November 2009

Astros face arbitration decisions

If you were the general manager of the Astros, what would you do?

The Astros have until Tuesday night to offer salary arbitration to their own free agents – a list that includes shortstop Miguel Tejada, closer Jose Valverde, reliever LaTroy Hawkins, outfielder Jason Michaels and infielder/outfielder Darin Erstad.

Players offered arbitration have until next Monday to decline or accept the offer. If they accept, they are considered signed players and will have their salary determined through an arbitration hearing or negotiations. If they decline, they are still free to sign with the Astros or any other team.

The decision to offer arbitration has high stakes. Tejada, Valverde and Hawkins were classified as Type A free agents, which means the Astros would get draft picks if the players were offered arbitration and sign with another team. If they’re not offered arbitration and sign with another team, the Astros don’t get compensation.

If a Type A player signed with another team after being offered arbitration, the Astros would receive the signing club’s first-round draft pick in next year’s draft (assuming it’s not in the top 15 picks) and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. A Type B free agent, such as Doug Brocail, would bring only a sandwich pick.

Tejada made around $14 million last season and appears headed for a healthy pay cut on the free-agent market, which makes it seem unlikely the Astros would offer him arbitration. Valverde, who made $8 million last season, is likely headed for a raise after coming off a season in which he was 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA and converted 25 of 29 saves. He would be less likely to accept arbitration if he was offered by the Astros because he could command a higher salary in free agency.

The Astros have been in negotiations with Hawkins for weeks and are eager to re-sign him to be an option at closer if Valverde leaves. Hawkins had a base salary of $3.5 million last season and made nearly $4 million in incentives and was 1-4 with 11 saves and a 2.13 ERA.

Here’s what I would do:

Jose Valverde: Offer arbitration. He’ll have some strong interest and will likely get a multi-year deal from somebody, so I think it’s doubtful he would accept arbitration. If he does, you have an expensive, but capable closer.

Miguel Tejada: Don’t offer. He’ll get nowhere near the kind of money in the free-agent market than he would in arbitration, which he would accept in a heartbeat. If he wants to come back, it will have to be at a discount. The Astros can’t afford paying a third baseman $14 million next year.

LaTroy Hawkins: Offer arbitration. Sure, he’ll get a raise, but the Astros need the Hawk, especially if Valverde bolts. If he accepts and becomes the closer, he’ll still likely make less than Valverde did in closer’s role last season.

Jason Michaels: Don’t offer. I think the Astros should re-sign him, but I don’t expect there to be a big market for him and he’s not going to bring compensation anyway.

Darin Erstad: Don’t offer. Erstad is one of my favorite guys, but how much does he have left?

 

Astros making minor news

The Astros outrighted pitcher Brad James to Triple-A Round Rock on Wednesday, creating another spot on the 40-man roster, which now stands at 36. Once considered one of the Astros’ top prospects, James was 2-10 with a 6.69 ERA in 23 games (21 starts) at Double-A Corpus Christi last season.

Also on Wednesday, the Astros hired Bob Rossi as a professional scout. Rossi, a veteran of 22 seasons as a scout, will cover Minor League clubs based in the eastern part of the country, the majority of which will be in the International League. In September, he will cover Major League clubs.

Rossi has spent 22 years as a full-time scout for four different ball clubs, most recently for the Chicago Cubs (2004-2007). Prior to his stint with the Cubs, Rossi worked in the Mets, Pirates and Cardinals organizations. In recognition of his success, he was inducted into the Southeastern Professional Baseball Association Hall of Fame in 2002 and Northeastern Chapter of the Pennsylvania State Hall of Fame in 1999.

_____________________________________________________________________________

The Astros also announced Wednesday that Felix Francisco and Charlie Norton will have new titles.

Francisco, who had been the club’s director of Latin American Scouting since November of 2007, has been named special assistant to the general manager, Latin American operations. Norton, who was in his second season as the Astros director of Research and Analysis, has been named director, baseball research/pro scouting Coordinator.

Francisco, 37, has played a significant role in the Astros scouting efforts in Latin America over the past two years. Prior to joining the Astros, Francisco had been a scout and scouting supervisor in the Braves and Padres organiza¨tions since 1995. Norton will be in his ninth season in the Astros organization in 2010, having started out as the general manager of the Martinsville Astros (rookie) in 2001. He later spent three seasons as Houston’s assistant director of baseball operations (2005-07).

