Cole Wins As Pitchers, Catchers Report

Cole: Opens camp with raise
(c) Getty Images
The last arbitration case for the Astros was decided Wednesday as Gerrit Cole won his case against the ballclub. Unlike the old days where Tal Smith seemed to have a magic touch winning arbitration cases, the current Astros regime was 0-2 this year - losing duels with Cole and shortstop Carlos Correa.

The Astros wanted to pay the righthander $11.425 million for 2019 and Cole countered with a demand for $13.5 million - a difference of more than $2 million. Cole, a client of Scott Boras as are several Astros, had a strong 2018 season, winning 15 games, striking out a career-high 276 batters and finishing fifth in the Cy Young Award voting.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the estimated Opening Day payroll would be approximately $158 million, about the same as the Astros opened with in 2018. This includes the additions of free agent signees Michael Brantley, Robinson Chirinos and Wade Miley.

Salaries for pre-arbitration players have yet to be resolved but the players are largely given take-it-or-leave-it deals. The only one who might see a noticeable raise is 2018 team MVP Alex Bregman who could see his pay spike to over a million. If Bregman has another year like last season, I could see him starting a Go Fund Me page.

Meanwhile, pitchers and catchers reported to spring camp in West Palm Beach, FL with the Grapefruit League opener set for February 23rd against the Washington Shutdowns.

A common game on the internet this month seems to be predicting who will make the Astros roster. With 20 players currently under contract and two pre-arbs (Bregman and catcher Max Stassi) locks to make the team, it's not a very tough challenge despite two pitchers (Lance McCullers and Joe Smith) jumping straight to the Disabled (excuse me) "Injured List" for several months.

The questions boils down to the fifth starter role (Josh James, Framber Valdez, Cionel Perez, Forrest Whitley or veteran Brad Peacock), the back of the bullpen (Peacock, Valdez, Perez or Reymin Guduan) and the backup outfield spots (Jake Marisnick, Tony Kemp, Kyle Tucker, Derek Fisher, Myles Straw). Peacock will make the club somewhere and Kemp is out of options. IF-DH Tyler White is likely to stick as is new utility man Aledmys Diaz. Therefore, most of the remaining players still with options are likely to start the year at AAA Round Rock and wait their turn to contribute.

Another topic this spring will be any attempts to coax contract extensions from Cole and pitcher Justin Verlander who will both be free agents next winter if not re-signed. In fact, all four certain starters (including Miley and Collin McHugh) become free agents after the World Series if not retained.

It seems the Astros are content to wait until this summer to consider any trades or personnel moves outside their own active roster, content in the likelihood they will lead their division when the July trade deadline approaches. It seems a fairly safe bet as the AL West landscape is surveyed. The Las Vegas betting parlors rank the Astros tied for second in Worlds Championship odds (7-1) with Boston, behind the Yankees (6-1) who get the benefit of baseball's largest fan base.

- Bob Hulsey