Barmes' arrival to create 'fun' decisions

Barmes' arrival to create 'fun' decisions

HOUSTON -- The first major move the Astros made last offseason came in November, when they traded enigmatic pitcher Felipe Paulino to the Rockies and acquired shortstop Clint Barmes, who became expendable in Colorado with the emergence of Troy Tulowitzki.

Barmes was acquired to beef up run production in the middle of the infield and came in with a reputation as a solid fielder. The Astros' best-laid plans went awry when Barmes broke a bone in his left hand as he was hit by a pitch in a March 25 Spring Training game, putting him on the disabled list to start the season.

With Barmes beginning a four-game Minor League rehab stint Monday for Triple-A Oklahoma City, he could make his Astros debut as early as Friday night at Minute Maid Park against the Brewers. The decision on what to do with the roster when Barmes returns is already being debated by general manager Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills.

"It's fun to have difficult decisions," Mills said. "That makes it worth it to be able to do that. Difficult decisions make the team better."

The Astros figure to improve substantially defensively when Barmes returns, but how much more offense they get remains to be seen. Angel Sanchez has started every game at shortstop. Sanchez is hitting .291, leads the team with 25 hits and is tied for second with 13 RBIs.

Putting Sanchez on the bench doesn't seem justified, but he isn't anywhere nearly as good defensively as Barmes. Sanchez has made five errors already this season, and doesn't have the range or the arm to make many plays beyond the routine at shortstop. Barmes showed in Spring Training he can cover plenty of ground and has good hands.

"He's a plus shortstop," Wade said. "It's important to convert outs when you have the opportunity to convert outs. Angel's done a pretty good job for us and has shown good instincts out there, but Clint's got the chance to be one of those two-out shortstops, because you want the ball to be hit to him with two outs because the inning will be over. We hope we reap the offensive and defensive benefits once he comes back."

With Barmes about to take over as starting shortstop and Sanchez likely heading to the bench, the Astros must clear a roster spot later this week. Mills prefers having six infielders, which means either Matt Downs or Joe Inglett could be the odd man out.

The versatile Downs has proven his worth, hitting .286 with a homer and six RBIs in 28 at-bats. Inglett, acquired in a trade just before the regular season, has struggled at the plate (.111), but he's the only left-handed bat on the bench and he led the Majors in pinch-hits last year. He's also out of options.

Starting third baseman Chris Johnson (.181) and starting second baseman Bill Hall (.225) have both scuffled at the plate, but it's probably too early to move them out of the lineup. Perhaps the Astros could choose to keep Inglett and Downs and do something elsewhere in the roster to create a spot for Barmes. Inglett can also play some outfield, which could factor into the Astros' roster decision.

"Everybody's contributed since [Barmes] has been gone, which makes it more difficult," Wade said. "Whatever move we make, it's going to involve somebody who's contributed in some fashion in the early stages of the season. That's part of what we have to deal with. We're certainly anxious for him to get back. One of the good things -- it won't be good for the guy who does get sent out -- but it's good for us we've got sufficient enough depth."

Barmes will likely be plugged into the No. 2 hole in the batting order, which is where Sanchez has hit all season. Barmes hit second during Spring Training, and Mills has asked Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco to hit Barmes second when he begins his rehab stint Monday in Round Rock, Texas.

Beyond that, Mills isn't tipping his hand.

"We've kind of thrown some ideas around," Mills said. "We've still got a while to go yet, but we've got some ideas in place and we'll see how it goes. We haven't talked to any of the players yet, and there's no reason to talk to them about anything because [Barmes is] not here yet."

Of course, the Astros still have a few days to make their decision, and anything could happen on the field between now and Friday.

"You hope a health issue doesn't develop," Wade said. "There's always the potential of that happening. There could be a breakdown at a different position that creates a different dynamic. I'm a big believer in using as much time as you have to make the right decision. We'll carry it down to the point to where we know he's coming back, and huddle at that point and try to make the right decision."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.