_____________________________________________________________________________ 

Here is the updated 40-man roster.:
PITCHERS (19)
Fernando Abad (L)
Alberto Arias
Yorman Bazardo
Tim Byrdak (L)
Jeff Fulchino
Sammy Gervacio
Wilton Lopez
Brian Moehler
Bud Norris
Roy Oswalt
Felipe Paulino
Wandy Rodriguez (L)
Chris Sampson
Polin Trinidad (L)
Wesley Wright (L)
Jose Valdez
Evan Englebrook
Matt Nevarez
Henry Villar
CATCHERS (2)
Humberto Quintero
J.R. Towles
INFIELDERS (9)
Lance Berkman
Geoff Blum
Chris Johnson
Jeff Keppinger
Tommy Manzella
Kaz Matsui
Edwin Maysonet
Wladimir Sutil
Jose Vallejo
OUTFIELDERS (6)
Brian Bogusevic
Jason Bourgeouis
Michael Bourn
Carlos Lee
Hunter Pence
Yordany Ramirez

Astros face 40-man roster decisions

The Astros must have their 40-man roster set by 11 p.m., which is why club officials spent most of this week in meetings at Minute Maid Park going over the roster. Astros manager Brad Mills sat in on the meetings, along with the front office and members of the player development staff. Owner Drayton McLane participated on Monday and Tuesday.

Several spots on the 40-man have been cleared with players filing for free agency, so the Astros have some wiggle room. Any players on the 40-man roster by the end of today are protected from being taken by other club’s in next month’s Rule 5 draft. The roster is at 33 (if I’m counting correctly) entering Friday and will likely be at 37 at the end of the day after they add some Minor Leaguers. That will leave a few spots open for free agents, though they could create more spots by non-tendering contracts to some players.

But what Minor Leaguers will they add?

Among the players up for consideration are outfielder Drew Locke, pitcher Sergio Perez and infielder/outfielder Koby Clemens, who led all of the Minor Leagues in RBIs last season. Clemens appears to be a man without a position and isn’t likely to be added to the roster.

Generally, players drafted out of college have to be protected after their third full season in baseball, which means those taken in the 2006 draft. High school players have an extra year, meaning high school players drafted in 2005 are eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time.

The Astros can add these players to the 40-man roster, put them on the Triple-A roster, Double-A roster or Class A roster. Anyone on the Triple-A roster can be drafted in the Rule 5 draft and have to stay on the Major League roster for the entire season or be sent through waivers and offered back to the original club for half the waiver price. Players on the Double-A roster can be drafted in the Triple-A portion of the draft and be placed anywhere in the system.

Last year, the Astros selected Locke in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 draft from the Los Angeles Dodgers after he hit .311 with 11 homers and 85 RBIs at Class A Inland Empire. What a find. Locke hit .338 with 20 homers and 109 RBIs at Double-A Corpus Christi last season.

Clemens hit .345 with 22 homers and 121 RBIs and a .419 on-base percentage in hitter-friendly Lancaster and has been tinkering with playing first base. Perez was 11-11 with a 4.68 ERA in 27 starts at Corpus Christi.

Other first-time eligible players for the Rule 5 draft include:  right-handers Bryan Hallberg (Lancaster) and Casey Hudspeth (Lancaster/Corpus Christi), left-hander Chris Salamida (Lancaster), outfielder Jimmy Van Ostrand (Corpus Christi) and outfielder Nick Moresi (Corpus Christi).

Left-hander Fernando Abad and infielder Wladimir Sutil were added to the 40-man earlier this month.

Free agency begins Friday. Who do you want?

Beginning Friday, the Astros and other teams can open their wallets and start signing free agents. Based on my recent conversations with owner Drayton McLane and general manager Ed Wade — particularly McLane — it doesn’t appear the Astros will be opening their wallets very far. That depends on how you look at it.

The Astros still figure to have a very competitive payroll, but they are in a tight spot. Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Kaz Matsui will make a combined $54.5 million next year, and Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Wandy Rodriguez are going to get large raises in arbitration. The Astros say they can’t sustain the record $107 million payroll they had last season, but bringing back all the players already under contract could bring it already into the $80 million range.

