The long, cold winter is almost over, and we'll soon hear the popping of mitts on the back fields in Florida. Yes, Spring Training is almost here, but that doesn't mean the questions stop.
The Astros, like most teams, are going to continue to have questions all year long, which means the fans will continue to have their take. That's good for me and the Inbox, and I'll try to answer them to the best of my ability.
Without getting into any specific predictions, let me just say I think the signing of pitcher Brett Myers makes the Astros a lot more interesting. All of a sudden, I could see them contending in the division if things go right, and we all know the division isn't that strong.
Before Myers arrived, it would have been a stretch for me to think that. Now I'm a little more excited about the start of Spring Training.
Now, onto the Inbox:
I have read a lot of blogs and sites and nobody is giving Wesley Wright a chance as the fifth starter. I believe he will win the job and win 7-10 games this season. What do you think of him? -- Jake S., Houston
You're right in your assessment that no one is giving him much of a chance. First, Wright just made the move to starter this winter and performed pretty well in the Dominican. But he remains an unknown commodity as a starter.
Second, the competition for starter is going to be pretty deep. If you concede rotation spots to Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, you have Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino and Brian Moehler battling for two spots, and all have much better starting credentials than Wright.
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That's not to say Wright won't be a starter at some point, but don't be surprised to see him in the rotation at Triple-A Round Rock to start the year.
If Cory Sullivan makes the club out of Spring Training, would you view that as an upgrade or downgrade from Darin Erstad? -- Matt S., Houma, La.
That depends on how he plays. Erstad did not have a good season last year, but he did battle through some injuries. The Erstad we saw in 2008 was a terrific bench player. He's versatile, hits left-handed and brought a measure of leadership and a no-nonsense attitude to the clubhouse. Sullivan would do well to replicate what Erstad brought the club in '08, but he has to perform better than last year's Erstad or he'll be sent packing.
A while ago, not sure exactly, we signed a reliever from Taiwan. What happened to him? -- Noah A., Houston
You're referring to right-hander Chia-Jen Lo, who was signed in 2008 for $250,000. He's a hard-thrower who had a terrific '09 season in the Minors, going 1-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 12 games at Class A Lancaster and 0-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 30 games at Double-A Corpus Christi. He struck out 75 batters in 64 innings.
The Astros have high hopes for Lo and haven't ruled out him winning a spot on the Opening Day roster. That may be a tough order, but I certainly think it's conceivable he will be on the Major League roster at some point this season. Lo was invited to Major League Spring Training this year.
The Astros seem to be set up for a strong defensive season, but I am worried about the offense. The Astros were one of the lowest run-producing teams in the National League last year. What changes will be made to the lineup and where do you see [Tommy] Manzella and [Pedro] Feliz in the lineup? Also, is [Geoff] Blum going to be the go-to guy for pinch-hitting? -- Chad S., Houston
If you're looking for offensive optimism, you've come to the wrong place. Short of Lance Berkman having a bounce-back season and Feliz peppering the Crawford Boxes with home runs, I don't see much reason to believe the Astros will be better with the bats in 2010, especially after losing Miguel Tejada and his 199 hits and 86 RBIs.
But there's something to be said for pitching and defense. That was the formula the Astros used to get to the World Series in 2005, and general manager Ed Wade and president of baseball operations Tal Smith are big believers in that philosophy. Remember, a run saved is just as good as a run driven in.
With Manzella taking over at short and Feliz at third, the gloves on the left side of the infield set up to be superb. The only spot on the field where defense is a problem is in left field, where Carlos Lee has limited range. Fortunately, he plays alongside a Gold Glove winner in Michael Bourn and doesn't have much ground to cover at home.
And yes, Blum will be the primary guy off the bench. He's a switch-hitter who has some power, so it's a good fit.
I keep hearing you refer to Manzella as a wonderful defensive player at shortstop. I have yet to hear anything about his offense. How will Manzella fair offensively in the Astros' lineup? Will he have average numbers or are do we have another Adam Everett on our hands (great defensive player with speed but a guaranteed out in the No. 8 hole)? -- Jordan O, Arkadelphia, Ark.
There are going to be many Everett-Manzella comparisons as the season progresses. Both are super defensive players who didn't have much of an offensive track record throughout the Minor Leagues. The Astros were able to win with Everett because of pitching and defense and generating just enough offense in the middle of the order that his .250 average didn't kill them.
Just go into the season knowing Manzella will wow you with his glove, but he isn't going to knock the cover off the ball. He's a very hard worker, however, who understands the strides he needs to make to get better at the plate. He just needs to hit well enough to stay in the lineup.
Is there any chance that the Astros try to trade Lee at any point? It seems to me that he is a mediocre outfielder at best. It looks at times like he does not hustle. -- Jamie H., Nederland, Texas
What would an Inbox be without a "Trade Carlos Lee" question? Lee has a full no-trade clause that doesn't expire until after this season, and considering he's going to make about $19.5 million a year over the next three seasons, he's about as untradeable as they come.
No team is going to want to take that contract for a player who can't run well or play much defense, and Lee has already said he's not going to approve a trade because of his ranching interests in Texas. So unless something drastic happens, Lee has three more years left in Houston.
When Myers was introduced, he was presented with uniform No. 39. Any word on what number [Jeff] Fulchino will wear next year now that his was taken? Also, since Pedro Feliz wore No. 7 with the Phillies, what number will he be donning for the Astros? -- Tony T., Katy, Texas
Taking a page from Ivan Rodriguez's book, Feliz will wear No. 77 next year. Remember Pudge switched to No. 77 midway through last year? Like Pudge, Feliz prefers No. 7, but that was worn by Craig Biggio and is retired. Also, Feliz's daughter was born on Dec. 7.
Myers will indeed take over No. 39 from Fulchino, who will switch to No. 47. Fulchino is telling some folks a higher number could help him pick up some velocity on his fastball. Ah, if only it were that easy.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.