Less than two weeks till Opening Day and the Astros are trimming their roster. Gone after today’s game are pitchers Miguel Asencio, Paul Estrada and Scott Sauerbeck along with the switch-hitting infielder Brooks Conrad and catcher Lou Santangelo. Asencio, Estrada and Conrad were optioned to AAA Round Rock while Sauerbeck and Santangelo were reassigned to the minor league camp. The big league roster now stands at 35 (30 from the 40 man roster and 5 non-roster invitees)
As we approach 2 April, it looks like Jason Lane will make the opening day roster while Richard Hidalgo, who had high hopes of making it back to the bigs won’t. The Astros are hoping Hidalgo accepts a minor league assignment at Class AAA Round Rock. That would give Richard a chance to be called up should there be an injury or if Lane or Scott falter.
Lane’s strong showing this spring poses a dilemma for the Astros if they choose to carry 12 pitchers as is their wont–they will have to cut either Eric Bruntlett or Orlando Palmeiro from the 25 man roster. Bruntlett, on the surface, seems to be the easy decision as Palmeiro is in his final year of a 2 year contract. While Bruntlett does have an option left, the Astros would have to try to get him through waivers to reassign him to Round Rock due to the time he’s spent as a pro.
Due to Bruntlett’s versatility, (he can play 4 of 5 infield positions and all 3 outfield positions) his might be the greater loss. While cutting Palmeiro would mean having to pay him nearly $1 million, he is an older pinch hitter whose left handed bat can be replaced if Eric Munson makes the team as the back up catcher. Munson, one of the 5 non-roster invitees still in camp, has quietly been having a very nice spring. In 17 games, he is batting .345 with an on base percentage of .424 and a .517 slugging percentage.
With Andy Pettitte’s departure, Brad Ausmus’ plate appearances should be greatly reduced, giving the backup catcher a lot more playing time. In 2006, Ausmus had 439 at bats. If Munson or Quintero get another 100-150 at bats, the Astros offense would be in much better shape. Out of the duo of Munson and Quintero (.179 AVG in 15 games), Munson has more power and is a lefty while Humberto Quintero is the stronger defensive catcher.
Although it would hurt to lose Palmeiro’s veteran leadership and contact pinch hitting ability, it might be in the Astros best long term interests to release him and make room for Eric Bruntlett on the 25 man roster.