Add LaTroy Hawkins (let’s say at $5 million) and you’re sitting at about $85 million. That leaves a little wiggle room. Add Jose Valverde ($12 million?) and you’re tapped out. Neither McLane nor Wade willl say exactly what the payroll will be, but if I was forced to guess I would say in the mid-$90 million range. As you can see, that doesn’t leave much room to take any additional contracts.

So, what are the Astros’ needs? A starting pitcher. A back-of-the-bullpen reliever? A right-handed hitting third baseman? Wade seems to think a reliever is the biggest concern. There’s no doubt they need a solid starting pitcher, but this takes us back to economics. A solid starting pitcher to plug into the No. 3 spot in the rotation probably isn’t affordable.

Wade said Wednesday he and his staff have made contact with dozens of available players. He said the Astros will be aggressive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be dishing out a lot of offers.

Here’s a list of available free agents as compiled by mlbtraderumors.com (age is in parenthesis):

Catchers
Eliezer Alfonzo (31)
Brad Ausmus (41)
Paul Bako (38)
Rod Barajas (34) – Type B
Josh Bard (32)
Michael Barrett (33)
Henry Blanco (38)
Ramon Castro (34)
Chris Coste (37)
Sal Fasano (38)
Toby Hall (34)
Jason Kendall (36) – Type B
Jason LaRue (36)
Chad Moeller (35)
Bengie Molina (35) – Type A
Jose Molina (35)
Miguel Olivo (31) – Type B
Mike Redmond (39)
Ivan Rodriguez (38) – Type B
Brian Schneider (33)
Yorvit Torrealba (31) – Type B
Matt Treanor (34)
Javier Valentin (34)
Vance Wilson (37)
Gregg Zaun (39) – Type B

First basemen
Rich Aurilia (38)
Jeff Bailey (31)
Hank Blalock (29)
Russell Branyan (34)
Miguel Cairo (36)
Frank Catalanotto (36)
Tony Clark (38)
Carlos Delgado (38) – Type B
Nomar Garciaparra (36)
Ross Gload (34)
Eric Hinske (32)
Nick Johnson (31) – Type B
Adam LaRoche (30) – Type B
Doug Mientkiewicz (36)
Kevin Millar (38)
Fernando Tatis (35) – Type B
Chad Tracy (30)
Daryle Ward (35)
Dmitri Young (36)

Second basemen
Ronnie Belliard (35) – Type B
Jamey Carroll (36)
Alex Cora (34)
Craig Counsell (39)
Mark DeRosa (35) – Type B
Nick Green (31)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (34)
Orlando Hudson (32) – Type A
Adam Kennedy (34)
Felipe Lopez (30) – Type B
Mark Loretta (38)
Pablo Ozuna (35)
Placido Polanco (34) – Type A
Luis Rodriguez (30)
Juan Uribe (31)

Shortstops
Eric Bruntlett (32)
Orlando Cabrera (35) – Type A, can’t be offered arbitration
Juan Castro (38)
Alex Cora (34)
Craig Counsell (39)
Bobby Crosby (30)
Adam Everett (33)
Chris Gomez (39)
Alex Gonzalez (32)
Nick Green (31)
Khalil Greene (30)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (34)
John McDonald (35)
Luis Rodriguez (30)
Marco Scutaro (34) – Type A
Miguel Tejada (36) – Type A
Wilson Valdez (32)
Omar Vizquel (43)

Third basemen
Rich Aurilia (38)
Brian Barden (29)
Adrian Beltre (31) – Type B
Aaron Boone (37)
Craig Counsell (39)
Joe Crede (32)
Bobby Crosby (30)
Mark DeRosa (35) – Type B
Pedro Feliz (35)
Chone Figgins (32) – Type A
Nomar Garciaparra (36)
Troy Glaus (33) – Type B
Adam Kennedy (34)
Mike Lamb (34)
Mark Loretta (38)
Melvin Mora (38) – Type B
Pablo Ozuna (35)
Robb Quinlan (33)
Miguel Tejada (36) – Type A
Juan Uribe (31)

Left fielders
Garret Anderson (38) – Type B
Marlon Anderson (36)
Jason Bay (31) – Type A
Emil Brown (35)
Marlon Byrd (32) – Type B
Johnny Damon (36) – Type A
David Dellucci (36)
Cliff Floyd (37)
Joey Gathright (28)
Matt Holliday (30) – Type A
Reed Johnson (33)
Greg Norton (37)
Wily Mo Pena (28)
Dave Roberts (38)
Gary Sheffield (41)
Fernando Tatis (35) – Type B
Marcus Thames (33)
Randy Winn (36) – Type B

