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Q:Hey JJ, what's going on with the Astros’ 40-man situation this offseason?
BA: A year ago, we received lots of questions asking about how much of a 40-man roster crunch the Astros would face in preparation for the Rule 5 draft. Last year, as we noted, Houston actually didn't face a whole lot of difficult decisions, which was reflected in the fact that they didn't lose a player in the Rule 5 draft.
This year, the decisions will get a lot tougher. It was a minor aspect of the trade, but when the Astros traded Jarred Cosart, Austin Wates and Enrique Hernandez to the Marlins for Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran and Francis Martes, they traded away two players from their current 40-man roster and a third who would be Rule 5 eligible and got back only one player (Marisnick) who will require a 40-man roster spot this offseason.
Similarly, if the Astros make any waiver trades in August, expect them to try to acquire players who won't need 40-man roster spots in return to help alleviate some of the upcoming crunch.
There are teams with more potential impact prospects than the Astros, but when it comes to depth of prospect talent, the Astros stand out.
The Astros currently have 43 players on their 40-man roster when you include the three players currently on the 60-day disabled list. When the season ends, Jesse Crain will be a free agent and Jose Veras has a team option, which for these purposes, we can assume will not be exercised. Matt Albers also has a team option.
So assuming Crain leaves in free agency and Albers and Veras' options are not exercised, the Astros will be back to 40 for their 40-man roster. That's it for the Astros when it comes to free agents. Only Tony Sipp and Dexter Fowler will hit free agency after the 2015 season as the vast, vast majority of the current Astros' roster is under team control for years to come.
As was the case last year, there are some players who will be pretty easy decisions to cut loose. Infielder Gregorio Petit and first baseman Jesus Guzman are likely targets. And bullpen righthanders Jose Cisnero and David Martinez as well as lefthander Rudy Owens are potential DFA possibilities as well.
But the Astros will have to cut five at a minimum, as there are a relatively long list of names who will need to be added to the roster.
The Astros just added Mike Foltynewicz to their 40-man roster to promote him to the big league bullpen. He would have needed to be added this offseason anyway as part of the 2010 high school draft class. Righthander Vince Velasquez and outfielder Delino DeShields are also likely protections from that draft. From the 2011 college draft class, righthander Nick Tropeano is also a likely protection target. But it will be the international signees that will lead to the biggest protection debates.
The Astros have a number of hard-throwing 2010 international acquisitions who will be Rule 5 eligible, but are far enough away from the big leagues that they could possibly slip through if left unprotected.
Houston will need to protect righthander Michael Feliz even if he's pitching in low Class A Quad Cities, because his present stuff would possibly allow him to stick with a club as a power reliever.
Thanks to his 100 mph fastball, righthander Jandel Gustave (pitching at Quad Cities) would also be tough to leave off the 40-man roster. The decision will be tougher with catcher Roberto Pena. He's a defensive wizard who has thrown out more than 50 percent of basestealers in the California League this year. He is a very solid receiver and could potentially handle the jump from Class A to catching big league pitching–catching a staff of Lance McCullers, Josh Hader and Mark Appel proves he can handle velocity. He's much less likely to be able to hit at the big league level, especially now, but Adrian Nieto's jump from high Class A to a Rule 5 big leaguer with the White Sox's shows that there would be risk to leaving Pena unprotected.
Ronald Torreyes would be an interesting call as well. Considering the Astros' logjam, it makes sense to leave him unprotected and take a risk as to whether a team would pick, and then keep, an undersized utility infielder on its major league roster all year. Torreyes can play a lot of positions (three infield spots and center field) and he's a 21-year-old with Triple-A time but his limited upside and the development of Tony Kemp may allow the Astros to leave him off the 40-man roster.
Torreyes' upside is limited, but he was more highly regarded than Hernandez was coming into the season and he has potential big league value, especially as some other team may decide he could be an inexpensive big league backup next year.
Outfielder Danry Vasquez, a trade pickup from the Tigers last season, is an easier call to leave unprotected, but he is a name prospect who some scouts have liked in the past.
So that's five sure-bet protections and another three prospects who could be protected. It will be an interesting offseason in Houston.