WARNING: An EXTREMELY long post follows. Rosterbating is my hobby to kill time while waiting for things to happen at the office.
Factoring in 2013 performances and playing time allotment, comments from Luhnow, Crane, and Porter, and my own intuition, here are my predictions for the 2014 Opening day roster for the Astros.
1B JD Martinez
Bench: Wallace, Corporan, Gonzalez, Barnes
Rotation: Kazmir, Cosart, Peacock, Lyles, Oberholtzer
Bullpen: Harrell, Wojo, Keuchel, Chapman, Lo, Crain, Mujica
Out of the system: Clark, Pagnozzi, Laird, Crowe, Bedard, Ely, D Martinez, Cruz, De Leon, Humber, Thames
Comments: Villar, Altuve, Castro, Dominguez, and probably Carter all have their roster spots virtually guaranteed. Porter's affinity for Corporan and Barnes give them a big leg up on the backup catcher and 4th OF competitions, respectively. Marwin Gonzalez adding OF to his skillset this winter gives him a leg up as the backup SS, I believe. Luhnow has consistently stated that one of the offseason objectives will be to add a bat to the middle of the order, which will likely come at RF or DH. The competition for corner OF and DH will be stiff, with Grossman and Hoes going in as the favorites against JD Martinez, Krauss, Paredes, Thames, and Crowe. The fact that Thames wasn't called up makes me think that the waiver claim was made in order to trade him to a team further down the waiver order. Martinez's lack of playing time makes me think his days might be numbered, although I'm not quite ready to give up on him, and he could be used at 1B. Krauss' strong finish has made him more of a factor going into Spring. In terms of who the free agent addition might be, I think we can assume it'll be someone better than a NRI but not someone who gets a QO; my list of possibilities would consist of Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, Nate McLouth, David Murphy, Grady Sizemore, Marlon Byrd, and Nelson Cruz. Personally, I would rather them spend the money on a backup SS who would be capable of playing OF and spotting Villar when he struggles. Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta would be possibilities. I think the odds are strong that Springer makes the team, but it would also make sense to keep him down thru the Super Two deadline to save money, get him some more seasoning, and give another OF (Krauss, Martinez, Paredes, Thames, or Crowe) a couple of months to show something before cutting him loose or trading him. Wallace will be battling it out with Laird and possibly Paredes and Krauss for a bench role. I think if used correctly, Wallace can be valuable platoon guy that can help bridge the gap until Singleton is ready. Laird has had a strong finish and could easily fill the same role. Backup SS will be between Marwin, Elmore, Paredes, and likely a couple of NRIs. It will be an interesting situation to follow since each player has different strengths and weaknesses. I don't think there's much chance that guys like Singleton, Santana, or Amador make this team. I could see Jose Martinez as a dark horse backup SS candidate.
On the pitching side, Cosart, Oberholtzer, and Chapman all probably have guaranteed roster spots. Peacock also probably has a strong lead on a rotation slot. Luhnow has made mention of bringing in a free agent SP, and it would make sense because I think the crop of potential MoR guys that won't break the bank is deep this year: Arroyo, Baker, Bedard, Capuano, Chen, Feldman, Floyd, Hammel, Haren, Hughes, Kazmir, Lewis, Maholm, Nolasco, Wandy, Santana, Vargas, Volquez, and Westbrook all will avoid a QO and should be in Houston's price range. If Josh Johnson avoids a QO, I'd love to see Houston take a chance on a 1 year overpay. Kazmir is intriguing as well. Adding a free agent would leave only 1 rotation slot open, with Lyles entering spring as the front runner. Clemens, Wojo, Harrell, White, Ely, Martinez, Owens, and Keuchel all will have an outside shot of unseating him. It was interesting to me that Cisnero wasn't called back up in September after the AAA season was over, not sure what to make of that; but I like him and think he has a good chance of making the bullpen as a long reliever. I also think Harrell will get another chance. Keuchel's 2014 wasn't quite good enough to guarantee him a big league job next year, but he showed enough to warrant another tryout. There will be a lot of lefties in camp, with Owens, LeBlanc, Sogard, Chapman, and possibly even Berger and Urckfitz in the mix. Lo, Zeid, and Fields all finished the season strong and will have the upper hand on open bullpen jobs. It's a virtual certainty that Houston will try to replicate the Jose Veras experience, but if they add more than 1 free agent reliever, it will push a young reliever out. Cruz and De Leon are on the outside looking in for now, and I think David Martinez is destined for AAA. Clemens may be a darkhorse for a late inning relief role if he is transitioned to the pen early next spring and they only bring in 1 free agent. Their depth in the upper minors means they could be more willing to take a chance on an oft-injured free agent with high upside.
I think Jake Buchanan will be added to the 40 man roster in addition to Wojo, Singleton, Springer, Santana, and the free agents. I predict many of us will be surprised at how many good prospects are left exposed to the Rule 5 draft: Perez, Wates, Doran, Stoffel, Meyer, Mier, Garcia, Cruz, and many others will have a chance to get picked.
Of course injuries and many other things will affect the roster as time moves on, and it's unlikely that it will end up looking exactly like the picture I've painted, but the good news for 2014 is that there are a LOT more answers than there were this time last year. There are still questions, and the success of the team will depend heavily on young talent progressing, but there is enough talent to expect a dramatic improvement in the W/L record.