December 2009

Have the Astros gotten better?

With most of their major offseason shopping done, the Astros will be limited to adding a few non-roster players between now and the start in Spring Training in two months. In a whirlwind few days at the Winter Meetings earlier this month, the Astros said goodbye to Jose Valverde, LaTroy Hawkins and Miguel Tejada and hello to Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon and Pedro Feliz.

There’s no doubt the Astros got a little bit younger, but did they get better? Valverde and Hawkins at the back end of the bullpen are certainly a better option and more proven than Lindstrom and Lyon. Tejada, even though he’s declining in his mid-30s, would have been a better option at third base than Feliz.

When you consider the economics, the Astros had to move in another direction. Valverde, Hawkins and Tejada made a combined $26 million last season. Owner Drayton McLane wants to cut the payroll to about $95 million from last season’s $107 million, and getting rid of Tejada and Valverde pretty much accomplished that. They would have loved to have Hawkins back, but Milwaukee swooped in and signed him.

Lindstrom is still arbitration eligible and comes at a relative bargain considering his age and his stuff, but Lyon is getting paid $5 million per season. Many around baseball believe the Astros overpaid for Lyon, but it’s not like they gave Carlos Lee a six-year, $100 million deal. Spending a little extra money for a proven pitcher doesn’t make the Astros dumb.

Of course, no matter how good these new additions are, it’s all going to come down to starting pitching. And the Astros are going to need some of their young arms to step up next year — Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino, Wesley Wright or Wilton Lopez. If at least one of these guys doesn’t plug one of the gaps in the rotation, it won’t matter what Lindstrom and Lyon are able to provide.

Astros will check out Cuban phenom Chapman

The Astros, along with a handful of other teams, will have a contingent checking out Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman when he throws for scouts Tuesday at an undisclosed location in Houston. Chapman, the hard-throwing pitcher who has hit 102 mph, defected when the Cuban national team was in the Netherlands in July and is trying to land a Major League contract.

Chapman, who is represented by Houston agents Randy and Alan Hendricks, could land a lucrative multi-million dollar contract. Scouts have seen him up close at the World Baseball Classic, so it’s hard to know how far Tuesday’s workout will go in determining his fate.

With the Red Sox and Yankees among the teams who have their interest piqued by Chapman, the Astros aren’t exacly in the financial position to be a suitor for the 22-year-old phenom. But the fact the event is in Houston was enough for general manager Ed Wade, assistant general manager Bobby Heck and national cross-checker David Post to take a look.

“Obviously, it’s a high-profile guy who’s got a chance to have a huge upside, so it behooves us to be a partipiant in the opening moments and see where it goes from there,” Wade said.

By the way, the Astros recently went deep into their international signing budget to sign Dominican Republic 17-year-old lefthander Edgar Ferreira.




Predicting the Opening Day roster

There are still more than two months to the start of Spring Training, so this may be a mistake. But in the wake of the Astros acquiring three players at the Winter Meetings this week, I can’t help but look at what the Opening Day roster might look like. Sure, there are probably a few more players on the way and injuries could happen but what the heck. Let’s have some fun.


J.R. Towles

Humberto Quintero


Lance Berkman

Kaz Matsui

Tommy Manzella

Pedro Feliz

Geoff Blum

Jeff Keppinger


Carlos Lee

Michael Bourn

Hunter Pence

Jason Bourgeois

Jason Michaels (I’m predicting they re-sign him)


Roy Oswalt

Wandy Rodriguez (L)

Bud Norris

Felipe Paulino/Yorman Bazardo/Wesley Wright (L)

Brian Moehler


Matt Lindstrom

Brandon Lyon

Jeff Fulchino

Alberto Arias

Tim Byrdak (L)

Chris Sampson

Sammy Gervacio


Ed Wade gives late morning update

Astros general manager Ed Wade emerged from his suite Wednesday morning to do a radio interview, and I was able to grab him for a few minutes. Wade never discusses trades except in general terms, but the Astros have been rumored to a few different players, including Rafael Soriano of the Braves. Soriano accepted arbitration, and now the Braves need to move him.

Houston is still pursuing LaTroy Hawkins, who’s in Indianapolis. Hawkins met with the Brewers early Wednesday, but Wade was still hopeful he’d return to Houston.