Center fielders
Rick Ankiel (30)
Rocco Baldelli (28)
Marlon Byrd (32) – Type B
Mike Cameron (37) – Type B
Endy Chavez (32)
Coco Crisp (30)
Darin Erstad (36)
Jeff Fiorentino (27)
Ryan Freel (34)
Joey Gathright (28)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (34)
Reed Johnson (33)
Andruw Jones (33)
Corey Patterson (30)
Scott Podsednik (34)
DeWayne Wise (32)

Right fielders
Jermaine Dye (36) – Type A
Brian Giles (39) – Type B
Vladimir Guerrero (35) – Type B
Joey Gathright (28)
Eric Hinske (32)
Geoff Jenkins (35)
Austin Kearns (30)
Jason Michaels (34)
Xavier Nady (31) – Type B
Randy Winn (36) – Type B

Starting pitchers
Brandon Backe (32)
Cha Seung Baek (30)
Miguel Batista (39)
Erik Bedard (31) – Type B
Kris Benson (34)
Paul Byrd (39)
Daniel Cabrera (29)
Chris Capuano (31)
Aroldis Chapman (22)
Bartolo Colon (37)
Jose Contreras (38)
Doug Davis (34) – Type B
Lenny DiNardo (30)
Justin Duchscherer (32) – Type B
Adam Eaton (32)
Shawn Estes (37)
Josh Fogg (33)
Jon Garland (30) – Type B
Tom Glavine (44)
Mike Hampton (37)
Rich Harden (28) – Type B
Mark Hendrickson (36)
Livan Hernandez (35)
Rich Hill (30)
Shawn Hill (29)
Jason Jennings (31)
Jason Johnson (36)
Randy Johnson (46) – Type B
John Lackey (31) – Type A
Braden Looper (35) – Type B
Rodrigo Lopez (34)
Noah Lowry (29)
Jason Marquis (31) – Type B
Pedro Martinez (38)
Eric Milton (34)
Brett Myers (29)
Vicente Padilla (32) – Type B
Carl Pavano (34) – Type B
Brad Penny (32)
Odalis Perez (33)
Andy Pettitte (38) – Type B
Joel Pineiro (31) – Type B
Sidney Ponson (33)
Mark Prior (28)
Horacio Ramirez (30)
Jason Schmidt (37)
Ben Sheets (31)
John Smoltz (43)
Brad Thompson (28)
Brett Tomko (37)
Jarrod Washburn (35)
Todd Wellemeyer (31)
Kip Wells (33)
Randy Wolf (33) – Type A

Closers
Mike Gonzalez (32) – Type A
Kevin Gregg (32) – Type A
Fernando Rodney (33) – Type B
Rafael Soriano (30) – Type A
Jose Valverde (32) – Type A
Billy Wagner (38) – Type A

Right-handed relievers
Luis Ayala (32)
Danys Baez (32)
Joaquin Benoit (32)
Rafael Betancourt (35) – Type A
Chad Bradford (35)
Doug Brocail (43) – Type B
Kiko Calero (35) – Type B
Buddy Carlyle (32)
Chad Cordero (28)
Elmer Dessens (38)
R.A. Dickey (35)
Brendan Donnelly (38)
Octavio Dotel (36) – Type A
Kelvim Escobar (33)
Eric Gagne (34)
Geoff Geary (33)
Dan Giese (33)
Edgar Gonzalez (27)
Tom Gordon (42)
Jason Grilli (33)
LaTroy Hawkins (37) – Type A
Matt Herges (40)
Bob Howry (36) – Type B
Jason Isringhausen (37)
Jorge Julio (31)
Masahide Kobayashi (36)
Shane Loux (30)
Brandon Lyon (30) – Type B
Gary Majewski (30)
Guillermo Mota (36) – Type B
Joe Nelson (35)
Chan Ho Park (37) – Type B
Tomo Ohka (34)
Tony Pena Jr. (29)
Joel Peralta (34)
Troy Percival (40)
J.J. Putz (33)
Juan Rincon (31)
Takashi Saito (40)
Duaner Sanchez (30)
Rudy Seanez (41)
Justin Speier (36)
Russ Springer (41) – Type B
Julian Tavarez (37)
Brad Thompson (28)
Luis Vizcaino (35)
Tyler Walker (34)
David Weathers (40) – Type B
Jeff Weaver (33)
Jamey Wright (35)
Yasuhiko Yabuta (37)
Tyler Yates (32)

