Astros: James will stay on 40, Maldonado to start

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

On Friday, Houston Astros Manager Dusty Baker announced that Josh James would be staying on the 40-man roster until he is back from injury. This came as a surprise since the right-hander will be out for sometime after the season starts. A hip injury ended James’ season in 2020, but Baker said he will be ready before the 60 days of an injured list stint is up.

Justin Verlander will be a player moving to the 60-day IL, once the Astros find their replacement for him on the 40-man roster. This could come in relief depth with Steve Cishek or in the outfield with Steven Souza Jr.

The Astros are expecting James to recover fast, while also naming Maldonado the starting catcher.

With Josh James missing spring training due to his recovery from hip surgery, the Astros are expected to keep him on the 40-man after a speculation that he would hit the injured list. Other injuries are in Verlander and Austin Pruitt, who is expected to be ready around the same time as James.

Although battling control struggles in recent years, James will be looked to for rotational depth including long relief like his recent stints. If he bounces back from surgery and controls his pitches, then James could be more efficient like many were hoping. James’ injury opens a seat in the bullpen, but he will be burning a 40-man spot until he is healthy.

Once Houston finds a replacement for Verlander’s 40-man spot, they will have to take him off and add the next player. They cannot remove Verlander without replacing him; this could lead to the Astros not signing anyone else this offseason. There are possible options on the non-roster invites list, but if they do plan on moving more than one player to the 40-man, the Astros will have to designate someone for assignment or trade. In that case, a pitcher would be the best option; Brandon Bielak, Andres Scrubb or Nivaldo Rodriguez could be on the block depending on need and value.

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Behind the plate, Martin Maldonado will get the nod to start most of the games, although signing former Astro, Jason Castro. Maldonado was a workhorse in 2020, while taking most of the starts at catcher during the regular season and all but one in the postseason. Catching has been a worry for the Astros since Brian McCann left for Atlanta, but having a left-handed bat in Castro adds versatility in the lineup as a backup. The Astros also have Garrett Stubbs, who might not be on the 26-man roster to start the season.

Baker also praised the health and poise of his starting rotation including prospect, Bryan Abreu. Although most pitchers are at the facilities, Zach Greinke will have another delayed start like last season. In the bullpen, Joe Smith, who will be 37 in March, is ready to make a comeback after opting out of the 2020 season.

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MLB announced that they have 13 new positive COVID-19 cases (nine players and 4 staff member) out of the 4,336 total collected tests during the first week of spring training. This could be seen as a good sign, but a few Houston pitchers haven’t reported yet due to some issues with the virus.