The Doug Fister Effect on the Houston Astros
The Houston Astros sent shock waves across the AL West after the signing of Doug Fister on Thursday. Climbing Tal’s Hill and Talking Stros have been all over the Fister news this offseason, but he was the best option for the Astros of the remaining free-agents. The Astros sent a message to all of baseball for signing a former 16 game winner, to be the fifth guy in the rotation. The Astros now have a solid five-man rotation now lead by Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers, and Fister. All of these guys should be able to maintain at least a three something ERA in 2016.
However, a signing like this does have a ripple effect on the team as a whole, but it has a huge effect on specific players. This season, the Astros appear to have a set roster already. This spring could be one of the most boring spring training ever, with the only major position battle being that at first base. One of the perceived battles was the one for the fifth spot in the rotation, but with the signing of Fister, this battle is over before it even began.
Yes, they are going to give the politically correct answer that they will have an open battle for the rotation in spring training, but this is not the 2013 rotation with 3-4 pitchers trying to make the rotation. With that said, which players are effected the most by Fister’s signing?
While it is a foregone conclusion that Feldman would be on the opening day roster should he be healthy this spring. However, if Fister is the fifth starter, Feldman could be without a role in 2016 in his final year under Astros control. However, with the rotation the Astros have, they can stick a veteran like Feldman in the bullpen as the long relief guy. This role is the one that Roberto Hernandez found himself in last season before being released. Should an injury befall one of the Astros starters, Feldman could the stretch himself back out to go deep into games and eat up innings.
Straily is out of options, which means if he does not make the Astros 25-man roster before he can be optioned to the minors, he has to go through waivers. Most likely, someone would claim him thinking that they could get him to return to his 2012 form. At this moment, there is absolutely no space for Straily on the roster, unless Feldman opens the season on the disabled list. I was in communication with Straily throughout the 2015 season; he felt like he rediscovered his delivery that led to his early success but struggled in his stops in Houston. Should Straily pass through waivers, the Astros would have to understand that the next time they bring him up, he will have to stay or be placed on waivers again.
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While the Astros have given the first base keys to Jon Singleton to do a test drive this spring, they could use another player to platoon with Singleton. Signing a pitcher like Doug Fister further strengthens an already strong rotation, that should be able to go six-plus on a consistent basis. With the strength of the rotation and a long guy in Feldman in the bullpen, the Astros won’t feel the need to carry 13 pitchers like they often did in 2015. With this move, the Astros can carry an extra hitter that they can platoon with either Luis Valbuena or Singleton at first and third, something that both White and Duffy can both do. Both players can play first or third, so whoever wins the spring battle for the corner infield platoon job, could end up with quite a bit of playing time. Duffy has the edge because he is already on the 40-man roster, but there is an open 40-man roster spot right now.
This is a token mention because Tucker was hurt by the fact that Marwin Gonzalez learned how to play the outfield last season, so with Jake Marisnick on the team and Margo and Evan Gattis possibly able to play the outfield, no sense for Tucker on the team. However, with the Fister signing, it is a sign that the Astros are World Series or bust. If one of the players who opened the season with the Astros struggles, Tucker will be the first outfielder who will be called up. He is a major leaguer, just doesn’t have a spot on this current team. The Astros will not be as patient as they were last year with Chris Carter. The fact that they released him in the offseason sends a message that if you struggle, you are in a position to be cut. Tucker will be up at some point this season.
This might frustrate a few of the top pitching prospects who are close to being MLB ready, but their time is coming. Some of the name to look for this season is Brady Rodgers, Chris Devenski, and Joseph Musgrove. One of the reasons the Astros only signed Fister for a one year deal was to allow the young guys a little more time of development, as the rest of the rotation besides Fister figures to be in place for the 2017 season. What Fister does do is take any chance, no matter how slim a chance, of making the opening day roster. The Astros wanted the depth in the rotation to ensure that they would not have to make any deadline acquisition deals.
The Houston Astros are a better team than they were a week ago, and I predicted that Fister would sign with the Astros to strengthen the rotation. Great move by Jeff Luhnow, while he may not have had a high quantity of moves, but he has addressed the some of the biggest needs to make a playoff run in 2016.