Pitchers and catchers are reporting to Houston Astros camp today. The first workout is tomorrow. It's going to be a spring training full of questions for the Astros as management, the media, the players, and the fans try to figure out just what exactly this year's team is going to be like. As such, there are many themes that will be running through camp.
1. The most important of these will be whether Drayton McLane actually sells the team. This will weigh on the team all season as it's probable that all decisions made by the front office will be impacted by the chance of a future sale.
2. Then there's the starting rotation. The top three are pretty settled with Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, and Brett Myers. Bud Norris appears to be the front-runner for the fourth spot and Brian Moehler looks to be the number-five guy. But what about Felipe Paulino, who started some games last season, or Wesley Wright who has also been spoken of as a starter?
3. But what about those top three? Can Rodriguez repeat that long-awaited breakout season he had last year? Can Roy Oswalt stay healthy, and if he can, can he return to his pre-Cecil Cooper success? Can Myers not only stay healthy, but can he stay out of trouble?
4. Who is going to catch? Humberto Quintero is better as a backup than as the number-one guy. But who would he backup? Jason Castro, the star in waiting, has never played above Double-A ball. Do the Astros rush him to the majors and risk his flaming out like J.R. Towles? And what of Towles? Do the Astros give him another chance at being the number-one catcher?
5. Then there's the new manager, Brad Mills. Mills has been on the staff of the Boston Red Sox the past several seasons, and he's seen how to do things the right way. But the Astros haven't done things the right way in several years. And how will he be in the dugout? Will he be confident? Will he waffle and throw his players under the bus like Cooper so often did? How does he handle a pitching staff, and how he is at making the strategic decisions?
6. How does Mills treat Hunter Pence? Pence was a bit of a yo-yo under Cooper, moving from one spot in the batting order to the other at the whim of his manager. That he's done as good as he has bouncing from two to six to three to seven to five to three to four in the order says a lot about Pence. Can Mills do a bit better by the guy who could be the future of the franchise?
7. And speaking of the franchise, what becomes of Lance Berkman? His career took a big downturn last season. Does he return to the ways of the Big Puma, or does he return to the ways of Fat Elvis? The better that Berkman plays, the better that the Astros play.
8. Then there's shortstop, which has been handed over to Tommy Manzella. The good news: the declining glove and the ground-into-double-play machine that was Miguel Tejada is gone. And Manzella is supposed to be a good defensive shortstop. But how is his bat? Is he the next Dickie Thon or the next Adam Everett?
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9. At what point does Richard Justice write his first column mandating that Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio be named as the team's manager?
10. Is there any chance that, during spring training, the Minute Maid Park sound crew can not only find the volume control for the stadium speakers, but finally learn how to use that control so as to preferably turn down a few notches so that what few fans can actually afford to attend the games this year can enjoy the games?
11. And then there's the big question. Just how bad will this season's team be? Will the Astros be bad, very bad, or 1962 Mets bad?
Starting today, some of these questions will begin to be answered while many more will be raised.