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Winter Meetings 2014: Making sense of the Astros bullpen post-Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek,

How will the Astros structure their bullpen now? What could the Opening Day 'pen look like?

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Since a few hours have passed, let's tackle the most pressing question of the morning. No, it's not whether Jim Crane met with Scott Boras last night. It's about how the Astros bullpen will shape up next season.

What do we know?

The Astros just signed Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. They have Chad Qualls under control for another year. Tony Sipp heads to arbitration this winter. A host of other players have team control left but have not yet reached arbitration.

That means the following players have spots locked up heading into spring training:




Josh Fields


Will Harris

That last one is a bit of a reach. Houston claimed Harris off waivers this winter from Arizona and he profiles to be a strike-throwing machine for them. He's an under-the-radar addition, but since the Astros saved a 40-man spot for him and added him early in the offseason, he's got a good chance of stealing a spot.

What does that leave?

One open spot in the typical bullpen of seven relievers. The Astros can go a couple different ways with that spot. In recent seasons, we've seen them add a long reliever there. That has been Jerome Williams or Brad Peacock or Erik Bedard in the past.

It could also be another lefty. Houston only has Tony Sipp in that bullpen right now from the left side and Luhnow has shown a penchant for carrying two lefties in the past.

Who are the options for that last spot?

Well, Samuel Deduno has a good chance of breaking camp in that last spot. If Mike Foltynewicz loses out on that fifth starter's job, he could end up here. Jake Buchanan, Luis Cruz, Darin Downs, Alex White and Asher Wojciechowski all live on the 40-man roster currently, too.

Right now, it looks like the final spot comes down to Deduno, Folty and Downs, with Alex White on the outside looking in.

But, this is a good thing. The Astros used 20 relievers last season, 24 in 2013 and 16 in 2012. In 2005, the World Series year, Houston used 14. They need depth at the spot, since relievers get hurt or lose effectiveness rather often.

Having a few of these serviceable arms on the farm is just good practice. It won't keep them from signing a few more guys to minor league deals, either. A popular comment lately has been to sign Jesse Crain to a minor league deal and hope he gets healthy.

Certainly, that makes sense, but any number of guys could also fit that profile. What if Matt Albers doesn't get a deal elsewhere. Would he make sense?

Things are fluid. Guys could get traded or sent to the minors. But, for now, the Astros bullpen appears set.

Who closes?

My gut says Qualls is the guy. Clack has been pointing out lately how Qualls had fewer meltdowns last season than David Robertson. He certainly had fewer than Gregerson did with the A's. Gregerson has averaged about 12 meltdowns a season, too.

Neither of those guys is making prohibitive money from being seen as setup men. They certainly aren't getting paid as closers. Since A.J. Hinch has expressed interest in using a designated closer, it makes some sense that he'd go with the guy who's been there, with the others filling in when Houston plays Oakland.

Of course, Gregerson could make sense, since Hinch has a familiarity with the new righty from their time together in San Diego. Gregerson has clauses in his contract that escalate his salary if he closes.

As many of you have said, this probably gets hashed out in spring training. It may even flip during the season, depending on performance. Any way you slice it, though, Houston improved its bullpen with these moves.