I wrote about how incredibly great Jose Altuve is in Part 1, and now let's TRY to define what they MIGHT do to survive without their heart and soul for the next 2-4 months.
First, let me say they cannot just replace Altuve. If you read part one you know that.
If one asks how the Astros replace Altuve and someone answers with a quick easy answer, they are not giving you the right answer.
His playing time lost will be a timeshare and the utility players filling his void will have to be backfilled by others.
How they replace him depends on how some young players step into a more fulltime role.
His spot in the batting order should be filled with another hitter and NOT those who replace him defensively.
With all of that said, what are the Astros likely to do to fill the PAs that they will lose when Altuve is out??
Without Altuve for an extended period - let's say until July 1st or right at half of the 162 games- I believe the Astros will deploy a combination of more Hensley and Dubon at second base. I am going to project an overall loss of 350 PA.
Here is what the PA projection was WITH Altuve by position. This is very close to what Fangraphs.com had a few days ago.
Here is what I project the PA to be NOW. This is MY projection based on some topics I cover below.
Fangraphs still has Altuve with 448 PA. I think that is too optimistic and therefore I have more PA to allocate. My allocation means Hensley gains 184 PA, Dubon gains 75 PA, and others gain 91 PA.
That is a lot of PT to shift to Hensley and Dubon. Both are the primary utility guys on this team. Perhaps the OF time will be shifted away from both as I showed some.
Let me remind you of one of my principles here. Trust LESS what teams SAY and MORE what teams DO. You will see what I mean in a minute here.
I believe that with the Altuve injury, Dirden WILL make the Astros coming out of Spring Training. It is possible that
- Dirden will become the utility outfielder (until Brantley is ready to play),
- Dubon will be the primary utility infielder, and
- Hensley will be the primary 2B.
Dirden has played all over the OF in the minors. You see his PT in the table. Dirden started for the first time in CF today. I do not think that was a coincidence.
Watch also what the Astros do in the next ten days with Lee and Diaz. Obviously, the sample sizes are small for both, but they have done well this spring. Today, Diaz started in LF for the first time this year. Korey Lee (on 3/13) and Diaz (on 3/17) have made appearances at 1B. I believe the team is preparing BOTH to do more than just catch if needed. Listen to me now and hear me later, but I have both taking time at 1B and LF. It's too early to tell if this will happen but stay tuned. It is also possible that BOTH make this roster if the Astros are good with an OF of Tucker, Meyers, and McCormick with Dirden and Dubon as backups. The Astros may go with Matijevic coming out of Spring Training and have Lee or Diaz start in AAA.
Let me stop for a minute a pull back. I am telling you that the ramifications of losing Altuve for an extended period have effects BEYOND just 2B. Since Hensley and Dubon were and will be the primary 2B backups, if one or both have to start now; it means all of their positions they were covering may need coverage.
Oh, let me address this too. NO, Gurriel WOULD NOT be replacing Altuve now. He will be proven to NOT be a utility player; and so far, the Marlins have not tried him at 2B or 3B. So please do not waste the time of the Astros fan base with that fake narrative. I wrote about that in detail in December.
I would submit to the Astros fans they are BETTER OFF is this situation that they do not have Gurriel. They need players with positional flexibility to play the best matchups. Having a player who is TRULY just a 1B/DH would exacerbate the challenge of covering the PA lost with Altuve out.
Ok so that is what I expect the playing time to be and some options for the roster. Given Brantley and Altuve will not be ready on opening day what do I expect the Astros to do for the roster lineup and batting order?
Here is how I think the Astros will set their primary lineup at each milestone barring new significant injuries.
If Alvarez is out for opening day, I think Diaz will get the shot at the DH role.
If Alvarez is ready, I think Diaz (OR maybe Lee) will start in AAA; and Matijevic will keep the extra bench spot. I assume Alvarez starts at DH until Brantley returns.
When Brantley is ready, I think McCormick will move to CF, Alvarez slots in to LF, and Brantley joins as the DH. In this scenario, Meyers would be the utility OF.
During the early season do not be surprised if Lee and Diaz timeshare the MLB backup catcher role and the AAA Starting catcher role. If one is excelling the MLB job will become theirs. If there are more injuries, both may stay in the MLB.
When Altuve is ready, the team will need to make decisions; but they will have data to make those decisions.
I THINK Hensley will have the primary IF Utility role.
I think Meyers will keep the primary OF Utility role.
Lee and Diaz will continue to compete for one MLB backup catcher role.
What happens with Dubon vs. Dirden will largely depend how each has done to that point in the season.
The default will be Dubon stays on the roster. He has no options to be sent to the minors. He would NOT pass through waivers unless his start of 2023 was terrible.
Dubon OR Meyers struggles early
Dirden is close to what one might project from last year and his epic spring training so far in early 2023
Diaz and/or Lee proves capable as a 1B option allowing Hensley as a backup for the other IF spots. An even bigger bonus if Lee shows he can play 3B as once thought.
Wagner, Perez, Bannon, Machado, and/or Kessinger has a great start in AAA
Astros COULD chose to trade Dubon or even cut him AND
Astros COULD keep Dirden instead of Dubon or Meyers on the Astros
This represents an opportunity for Dirden to shine.
The table above shows the PRIMARY lineup/roster. I put the playing time charts first to show that this will be a timeshare situation. We may only see the primary lineup 40% of the time.
Also, in the table above I also projected the potential roster knowing what we know now in the postseason and in 2024.
Here is how I THINK the Astros will set the primary batting order at each of the same stages.
I believe Pena will be asked to lead off for this team early. His OBP was not good (0.289) last year. He was batting leadoff today. Again, I do not think it was a coincidence.
Tucker is another leadoff option.
If Alvarez is out, Tucker is needed in the middle of the lineup.
If Alvarez is available, I still think having Tucker in the middle of the lineup will be tempting.
Other than Tucker, I do not see another viable option as a leadoff hitter. I guess one can claim Bregman could do it, but that would be such a waste.
Without Alvarez- Diaz, McCormick, and Hensley would be asked to cover 5-6-7 in some order.
With Alvarez, I think it would be McCormick 6th and Hensley 7th.
When Brantley returns
I think the Astros will follow the order (2-6) they used much of the 1H2022 with Brantley 2nd and Abreu 5th (in place of Gurriel in that spot).
Pena stays leadoff assuming he is doing OK.
Once Altuve returns, the lineup will closely model what we were hoping to see this year.
One of the reasons I have shown the lineup and batting order extended out beyond the time Altuve will be out is to make a point. This is terrible for the team, BUT it is also a HUGE opportunity for several of the younger Astros. How they perform over the next few months may determine what the team does for years to come.
The Astros cannot replace a future Hall of Famer without consequences. There is an opportunity for others to shine.