Heard this: 2015 came and the Astros still have four catchers on their 40-man roster.
Is that the biggest bit of roster-building Houston has to do before the 2015 season begins? Spring training will be here before we know it. What kind of team will Houston have? What moves could they make between now and then? Are there spots where adding a few non-roster invitees makes sense?
Here's a look at the current makeup, where Houston may still have holes and what fixes could be out there.
Current roster holes
On Friday, Dan Szymborski will release his ZiPS projections for the Astros. We'll get a better sense of the baseline for this roster at that point, but for now, we've got some depth chart projections done by FanGraphs based on other projection models.
From that system, it appears Houston will get average production (read: at least 2.0 fWAR) from five of its nine positions in 2015. Designated hitter just missed and I bet ZiPS treats Carter better than FanGraphs did, because Szym doesn't penalize DHs as much as fWAR does.
Based on the depth chart, Houston's biggest roster weakness right now is at first base. Projections have Houston totaling 0.7 fWAR from four different players (including Jason Castro and Chris Carter, who may never play 1B). Houston had the worst collection of first basemen in the majors last season, judging just by production.
Just ahead of first base but still well below average were third base and left field. Both had players adding up to 1.0 fWAR of production. The Astros have plenty of outfielders now and don't seem likely to fix that hole externally. Count on Jake Marisnick exceeding his expectations or someone like Domingo Santana or Preston Tucker breaking into the lineup there instead.
Third base is the same. There's a greater chance that spot is filled by Colin Moran or Jed Lowrie (after Carlos Correa debuts), than there is of the Astros replacing Matt Dominguez or Marwin Gonzalez there.
Houston already added a few non-roster guys, including Dan Johnson at first base. Johnson may not provide much offense, but he couldn't be worse than what the Astros had last season. With most of their first base prospects a few years away, it behooved the Astros to get a guy in the pipeline who could function as a band-aid if Jon Singleton continues to have contact issues.
With the focus on less players in camp this season, don't expect the Astros to go crazy on non-roster invites to spring training. If I had to guess, I bet they bring in at least one starting pitcher on a minor league deal and maybe another reliever in the Tony Sipp buy-low mold.
Moves to be made
The only spot on the roster where Houston seemingly needs to make a move is catcher. Even there, Houston could go into the season with Carlos Corporan and Max Stassi in the minors and Hank Conger and Jason Castro in the majors.
That's not ideal for many reasons. One, both Corp and Stassi need reps. In fact, Stassi could need plenty of reps, since he's still developing as a prospect.
Bottom line, though, is that Houston won't be forced into a less-than-advantageous move.
Will the Astros pull another trade in February to clear up the logjam? Would teams be willing to give up major league pieces for Castro at this point in the offseason?
I don't think so. That's why I don't see a big move in the offing here. The further into 2015 we get, the less likely it is that Castro gets moved. Instead, it will probably be Corporan who is traded during spring training.
Jeff Luhnow did this once before, waiting until late in March to move both Jason Bourgeois and Humberto Quintero, two spare pieces that didn't fit his roster. Expect that kind of return for Corp eventually. A pitching prospect and a lottery ticket could be all Luhnow can muster for a third-string catcher.
Possible FA fixes
The more time free agent pitchers sit on the market, the more of a chance there is for someone like Scott Boras to swoop in and sell their owner on signing one of his clients.
The biggest name here is Max Scherzer. The free agent right-hander is repped by Boras, but has gotten surprisingly little traction on the open market. A report came out last night that the Cardinals could be targeting high-end pitching, including Scherzer.
Yet, I can't see the Cards investing that much money in him. Odds are that the Tigers bring Scherzer back, but Detroit also feels like they've built up for his departure and may not have a spot for him now.
We're left, again, with the question about a fit in Houston. It's ludicrous. It's impossible. It's been refuted by Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, though not directly. However, if Boras goes over Luhnow's head and meets directly with Jim Crane, could the Astros get involved?