Here’s what Wade had to say on a few topics.

Q: What is new on the trade front?

A: “We’ve got offers out on the table and a couple of other meetings scheduled for the next couple of hours but until somebody says yes, nothing is done. We’ve had one meeting with an agent and have had internal discussion on a trade possibility that we’re trying to do our homework to see if it’s something we want to pursue to see if it’s viable or not.”

Q: Do you have enough chips in the Minors to get a deal done?

A: “It’s in the eye of the beholder. Somebody’s got to evaluate our system and I think if there are pieces that make sense. We had in inquiry from one club where I do think we have the pieces to make it work, names that they came up that we responded, too. We have to be aggressive, but we also have to be somewhat protective of the depth if we can.”

Q: What is latest on LaTroy Hawkins situation?

A: “David [Gottfried] talked to Larry Reynolds [Hawkins’ agent] last night and we don’t know where it’s headed. We’re hoping it heads in our direction.”

Q:  Are you hopeful a deal can be done soon?

A: “We have a couple of things out there. There are some bullpen solutions there, there are some offensive tweak solutions out there, whether any or all of them get to the finish line remains to be seen. I think we’ve been aggressive on the fronts we’re capable of being aggressive on. We’ve taken it to the point where our level of interest has clearly been stated and a lot of stuff one would think people would be compelled to get back in touch with us if they want to follow through on that.”

Tejada likely done with Astros

Astros general manager Ed Wade met Tuesday morning with Diego Bentz, the agent for free-agent infielder Miguel Tejada, and expressed doubt his club would be able to sign the former American League Most Valuable Player.

“I’m not optimistic we’re going to be able to get anything done on Miggy,” Wade said. “We love him death and everything he’s brought to the organization, but I don’t necessarily see a common ground.”

Wade said the sticking point is length of terms of the contract. Tejada made about $14 million last season, but the Astros told him he’d had to have a large pay cut and play third base if he was going to return for a third season in Houston. That return now seems very unlikely.

Hawkins to meet with Astros

Free-agent pitcher LaTroy Hawkins was scheduled to arrive in town Tuesday afternoon to meet with the Astros, and perhaps other teams, with hopes of getting a deal done as soon as today.

Houston is searching for relief pitching after closer Jose Valverde informed the team late Monday he was declining arbitration. Hawkins worked his way into the Astros’ setup role last year and even spent time as closer when Valverde was injured.

Hawkins went 1-4 with a 2.13 ERA with 11 saves last season with the Astros at a base salary of $3.5 million. He wound up making close to $4 million including incentives, and the Astros have had a contract offer on the table for several weeks.

Valverde decision good news for Astros

The Astros and closer Jose Valverde are likely to part ways after the All-Star closer rejected the club’s offer of arbtration late Monday. That’s not to say the Astros won’t try to re-sign Valverde, but they view him as the most talented closer on the free-agent market, which means he’s going to come at a high price.

The best option for the Astros at this point will be to pursue a closer at a lower cost than Valverde — Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg or Fernando Rodney, anyone? — and still have some money to sign LaTroy Hawkins or another reliever. The Astros are also in the market for a third baseman to add some offensive punch and they need some bench help.

The Braves could be willing trade reliever Rafael Soriano, who accepted arbitration Monday.

If Valverde signs with another team, the Astros will get two draft picks, which is never a bad things. Houston could keep those picks or that use them to sign their own Type A free agent without having to worry about the cost of losing draft picks. The Astros might have tried to put a sad face on the Valverde decision, but it’s probably for the best when you consider the economics.

Astros waiting on Valverde

Astros general manager Ed Wade met with the Houston media contingent at the Winter Meetings at his hotel suite Monday and said how the club proceeds the rest of the week and the rest of the winter depends on closer Jose Valverde.

The Astros have offered Valverde arbitration, and he has until 10:59 p.m. CT to accept or decline. If he accepts, Valverde will be a signed player for one year at likely more than $10 million, which would make it more difficult for the Astros to do anything else roster wise. If he declines, Houston will gain draft picks and will have money to pursue another closer, as well as bench help and an eighth-inning arm.

Wade didn’t anticipate hearing about Valverde until later in the night. Valverde, 31, has saved 69 games in two seasons with the Astros, including 25 in 29 chances this year. He was 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in his 44 games since being activated from the disabled list in June.