Left-handed relievers
Joe Beimel (32) – Type B
Bruce Chen (33)
Alan Embree (40)
Scott Eyre (38) – Type B
Casey Fossum (32)
Mike Gosling (29)
John Grabow (31) – Type A
Eddie Guardado (39)
Mark Hendrickson (36)
Ron Mahay (39)
Will Ohman (31) – Type B
Darren Oliver (39) – Type A
Horacio Ramirez (30)
Glendon Rusch (35)
Scott Schoeneweis (36)
Brian Shouse (41) – Type B
Ken Takahashi (41)
Jack Taschner (32)
Ron Villone (40)
Jamie Walker (38)

 

 

Ed Wade checks in from GM Meetings

Astros general manager Ed Wade and several members of the front office spent a full day attending meetings Tuesday during the abbreviated General Mangers’ Meetings in Chicago, which began Monday and will end Wednesday.

Wade said he is still in the exploratory process of putting the 2010 club together and has had initial conversations with other club about their wants and needs. Activity at the GM Meetings will set the stage for the Winter Meetings next month in Indianapolis.

“We’ve had meetings all day today and also had the opportunity to sit and talk to other clubs, just trying to assess each other’s needs and whether there will be future discussions to be had down the road with regard to trades,” Wade said. “It’s been pretty much routine at this point.”

Wade said he has a “pretty good idea” at what level the payroll will be set next year, but he hasn’t had a chance to firm things up because of his hectic schedule since the end of the regular season, a schedule that has included a lengthy managerial search.

“We’ll have some more internal meetings when we’re all in the same city at the same time,” Wade said. “With the manager search, the trip to the [Arizona] Fall League and this trip, we’ve had little chance to sit down and have those discussions. We have a pretty fair idea at this point in time and we’ll bring it into greater clarity in the next week or so.”

When asked if the Astros were in position to add an impact player in the offseason, Wade wouldn’t give specifics. But I think it’s safe to say not to expect the Astros to make a run at a high-dollar pitcher like John Lackey.

“The definition of impact player, I struggle with that,” Wade said. “We’re going to do what we can to try to improve the ballclub. Without playing labels or trying to fit guys into categories, I think if there’s an opportunity to do something from a standpoint of free agency or trade, we’ll try to make the best decisions.”

Pick a catcher, any catcher

The Astros shut Jason Castro down on Sunday after a long 2009 season. Castro remains on target to help the Astros at some point next year, but it’s likely the Astros will have to sign a veteran catcher to help bridge the gap. Kind of like last year when they signed Toby Hall, who was injured, and then signed Ivan Rodriguez later in the spring.

My colleague who covers the Rangers, T.R. Sullivan, has compiled a nice list of available free agents with some comments. Here are the catchers who could be out there. Maybe one of these guys will be wearing an Astros uniform in March? (excuse if some of these guys have already had options picked up/declined)

Catchers
Bengie Molina – He is 35 but top catcher on the market.
Miguel Olivo – Royals have option on him but may look elsewhere
Yorvit Torrealba – Rockies hold an expensive option.
Ramon Hernandez – Watch to see if Reds decline option. Could be re-sign at lower price.
Brad Ausmus – He is 40. But did hit .295.
Ivan Rodriguez – He wants a two-year deal. Rangers unlikely to go that route.
Jason Kendall – He’s 35, wants to return to the Brewers.
Rod Barajas – The Jays will make an attempt to re-sign him.
Jose Molina – Probably stays with the Yankees as a caddy for Posada.
Gregg Zaun – Rays hold option on veteran part-time switch-hitter.
Brian Schnieder – Apparently won’t be back with Mets.
Paul Bako – Strictly a mediocre backup.
Jason LaRue – Ditto
Chad Moeller – Ditto, might return to Orioles
Ramon Castro – Backup catcher. White Sox don’t want him.
Henry Blanco – Nice backup catcher but is 38.
Mike Redmond – 38 and Twins career likely over

 

Dissecting the Astros and arbitration/free agency

The free agent filing period began Thursday, with outfielder/infielder Darin Erstad, outfielder Jason Michaels and pitcher Mike Hampton filing for free agency. Shortstop Miguel Tejada, closer Jose Valverde and reliever LaTroy Hawkins are expected to file in the coming days.

