Astros: Reading the Tea Leaves on Centerfield
Now that the picture at shortstop has become less hazy, if not crystal clear, the one position left up in the air, albeit temporarily until Jake Meyers returns, is centerfield for the Houston Astros.
During the offseason, I thought it was pretty clear that Chas McCormick and Jose Siri would man some sort of platoon, biding time until Meyers returned before McCormick settled back into the utility outfielder role that he played so well last season.
It turns out that most fans, and apparently the Astros brass, don’t think of McCormick as highly as I do.
"“He hasn’t had a good spring so far,” manager Dusty Baker told reporters. “Give him the opportunity, giving guys a chance to earn a job. You consider what a guy has done in the past and you also consider what a guy is doing in the present and you sort of combine the two. It depends on what you need today, too.”"
Reading between the lines, it sounds like Baker is putting more weight on McCormick’s 12 spring training at-bats than his 284 at-bats last season and performance in the postseason. While that mystifies me, I realize I may not have all the information that Baker and the Astros do, so let’s consider other options.
If McCormick isn’t the answer in centerfield, what options do the Astros have at disposal?
First, Michael Conforto remains on the free agent market for a reason. Sure, he’d be an upgrade, but he turned down an offer from the New York Mets in the $100-120 million range, and we know how the Astros front office feel about contracts of that size.
The Astros made a qualifying offer to Carlos Correa, which he didn’t sign, and Conforto said no thank you to a qualifying offer from the Mets. The Astros would lose a draft pick, if they were to sign Conforto, further depleting an already barren farm system.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Wednesday that Conforto had not signed with a team yet due to delayed negotiations. The outfielder feel irregularly on his shoulder this offseason and was waiting to be 100% healthy to speak with teams again.
Jose Siri showed some flashes last season, including in the postseason run and appears to be a favorite of Baker’s. I understand he’s an “exciting” player, whatever that means, but if you think McCormick strikes out a lot, just wait until Siri has 200 at-bats.
Despite his speed, I believe Siri is not just a liability in the field, but a danger to the other fielders and pitchers ERAs, as we witnessed multiple near collisions in the outfield in Siri’s limited time last season.
Finally, I’ll touch on the most recent acquisition of Lewis Brinson, he of the .199 career average. Brinson is batting .357 in 14 spring at-bats with two doubles, an RBI and a caught stealing attempt. All-in-all, he’s not had a bad spring for a non-roster invitee.
On the other hand, Brinson has had 1,035 major-league at-bats and accumulated an OPS+ of 54. McCormick’s OPS+ in 2021 was 107, but Baker seems more concerned about the small sample size this spring than McCormick’s performance over a full season in 2021.
Both McCormick and Brinson were hit by pitches Wednesday, but both remained in the game. Following their free passes, Brinson had a blunder running the bases that doesn’t benefit his case to make the major-league roster.
Perhaps, I’m reading the situation wrong and Baker is trying to motivate McCormick. That, in and of itself, would be concerning, too, because McCormick should be more than motivated to stake a claim to the position with Meyers’ absence.
To be clear, I’m not saying McCormick is the long-term answer, I believe it’s Meyers’ job to lose. Until Meyers returns though, McCormick is far and away the best option and should have first crack in center field.
The Astros optioned Josh James to Triple-A, while reassigning Marty Costes, Alex De Goti, Grae Kessinger, Pedro Leon and Cesar Salazar to the minor leagues, according to multiple reports Wednesday.
Former outfielder Hunter Pence joined MLB Network as on-air analysts.