added 12/13/2015 by Bob Hulsey
It was rather predictable that the Astros were going to lose bodies before next season. When healthy, they just had too many position players to fill the 12-13 spots available on the big league roster. The pitching staff, too, was in need of some change.
Winning the AAA title meant they had more than enough players ready to wear the Houston uniform and not enough spots for everyone. So, by one means or another, the Astros have dropped the following from their organization: Chad Qualls, Jonathan Villar, Robbie Grossman, L.J. Hoes, Jed Lowrie, Scott Kazmir, Oliver Perez, Hank Conger, Chris Carter, Brett Oberholtzer, Vincent Velasquez and Mark Appel.
In return, they received just one player expected to make the big league roster this spring - reliever Ken Giles.
Do not panic. It was necessary for Jeff Luhnow to subtract before he could add. The Astros expected to lose Colby Rasmus to free agency but he surprised the club by accepting a qualifying offer to return for another year. In the end, they also saw the market situation breaking and snagged lefthander Tony Sipp before they were stuck scrambling for alternatives.
Rasmus wound up with a raise of roughly $7 million and Sipp, a raise of $4 million. Now, maybe you see why they dumped Lowrie ($7.5 million) and didn't offer a contract to Carter, who would have stood to earn arbitration dollars of $5 million to $7 million. Conger would have probably cost $2 million if retained.
But the 25-man roster is still rather stocked. Jason Castro, Luis Valbuena, Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Fields will all get raises from arbitration and Dallas Keuchel will get a big payday whether he goes to arbitration or is inked to a multi-year contract.
With perhaps one big free agent signing left to add, the Astros are going to fill the rest of the squad, and the first reserves from the minors, with low-paid kids and perhaps a non-roster invitee or two. Max Stassi will take over for Conger and we will likely see Jonathan Singleton and/or Matt Duffy begin the season at first base. Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jake Marisnick and probably Preston Tucker will also make the team and earn near the minimum.
Five of the bullpen spots are already set - Giles, Sipp, Fields and last year's big free agent signings, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. For now, you can pencil the starting rotation as Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers, Lance McCullers and Scott Feldman. The other spots will include another lefty for the bullpen and a swingman who can spot start.
The Philadelphia trade opened the floodgates for some minor league talent to make the big league roster, including Michael Feliz, Joe Musgrove and Asher Wojciechowski. Somehow, Brad Peacock has survived and, if healthy, could be added to the mix.
Despite all the losses this winter, the Astros have a full roster with just a few more moves to make to replenish the depth. The payroll will balloon even without a big name coming in due to the pay raises from arbitration and free agency.
Will you miss guys like Carter, Lowrie, Conger, Velasquez and Oberholtzer? Probably not and the offense may actually be better with a full year of Correa and Carlos Gomez and without Carter.
As someone who often is labeled a pessimist, I don't see the off-season changes as catastrophic. Rather, it was like clearing the brush so some newer growth could flourish. The Astros haven't discarded anyone they truly needed and kept enough payroll flexibility to land another good starting pitcher if one can be brought to terms. Next season, they can say goodbye to Rasmus, Gomez, Neshek and Feldman, which will free up approximately $40 million to shop with, and relaunch themselves for 2017 with possibly an even stronger nucleus than they have now.