The Astros have a 15-day exclusive negotiating window with their own free agents and are hoping to get something done soon with Hawkins. Tejada and Valverde will certainly test the free agency waters.

Tejada, Valverde and Hawkins have been classified by the Elias Sports Bureau as Type A free agents, which means simply they are among the best in baseball at their positions. It also means the Astros could receive an additional first-round draft pick next year if they offer them arbitration and they wind up signing with another team.

Of course, offering arbitration is tricky. Tejada made roughly $15 million last season, so if they offer him arbitration and he accepts, he could wind up making a ton of money after leading the team in hits and driving in 86 runs. But if they don’t offer Tejada arbitration and he signs elsewhere, they get nothing.

The same is true with Valverde, who made $8 million last year and is likely headed for a raise. If the Astros offered arbitration to both Valverde and Tejada and they both accept, they could make a combined $25 million next year. That would put a choke hold on the payroll. Houston already owes Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee and Kaz Matsui a combined $54.5 million next year, and several players are due for large raises in arbitration.

“We have to keep our eye on both balls,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said. “We have to pay attention to the short term, and if there’s a free agent out there we feel we can’t walk past and is costs us a draft pick then we have to deal with that. At the same time, there’s nothing more valuable to the overall long-term picture than draft picks.

“Whether it’s sacrificing draft picks or picking up additional draft picks by offering salary arbitration and run the risk of having the player accept, we have to evaluate the different variables involved. When it comes down to it, if there’s a Major League free agent we think we can’t live without and we have a chance to sign them and them are faced with losing a second-round pick in the process.”

Elias ranks all Major League players numerically based on their stats from the last two years. The players are grouped by five positions by league – first base/outfield, catcher, second base-shortstop-third base, starting pitching and relief pitching. The top 20 percent at each position are considered Type A free agents, and the next 20 percent are Type B.

Teams that lose a Type A free agent receive the first-round draft pick from next year’s First-Year Player Draft from the signing team (provided it’s not in the Top 15) in addition to a supplemental pick between the first and second round. Teams losing a Type B free agent receive a supplemental pick, with the signing team keeping its draft choice.

The good news for the Astros is their pick in next June’s First-Player Draft is in the first half of first round (No. 8), so they will keep their first-round pick even if they sign a Type A free agent. They would give up their second-round pick instead of their first-round pick in that case.

Teams have until Dec. 1 to offer salary arbitration to their own free agents, and the players have until Dec. 7 to decide if they’re going to accept.

In case you’re wondering, Randy Wolf is a Type A free agent.

Players can file for free agency today

Beginning today, players eligible for free agency can start filing. For the Astros, that list includes Darin Erstad, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Michaels, Miguel Tejada and Jose Valverde, who has already said he’s going to test the free-agent waters. Aaron Boone and Mike Hampton are also eligible, but Boone could retire and Hampton’s career appears to be done.

Those eligible for free agency have 15 days to file and their former team has exclusive negotiating rights for that period. Players are free to talk to other teams, but they can’t talk about contract offers in terms of dollars without risking tampering.

The Astros could sign either of their own free agents, just as they did last week with Geoff Blum. They’re in talks with Hawkins and hope to re-sign him. Michaels could also return, but the big names are Tejada and Valverde. I see Valverde’s price being too high for the Astros, and I don’t envision Tejada returning. It all depends on what kind of market there is for Tejada and whether he wants to take a large pay cut and play third base.

Those looking at possible free agents for the Astros down the road? The Dodgers have declined the option of Jon Garland, who went a combined 11-13 with a 4.01 ERA between Arizona and the L.A. Dodgers. The Astros made a run at him a couple of years ago and could do so again.

 

Mills, Wade heading to Arizona Fall League

New Astros manager Brad Mills will head to the Arizona Fall League this week for a get-to-know-you-better-meeting with general manager Ed Wade and members of his coaching staff, including third-base coach Dave Clark and hitting coach Sean Berry.

“Ed was real good about allowing us to bring in the coaching staff and sit and talk and have some meetings and get to know each other as a group No. 1, and talk individually about things about the ballclub,” Mills said. “We’ll learn about the ballclub and learn about a lot of the players we have in the organization and watch the fall league games.”

