KISSIMMEE, Fla. — I can’t believe I’m posing this question, but could it be that the Astros suddenly are progressing too quickly for their own good?
The Astros, as everyone knows, have been rather deliberate in their tanking — er, rebuilding — plan. But now, after signing free-agent outfielder Colby Rasmus and trading for must-play-somewhere Evan Gattis, the team might need to demote a promising youngster.
Both center fielder Jake Marisnick and first baseman Jonathan Singleton are 23. Both need to complete their developments in the majors. But barring injury, the Astros will keep only one, even though the team’s chances of reaching the postseason remain quite slim.
Someone slow down the train at Minute Maid Park!
Let’s be clear: It’s refreshing that the Astros finally have choices. This is a team, remember, that averaged only 54 wins from 2011 to ’13, then, “jumped” to 70 last season. The roster crunch the ‘Stros now face is the kind that good teams should face. Not that the Astros are guaranteed to be good, mind you. But they should at least be more interesting.
Marisnick and Singleton are at the center of a complex game of roster dominoes, threatening each other’s status despite playing vastly different positions. That’s right, odd as it sounds, the advancement of Marisnick in center could mean a lesser role or demotion for Singleton at first, and vice versa.
If the Astros keep Marisnick — who intrigues club officials with his plus defense even though he has yet to show he can hit — they then would go with Rasmus in left and George Springer in right, forming their best defensive outfield.
But if Singleton simultaneously won the first-base job, Gattis and Chris Carter would be left to divide at-bats at DH. Not happening — Gattis is the team’s biggest offensive addition, and Carter hit 37 home runs last season.
Now let’s look at the situation in reverse.
If Singleton, perhaps the team’s biggest left-handed power threat, is at first, then Carter and/or Gattis could be pushed to left on most days, with the other serving as DH and a defensive replacement for the late innings. The falling dominoes then would force Rasmus into center, costing Marisnick a chance to play every day.
General manager Jeff Luhnow is invested in both youngsters; he signed Singleton to a five-year, $10 million contract last June, and acquired Marisnick from the Marlins last July 31 in the six-player Jarred Cosart trade. But the Astros, acting on a mandate from owner Jim Crane, also are trying to improve quickly, as evidenced by their active offseason and increase in payroll.
Both center fielder Jake Marisnick and first baseman Jonathan Singleton are 23. Both need to complete their developments playing regularly in the majors. But barring injury, the Astros will keep only one, even though the team’s chances of reaching the postseason remain quite slim.
Of course, there is another possibility — the Astros keep both Marisnick and Singleton and trade Rasmus, Carter or Gattis. Such a move would require both Marisnick and Singleton to make convincing cases this spring and a market to emerge for one of the others at a time of year when trades are rare. Unlikely — at least for the moment.
Yes, these things have a way of working themselves out, usually through injury. Still, there is no question that Marisnick and Singleton would be in the Opening Day lineup if the Astros still were in a development phase. Now, with the plan starting to shift, the danger is that the Astros could start swallowing their young.