I know it's a little early to be talking about the 25-man roster. We try to touch on that each week with the Stock Watch, but this is more about the realities of the bullpen. How many spots are open out there and who might the Astros slot into there.
I imagine Brad Mills will use a 12-man pitching staff this season. With five starters, that leaves seven bullpen spots. How many guys have spots guaranteed?
Brandon Lyon - closer
Wilton Lopez - setup
Well, that's really it. The two Rule 5 guys, Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton would need to be on the big league team to stay with the Astros. Houston also won't need a fifth starter until the April 9 against the Marlins. That's not quite enough time to send a guy down to Oklahoma City, so let's assume the fifth guy will be on that 25-man roster too. One more assumption to make. It seems like Brad Mills like having two left-handers in the bullpen, so we must assume two of the four lefties are in line to stay with the team.
That leaves five spots for two Rule 5 picks, Mark Melancon, Jeff Fulchino, the loser of the fifth starter's race, Fernando Abad, Sergio Escalona, Wesley Wright, Enerio Del Rosario and Henry Villar. Non-roster guys like Gustavo Chacin may still have a chance, but let's assume the bullpen will be made up of those guys above. I see a few different scenarios with them, which I'll go over after the jump.
UPDATE: I wrote this yesterday afternoon. In the ensuing hours, Hyphen was voted out of the fifth starter's role, Lyles was optioned to Triple-A and Sergio Escalona was also optioned out. I guess I was wrong about being out of options. That pretty much confirms that Figueroa has won the fifth starter's job, so all that's left to decide is the Rule 5 picks.
Scenario One: Ryan Rowland-Smith wins the fifth starter's job.
If that's the case, the Astros would likely keep Nelson Figueroa around as the long reliever. Add him to Lyon and Lopez, and there are just four spots left. To fill the two lefty spots, let's go with Fernando Abad and Sergio Escalona, since Houston had to trade something to pick up Escalona. That leaves Wright headed back to waivers/Triple-A.
Only two bullpen spots are left at this point and they'll both go to right-handers. In this scenario, I doubt the Astros would retain both Rule 5 picks, since they have Figgy in the swingman role. Of the two, it's likely the Astros hold onto Rodriguez, leaving just one spot left for a right-hander.
That'll come down to Fulchino, Melancon, Villar and Del Rosario. Fulchino has the edge on experience with Mills, but it sounds like Villar will be given every chance to win his spot and he's done nothing to lose that. Melancon and Villar both have options left, but I think Del Rosario would have to go through waivers if he doesn't make the team.
In this case, I think Villar makes the team and Melancon heads to OKC to close games. Fulchino and Del Rosario would be put on waivers and I bet the Astros only retain one of them to go to Triple-A.
Scenario Two: Figueroa retains the fifth starter's role
With Figgy in that final starter's role, Hyphen would slide into the bullpen as one of the General's two lefties. The Astros would be lacking a long reliever, which I'm sure would go to Aneury Rodriguez, both to keep him on the roster and because he's one of the only right-handers who's got recent experience as a starter.
That leaves three spots left and one has to go to a lefty. Let's plug in Abad into that situational lefty role, since he got 22 games of action last season to fairly good success. We're left with two right-handed spots again, but this time, the Astros have a spot for Pendleton if they want him.
I think the Astros would hedge their bets here and take Fulchino and Villar for those last two spots, simply because Mills knows what he's got with Fulchino. That might be more important in the early going than the upside of Melancon.
This is also the most likely scenario for the bullpen and the safest assumption as to the roster's makeup.
Scenario Three: Astros keep both Rule 5 picks
Let's say the Astros like both Rodriguez and Pendleton enough to keep both of them on the roster. I'm also assuming (as above) that the favorite for the fifth starter's job (Figueroa) wins that spot. That leaves Hyphen as one of the lefties in the bullpen and just two spots left for another lefty and a right-hander.
Would the Astros keep Abad and try to send Escalona through waviers? Or, since Abad has options left, do they send him to Oklahoma City and keep Escalona, even though he hasn't been nearly as impressive in camp?
I bet the Astros exercise the option on Abad, and keep Escalona as the situational lefty. That leaves just the right-handed spot. With Pendleton or Rodriguez filling the long relief role, the other right-handed spot would be filled with a softer throwing right-hander than the Astros are used to. If that's the case, I bet the Astros go with Melancon over Villar.
Scenario Four: Jordan Lyles wins fifth starter's job, makes us all cringe
The least likely one so far, simply because the Astros will probably slow play it with Lyles. Despite all the optimism about Lyles' future, he's going to get banged up a bit if he starts out with the big league team this early. Still, there is a chance he lands here.
With that, both Figueroa and Hyphen head to the bullpen. That means three spots would be left for both Rule 5 picks, Villar, Melancon, Fulchino, Abad, Escalona, Del Rosario and Wright. With one spot going to a lefty, the big question here is whether the Astros hold onto Aneury or send him back.
Because of his potential and all the scouting reports saying Rodriguez is one of the Top 10 prospects in the system now, we've all sort of assumed he'd make the roster. I wonder, though, in this scenario if that'd be the case. Mills will not want to let Figueroa go for an untested kid like Aneury, would he? I know I'd prefer the 23-year old to the 37-year old, but that's just me.
If both Rodriguez and Pendleton get squeezed off this roster, that means the Astros would probably want to go young at a couple other spots. Let's say in this case, both Villar and Melancon make the roster while Fulchino gets sent through waivers.
At this point, would Wade also want to go with Escalona over Abad, so he'd have at least one deal go right after whiffing on both Rule 5 guys? Maybe Abad could go to Oklahoma City and close those games for a change.
As the uncertainness in all these scenarios shows, there are some big questions yet to answer for the upcoming season. The fifth starter's race will go a long way to determining whether Abad or Escalona make the roster. The Rule 5 decisions will impact Fulchino, Melancon and Villar, while Del Rosario and Wright are really on the outside looking in at this point.
What do you think? Are there scenarios that I've missed? What's you preferred bullpen roster?