Houston Astros: Team transactions

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The past couple of weeks have seen some roster moves, call ups and options within the Astros organization, a few which have a few people puzzled. Both LHP Tony Sipp and C Jason Castro left on paternity leave within days of each other, allowing for Michael Feliz and Max Stassi, who many thought would start the season as back-up to Castro, to be recalled from the AAA. Additionally, Evan Gattis was optioned to Corpus Christi on a fast-track to get some time in behind home plate himself. The plan for Gattis to be plugged into the back-up catching spot has been in talks for some time.

This isn’t a new role for Gattis, who played the position during his tenure with the Atlanta Braves, and it was a smart move considering the lack of depth overall in the position, as well as lack of run production. The move was delayed due to Gattis’ sports hernia injury, and an immediate need was created for position depth with Stassi’s injury and surgery on a wrist injury. Both players, who would be thought to add depth to catcher, started the season on the DL. This created an immediate need for at least the start of the season, and this is where Erik Kratz comes in.

Kratz was acquired off a trade with the Padres at the last minute in March for AAA pitcher Dan Straily, whose time had basically come to an end with the Astros farming system and organization. It was a win-win for the Astros – dumping a player with no future that would be released anyway for an immediate need, instead temporarily recalling a player not yet ready for the MLB. I don’t believe anyone came into this trade thinking they would be a long-lasting solution for depth at the position, but instead a last-minute trade that ensured a back-up catcher on the roster when the season started the next week.

In case some of you are puzzled about Kratz being in an MLB uniform, now you know.

With Stassi being brought up earlier in the week, most fans were overjoyed with the aspect that he was ready to be brought up and the Astros could finally knock Kratz off the active man roster. Understandably so, since Kratz has gone 2 for 30 this season at bat, boasting an embarrassing (even for a catcher).069 BA; a number bolstered by yesterday’s double in the blowout 11-1 loss against the Boston Red Sox. Surely, with Castro’s return today, Kratz as back-up catcher would become a thing of the past, and Stassi would emerge in the role he was destined for prior to injury.

I’m sure many of you believed you were watching Kratz’s last game in the MLB yesterday, and it was nice to see him go out with a (sort of) bang. Then, the Astros announced the return of both Castro and McCullers to the active roster, and the options of Stassi and RHP Josh Fields. Fields being optioned down made sense, even though a lot of you may have thought it would be Michael Feliz heading back down to the AAA. Until the last week, Feliz has been the resident scape goat to save the bullpen when the Astros starting rotation failed and the game was all but considered a loss.

In the past week, since being brought up to plug in the roster for Sipp’s brief departure, Feliz has come out firing. His fastball has been a weapon, and he’s dominated in relief when he’s been brought out. This was most noticeable in the 16 inning win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, when he pitched the final 3 innings and served up 5 strike outs in embarrassing fashion, when the Indians were delving into their starting rotation to relieve. However, Feliz’s marked improvements could be seen for the whole month of May, with 1 hit, no runs, and 13 strikeouts in 8 innings pitched.

Fields, on the other hand, has been quickly sinking the bullpen and showing himself to be the weak link, with a total of 14 runs credited in 15 games (15.2 innings pitched), and a cumulative ERA of 6.89. Between his own slow regression and Feliz’s rapid improvements, this was a no-brainer choice. Ironically, this transaction would have been slow to fold out, if it even happened at all, had Feliz not been recalled to cover Sipp’s empty roster spot, since Feliz made his case just 2 days ago. In true Astros fashion, Fields most likely would have been given a few too many chances to turn it around before being sent down.

The more surprising move, of course, was sending Stassi instead of Kratz, but it was the right move to make. Stassi started the season on DL after wrist surgery, and was just sent to Fresno on rehab assignment 10 days ago, playing every other game. Do the math – that’s 4 games after sitting six weeks. Not ready for prime time. He was brought up only to make sure there were 2 catchers on the roster while Castro was out, and with Gattis being optioned to Corpus to be fast-tracked to back up Castro, that allows Stassi a more comprehensive rehab assignment.

The move doesn’t mean the Astros like what they see with Kratz and are moving away from Stassi, by any means. They’re just allowing Stassi’s rehab to play out. Being activated 4 games after 6 weeks out isn’t enough. It’s enough to get by on a temporary basis when Castro’s out on paternity leave, but that’s it. If Gattis were available to be recalled, it would be him behind home plate, and then it would be Kratz being sent down. Gattis will be returning as early as next week (following the mandatory 10 day assignment), and that is when Kratz will finally get his send-off.

So what’s next on the horizon for possible roster moves? A few weeks earlier, Luhnow commented on how he’s committing to this team as-is, and won’t likely delve down into the minors for a game-changer. However, with an atrocious stall at run production, primarily in the latter half of the line up, he may be changing his mind. Gattis and (eventually) Stassi both add potential run production at #9, and the other weak spots include Valbuena and Gomez. Valbuena has picked up his game in strides both offensively and defensively, but certainly not with any consistency.

Today’s announcement of 2015’s 2nd overall draft selection Alex Bregman being transitioned from SS to 3rd base with the AA Corpus Christi Hooks has started a new round of chatter that he could be on the fast track to debut in the MLB later this year. That could spell some trouble for Valbuena’s longevity with the Astros, but it could also spell some additional relief and depth in the in field, and possibly in the outfield if Bregman gets some playing time there. Either way, I wouldn’t expect any kind of movement into the majors to happen until closer to or after the July All-Star break.

Outside of sorting out the catching depth and eventually bringing up pitching/bullpen prospects from the minors (Joe Musgrove was promoted to the AAA as well, and has been expected to make his MLB debut this year for some time now), we’re not likely to see any immediate changes to 3rd base or CF. Sorry, Gomez haters, he’s here for the long haul. His contract this year alone dictates that he’ll be given every chance to earn that salary, even though (as I mentioned in an earlier column) I’d expect more rotation between him, Marisnick, and Rasmus (with Tucker being brought into LF) if his numbers don’t improve.

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