Wade ranked the Astros’ needs in this order: closer, offense, eighth inning and bench. He said adding bench help could happen well down the road.

Meanwhile, Wade said he hasn’t had talks with the agent for infielder Miguel Tejada for two weeks. The last time Wade talked to agent Diego Bentz two weeks ago, he told him Tejada would fit into the Astros’ plans for 2010 at a reduced price and at third base.

“I don’t know where we stand in that regard,” he said.



Winter Meetings may be quiet for Astros

Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith, general manager Ed Wade, assistant general managers Ricky Bennett, David Gottfried and Bobby Heck and the rest of the club’s front-office crew arrived in chilly Indianapolis late Sunday in advance of baseball’s Winter Meetings.

The Winter Meetings begin Monday and figure to bring some wheeling and dealing, but the Astros likely won’t be making much news. They don’t have a lot of money to spend and don’t have many tradable commodities, but you can’t rule out Wade from doing something.

The No. 1 piece of news figures to come Monday when the Astros find out if closer Jose Valverde accepted arbitration. If he did, he’s a signed player and will return for 2010 at probably around $10 million. If he rejects and signs with another team, the Astros get two draft picks.

Yes, the Astros need starting pitching like every team, but they aren’t in the market for big-name starting pitchers because the market is expensive. Wade wants to add some bench depth, beef up the back end of the bullpen and he will explore third base options.

Houston has already re-signed Geoff Blum to play third base and also can put Jeff Keppinger at third, but Wade would like to beef up the offense at third base if possible.

“We like the job Geoff Blum has done us the last two years or we wouldn’t have signed him,” Wade said. “Geoff did a tremendous job for us defensively and has done a pretty good job overall. We just look at our situation, and if there’s a way to tweak the offense a little bit, we’ll try to do something like that.

“Keppinger can play over there, and [Blum and Keppinger] did a good job for us. Both can play around in the infield and help us. Keppinger’s a very professional hitter and did a good job after he came over here. We’ve got Chris Johnson, and we still think he had a chance to be an outstanding big league player, whether that happens on Opening Day this year or down the road remains to be seen.”

The Astros’ starting outfield of Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence is set, and it appears Tommy Manzella could begin the season at shortstop. The right side of the infield has returning starters in Kaz Matsui (second base) and Lance Berkman (first base).

At catcher, Humberto Quintero, J.R. Towles and Jason Castro will compete for the two roster spots, barring some additional roster moves between now and February. There is a chance to the Astros could be in a low-cost free agent to be in the mix.

Wright, Bogusevic suffer minor injuries

Astros pitcher Wesley Wright and Minor League outfielder Brian Bogusevic both suffered minor injuries while playing winter ball this week.

Wright, who is being converted to a starter in the Dominican Winter League, took a line drive off his heel while pitching Thursday night and underwent X-rays. General manager Ed Wade said the club may bring the left-hander to Houston soon to be examined by team doctors.

“He was due to come back here at some point before Christmas, and we may accelerate that and get him back here and checked out,” he said.

Wright was 0-2 with a 3.58 ERA in seven starts for Este. In 32 2/3 innings, he’d allowed 27 hits, 16 runs (13 earned), 20 walks and struck out 38.

Bogusevic, a former first-round pick as a pitcher who has converted to outfield, was examined Friday in Houston by team medical director Dr. David Lintner after he injured his left knee landing awkwardly on first base during a game in Puerto Rico on Wednesday. Wade said the injury is not believed to be serious.

“We thought initially it was a meniscus injury,” he said. “We’re still waiting to find out more, but he’s not going back immediately.”

Bogusevic was hitting .245 with one double and three RBIs in 49 at-bats for Mayaguez.



Astros pitcher Chris Sampson is playing host to a free baseball clinic from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at his newly opened academy — LoneStar Baseball Academy, located at 204 YMCA Drive in Baytown.

Sampson has invited 50 kids from the Baytown YMCA to a free, private clinic. Children attending will be taught the fundamentals of pitching, hitting and fielding. LoneStar Baseball Academy, which opened Nov. 16, is owned and operated by sampson and former Milwaukee Brewers farmhand. For more information visit