Goodbye to Marwin: Astros look to replace utility player
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Marwin Gonzalez was Houston's do-everything utility player for the last few years.
Replacing him is probably going to be a team effort.
Gonzalez signed a $21 million, two-year deal with Minnesota on Monday, making official what the Astros seemed to know all offseason: they're going to need new depth around the diamond. Gonzalez played every position except pitcher and catcher during his seven seasons with Houston.
The player most likely to mimic Gonzalez is 2016 All-Star Aledmys Diaz, who was acquired from Toronto in November. Houston is also hoping first baseman Yuli Gurriel can bounce around the infield a bit more.
"I want to see Diaz play all four infield positions and potentially two outfield positions on the corner," manager AJ Hinch said. "We may not have enough time to do that as much as we want. As fun as it sounds, that's lot to ask out of one guy, but I would like to move him around a little bit."
Diaz has experience at most of those positions. The 28-year-old has primarily been a shortstop with the Cardinals and Blue Jays, but he's also comfortable at third base and has appeared at second base and in left field.
"I think it's a challenge to play different positions every day, but at the same time, I've played all over the infield in the past," he said. "So for me, I've never played first base at this level and only a little bit in the outfield. So that's one thing I'm going to try to improve on and work on is in the outfield."
Diaz said he's been chatting with Houston outfielders George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick about the position, though he anticipates the best preparation is in-game reps.
"Having the experience is the most important thing at this level," he said. "So for me having the chance to play a little bit in the outfield in spring training is going to help me going into the season to be more ready when he puts me in the outfield."
Hinch believes one of the most important qualities a utility player must have is a willingness to do whatever is asked of him. In that category, Diaz is already just fine.
"I love his mindset," Hinch said. "He's willing to do anything. He's going to start playing a different position virtually every day for the next four or five rotations that he plays. I do love the eagerness to fit in as opposed to the stubbornness of making demands and being upset over his reality."
Diaz's reward will be more playing time. There aren't any everyday openings in the infield — Carlos Correa is entrenched at short, 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve plays second, Alex Bregman is a budding star at third and Gurriel is locked in at first.
"As soon as I heard about the trade, I talked to AJ in the offseason and told him I was motivated to play like every position the team needs me," Diaz said. "It's a long season, so the everyday guys might need a rest day. Also it will give me a chance to have more at-bats and be in the lineup more often."
Gurriel could also be a fill-in option at second or third base, although he's played those positions sparingly over two-plus season with Houston following a 12-year career in Cuba and Japan. Hinch will give him some reps around the infield this spring in anticipation of a more versatile role.
NOTES: Rookie RHP Josh James has a strained quadriceps that will cause him to miss time. He was vying for the fifth spot in Houston's rotation, but Hinch said the setback effectively takes him out of that conversation. "I still think he's going to get enough outings to factor in the bullpen conversation," Hinch said. ... RHP Collin McHugh left after one inning on Wednesday because of a sore back, but he said it isn't anything serious and he doesn't expect it to cause him to miss any time.