Thursday, March 31, 2016

Opening Day Decisions are O.D.D.

Welcome Raymond Desadier to WTHB as he pens his first contribution (the first of many, I hope!). And give him a follow on twitter @desadier19.

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Each new baseball season brings another year of fans questioning the decisions made by their favorite team. While it would seem to the casual observer that the opening day roster should be filled with the 25 best players or, at the very least, the 25 most deserving based on prior performance as well as spring statistics, it is never that simple.

For the Astros, there will be some very deserving players making AAA Fresno their home at the outset of the 2016 season, but this does not mean they will not be contributing at some point in 2016. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager A.J. Hinch are tasked with managing their roster to be successful over a 162 game marathon rather than merely winning the first week in April. This coupled with contractual restrictions limits them on who stands on the chalk line on April 6, and leads to some ODD decisions.

A.J. Reed - May 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Take Wandy Rodriguez for example: while he did have a remarkable spring until a rough outing Monday, there are others such as Michael Feliz, James Hoyt (despite Wednesday's tough outing), and Chris Devenski who you could argue are more deserving of a roster spot and offer greater upside. However, the Astros brass are planning for the entire season and would much rather have all four of these arms at their disposal. Wandy’s veteran status has earned him the right to decline minor league assignments so the only way to ensure he remains an Astro is to put him on the 25-man roster at the outset.

While it is likely disappointing for Feliz, Hoyt, Devenski, and others to miss out on the Opening Day festivities, they can still be difference makers. Take Carlos Correa for example: he did not make it to Houston until June yet still became a key factor in making playoffs en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award.

Speaking of Rookie of the Year candidates, one could also argue A.J. Reed deserves to be the Opening Day first baseman after an impressive spring. While most anyone will agree Reed has greater upside than Tyler White, White has earned the job not only this spring but also with his career performance. He deserves the shot not only to send a message to all Astros farmhands that their hard work will be rewarded, but also to determine just what he can do in the major leagues. If White continues to hit the way he has then he could be the designated hitter of the future, or stay at first should Reed turn out to be a bust. At the very least, he could perform well enough to become a valuable asset to trade. Adding both to the roster would be detrimental to their development because they both need to be in the lineup every day.

The same could be said of Colin Moran at third base. While Luis Valbuena is an outstanding defender and is capable of belting 25 home runs, his hitting still leaves much to be desired. However, Valbuena is a known quantity, and a team in contention would much rather have someone like him than an unknown such as Moran. The rebuild is over: we are playing for keeps now!

Something else to consider: spring statistics are extremely misleading. Rarely does the star of the Grapefruit League go on to win the MVP or Cy Young. Asher Wojciechowski had an outstanding performance in Spring 2015 but struggled mightily during the regular season in Houston. Sure Devenski has dominated and Reed and Moran have raked, but none of them have played a regular season game in AAA. Even players with extensive AAA experience struggle at the top level so it is naïve to think any of these players are the exception.

There are also the financial ramifications of them becoming Super Two players, which results in having to pay these players millions rather than thousands of dollars a year earlier. Whether you object to this strategy or not, the fact of the matter is Jim Crane and Luhnow are running a business and avoiding Super Two status is a sound business decision.

So while you may find some of the Opening Day Decisions rather ODD, just know there is a method to the madness.

Raymond Desadier
3/30/16

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