Monday, October 5, 2009

McTaggart's glance at the off-season decisions to be made

McTaggart sure has been more prolific than the Chronicle's staff, who - aside from Levine - haven't filed a blog post or a story other than a recap for about four days. In this piece, there's a positional breakdown.

First, Wade on the payroll/free agent issues:
"Our payroll is in all likelihood going to be lower than it was this year. It could be appreciably lower, but we don't know until we sit down and get the actual numbers. Pitching is something we have to pay a lot of attention to. All of us at different points of time have looked at the potential free-agent pitching lists and know that a lot of names that are on that list right now are potentials, in that they won't become real free agents because they'll be retained by their former clubs. We have to be cautious as to how strongly we portray our potential of being out there in the open market. The level of quality is going to be pretty small, which means the values placed on those guys is going to be pretty high."

So that basically means, "Don't go expecting John Lackey in an Astros uniform."

The Astros signed Pudge Rodriguez prior to the start of the 2009 season because of a lack of catching depth and later traded him to the Rangers. They could be facing a similar scenario in 2010 as they await the arrival of first-round Draft pick Castro, who's expected to help at some point next year. Quintero and Towles haven't proven to be worthy of being a starter.

Manzella made his Major League debut in September, but he didn't get much playing time behind Tejada, who is a free agent in 2010 and unlikely to return to Houston. Manzella is a Major League-ready defensive player, but his offense remains a work in progress.

Third base:
Blum is a free agent and would like to return in 2010, but the Astros have other options. The versatile Keppinger isn't a full-time starter, so prospect Johnson could finally get his chance to prove if he's ready to play in the Majors after a solid 2009 season at Triple-A Round Rock.

There's no doubt the Astros are desperate need for another solid starting pitcher, but the 1-2-3 punch of Oswalt, Rodriguez and Norris isn't a bad place to start. Oswalt only won eight games before his season was cut short with a back injury, but Rodriguez blossomed into a No. 2 starter and Norris was terrific in his debut. Moehler could return via free agency, but youngsters like Paulino and Bazardo will be given chances to win a spot.

Injuries ravaged the bullpen in 2009, but that allowed the Astros to unearth solid arms in Arias and Fulchino. The back end of the bullpen remains a concern, with '09 setup man Hawkins and closer Valverde free agents and questionable to return. Needless to say, the Astros will be in the market for bullpen help.