Here’s an update on each of the Astros’ prospects are doing in the AFL while playing for the Peoria Saguaros (through Sunday):

RHP Evan Englebrook: The 6-foot-8 reliever has a 5.87 ERA in six games. In 7 2/3 innings, he’s allowed 11 hits and struck out eight batters. Englebrook split time between Triple-A Round Rock and Double-A Corpus Christi and was 3-1 with a 4.25 ERA this year.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett says: “He continues to improve. The one thing we like about him is his ability to throw down hill. He creates a good arm angle. He’s velocity has been up. He’s been sitting at 92 to 97 [mph], which is good. He’s a big, tall guy and his mechanics can get out of whack, but he’s showing more consistency and more velocity. He’s a late-bloomer.”

RHP Chia-Jen Lo: The Taiwan native was 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA in six games in relief before having to return to Taiwan to complete some paperwork. He pitched 10 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits, two walks and struck out 12 batters. Lo split this year between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi and was 1-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett says: “He did pretty well. Our reports were all good. He continues to throw the ball well and pitch well. He’s really focused on using his breaking ball a lot more and has made progress with it. It’s not where it needs to be, but he’s starting to show more confidence and the ability to throw it for strikes. If he continues that focus, hopefully he comes into camp ready to pick up where he left off.”

RHP Wilton Lopez: After appearing in eight games with the Astros near the end of the season, including two starts, Lopez has pitched in three games in Arizona (two starts) and is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA. He threw four innings in relief in his most recent outing Thursday and allowed no runs and one hit.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett says: “He’s starting to become a lot more consistent with his arm slot and his breaking ball is more consistent, and that’s due to a higher arm slot. That’s something we’ve worked on since we signed him. He continues to work hard and make adjustments. It’s just a matter of getting him some mound time.”

RHP Danny Meszaros: Coming off a solid split season between Class A Salem (0-0, 0.71 ERA) and Double-A Corpus Christi (3-3, 3.36 ERA), Meszaros has struggled in the desert. He’s pitched six games in relief and is 0-0 with a 9.53 ERA, allowing six hits and six runs in 5 2/3 innings. He’s also struck out eight.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett says: “We’re not necessarily working on anything in particular in terms of mecanics. We just are trying to get him to have better command more than anything else. He pitches late in games and needs to get his command of his fastball down more consistently and use his breaking ball the same way.”

C Jason Castro: Last year’s first-round pick and catcher of the future is hitting .171 with a .286 on-base percentage and .257 slugging percentage in 35 at-bats. He has six hits, including one home run, and was walked five times and struck out eight times. But remember, this has been a long year for Castro, who endured his first full season of pro ball and then played for the U.S. in an international tournament in September.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett says: “He’s doing fine. He’s not tearing it up numbers-wise by any means, but he continues to work well with pitchers. I got a reporter from David Bell, the manager, who said he’s receiving the ball well and could improvely slightly on fastballs down in teh zone. He has an excellent idea of calling a game and is throwing well and understands how to play the game the right way.”

2B Jose Vallejo: The infielder acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Ivan Rodriguez trade, Vallejo is hitting .135 with one RBI in 24 at-bats and six games. He has three hits, all singles, and has struck out six times.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett says: “He’s doing OK. He’s staying on the ball better and his defense has been solid. He has good range, soft hands and an accurate arm. He’s a second baseman, but has had to play a little third base because of the makeup of the roster. He’s very athletic and plays hard. He’s been pulling off the ball, but lately he’s been trying to stay on the ball and use the whole field.”

OF Jon Gaston: Gaston, whose AFL Twitter updates can be followed by clicking here, is hitting .244 (11-for-45) with a double, four triples, one home runs and 10 RBIs. He has 10 walks and 20 strikeouts for an on-base percentage of .393 and a slugging percentage of .511. He hit .278 with 31 doubles, 15 triples, 35 homers and 100 RBIs at Class A Lancaster this year.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett says: “He got off to a little bit of a slow start, and a lot of it is just timing. He had timing issues during the season and would get in longer slumps. He wouldn’t be aggressive and we kind of saw that when he first went out there. It took him some time to get his feet under him, but he has been swinging the bat better lately. He hit a grand slam a few games ago and that got him back on track. He’s hitting for power and takin ghis walks, but he still strikes out a little too much for us, and that’s something we have to address. He can play all three outfield position and is a gamer.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers