideal platoon situation - with Gonzalez naturally getting the majority of the at-bats.
Will the decision scientists see it the same way I see it? Probably not. But the numbers don't lie and this seems like a slam dunk to me. There is still plenty of time left until Opening Day and we will almost certainly see more player movement over the next three months. It wouldn't surprise me to see one or more of these players sent packing.
In the meantime, fans who have questioned the front office's sincerity about spending more money can be satisfied to know that the promised $20 million payroll increase has been met with the combined 2015 salaries of Lowrie ($8 million), Gregerson ($6 million) and Neshek ($6 million) and New Year's Day has yet to arrive. The overall payroll is still not back to contender status but the payroll is moving in the right direction after some very lean years.