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2009 Houston Astros: Spring Training Wrap Up


As spring training winds down and major league teams begin to whittle down their starting rosters to the maximum allotment of 25 players, questions start to arise among writers, broadcasters and fans about roster decisions. Should Matt Weiters and David Price, considered the top two prospects in all of baseball, start the season in the minor leagues? Why did Detroit release Gary Sheffield? What many fans do not realize is that baseball is not just a game anymore; it is a business, and a very profitable one at that. With the Astros plating their final spring game today against the Reds today; the organization realizes it has decisions to be made as well. Tough ones.

Houston Astros hats & merchandise Yesterday, the Astros acquired long time utility infield veteran, Jeff Keppinger, from the Cincinnati Reds. Keppinger is numbingly patient at the plate and becomes the right handed compliment to Geoff Blum, who had been slated to platoon at third base this year with Aaron Boone. The Astros also optioned INF Edwin Maysonnet to AAA Round Rock. Maysonnet has had a solid spring and was in contention with INF Jason Smith as the utility infielder. Smith has had the best spring of his career and has earned the job this spring. The decision to bring aboard Keppinger also raises the question on what the organization plans to do with 3B prospect, Chris Johnson. Johnson will likely be optioned to the minors and start the season at Round Rock. The positive side to this is that Johnson will get regular playing time at third for the Express and get plenty of AB’s.

It is not clear as to whether Johnson will make the trip back to Houston with the team to play in the exhibition series at Minute Maid Park, and it also been made clear that the decision to option Johnson to Round Rock has not been set in stone either. The Astros have painted themselves into a very small corner and there is very little wiggle room. If Cooper and Ed Wade decide to option Johnson, they put off starting his major league service time, but it will only delay the inevitable. This is the final season of Miguel Tejada’s enormous contract, and if he wishes to continue to play shortstop in Houston, he will have to take a considerable pay cut for 2010 and beyond, although possible it is highly unlikely. This leaves a hole at shortstop for 2010. Ivan Rodriguez is signed to a one year deal and will be looking for work elsewhere in 2010. The Astros believe that, former first round pick Jason Castro, will be able to continue his development this season and be ready for the full time role in 2010 as the front line catcher. Keppinger and Blum are utility infielders and are well suited for that role with the Astros in 2009, but neither are front line starters at third base. Johnson will most likely play the entire season in 2009 in Round Rock to gain experience, but will be the starter at third on the big league team in 2010. That leaves 3 major positions in the infield that will be occupied by rookies in 2010. It is a situation that hardly screams of contention in 2010.

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The decisions made by Wade and Cooper over the next few days will dictate the future of this team and its direction in the future. If they decide to option Johnson then they have made the decision to rebuild and retool with younger players in 2010, hoping that they can contend this season. The Astros put a good product on the field year in and year out, and even when many have counted them out, they find a way to win and put together great stretch runs to remain in the playoff picture every season. I believe that the Astros will have a winning season this year, but I do not believe that they can win the division. I will root for my home team regardless of their record and I will enjoy the players, the park and the effort that I know that Berkman and Co. will put together. I just hope that Wade understands that rebuilding of this team can’t happen in just one season, and that prospects like Johnson and Drew Sutton need to playing in the big leagues with guys like Berkman and Carlos Lee, sooner rather than later.


By: Jordan Fleck
MLBcenter.com Houston Astros correspondent

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