December 2010

Lindstrom reacts to trade to Rockies

Matt Lindstrom was shoveling ice and snow from his mother’s driveway Thursday morning in Rexburg, Idaho, when he phone started going crazy. He soon found out he had been traded for the second consecutive offseason, but the news wasn’t all necessarily bad.

Lindstrom, who makes his offseason home in the Denver area, had been traded to the Colorado Rockies, who sent Minor League left-handed pitcher Wes Musick and right-handed pitcher Jonnathan Aristil to the Astros. “It’s pretty exciting,” Lindstrom told MLB.com on Thursday. “It’s a little bit bittersweet because I enjoyed my time in Houston so much and all my teammates and everyone was really good to me down there. I’m going to miss even [the media]. At times I wasn’t as good as I thought I was, but [the media] wasn’t too hard on me. I’m really excited to get going to Colorado and help them out and provide late-inning relief, especially because that’s where I spend my offseason.”

Lindstrom said he had talked to both Astros general manager Ed Wade and Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd on Thursday.

“[O'Dowd] clued me in on what they’re going to have me do and that’s provide late-inning relief,” he said. “Whatever the innings may be, there’s a lot of good guys over there already and hopefully I can contribute.”

Lindstrom, whom the Astros acquired a year ago in a trade with the Marlins, went 2-5 with a 4.39 ERA and a team-high 23 saves in 58 appearances. Lindstrom lost his closer’s job when he struggled in the second half of the year and wound up spending two weeks on the disabled list with a lower back strain.

“There were things I learned through my journey last year,” Lindstrom said. “I’m just going to take care of myself and be healthy all year and I know if I can do those things, good things will happen.”

When asked how he feels now, Lindstrom said: “Feel awesome.”

Lindstrom made $1.625 million last season and was due a raise in arbitration, which made him a candidate to be traded by the budget-minded Astros. Houston has feels good about its bullpen depth, with Brandon Lyon saving 20 games last season and Wilton Lopez developing into a dependable late-inning arm.

The Astros have also shopped infielder Jeff Keppinger, who started at second base for most of last season but has been pushed back to the bench by the signing of Bill Hall earlier this week. Houston traded with the Rockies in November to acquire shortstop Clint Barmes. Keppinger is still dealing with foot issues.

With the acquisitions of pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, Barmes and Hall and trading away Lindstrom, the Astros are pretty much done this offseason, unless they can find a taker for Keppinger. They are also still in the market for a left-handed reliever.

In the last sixh months, the Astros traded away Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Pedro Feliz and Lindstrom and got eight prospects in return, plus they took two more in the Rule 5 Draft. That’s 10 young players injected into the system.

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I am on vacation all of next week — like I was this week, with the exception of helping my colleagues here and there on all the Astros news that happened — and I want to wish everyone who reads this blog a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Spring Training is around the corner!

Addition of Hall makes Astros better

The Astros have gotten better this offseason with the additions of Clint Barmes and Bill Hall, whose signing has yet to be made official. But the Astros have a one-year agreement in place with Hall, who will likely play second base with Barmes starting at shortstop.

Of course, the rest of the National League Central appears to have gotten significantly better, too. The Brewers are close to completing a trade for Zach Greinke and adding him to a rotation that has already been bolstered by the addition of Shaun Marcum, a 13-game winner last season. The Pirates have been extremely active adding players, and the Reds and Cardinals are going to be in the mix once again.

Back to the Astros. With the moves to acquire Barmes and Hall, the Astros have completed their top offseason task, which was to add some run production to the middle of the infield. The Astros got a combined nine homers last season from the second base and shortstop positions, and Barmes and Hall could wind up hitting 20 apiece if things go right.

Suddenly, the lineup seems more legitimate. Michael Bourn isn’t a great leadoff hitter, but he has terrific tools and can take over games with his speed. Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence could drive in 100 runs apiece, and Chris Johnson will be trying to duplicate his rookie success. Then there’s Jason Castro and Brett Wallace, the young left-handed hitters the Astros need to take big strides at the plate this year.

Hall likely pushes Jeff Keppinger out the door. The Astros have been shopping him despite his strong 2010 season. Keppinger hit .288 with six homers and 59 RBIs and led the team with 34 doubles. His on-base percentage of .351 is much better than Hall’s .316 in 2010, but Hall slugged .456 to Keppinger’s .393 and had a higher OPS. And right now what the Astros need in their lineup is some punch, and Hall can provide it. Basically, the Astros are sacrificing some on-base percentage for some pop.

Hall hit 18 homers last season in 344 at-bats with Boston, which is a homer every 19.1 at-bats. If Hall gets, say, 550 at-bats, he would hit 28 homers at that pace. Barmes should feast on left field at Minute Maid Park and could hit at least 20 homers, giving the Astros the punch they sorely missed last year when they were last in the NL with only 108 homers. Alas, Hall is a career .219 hitter in 164 at-bats at Minute Maid Park.

So with Hall and Barmes on board, here’s how the lineup could shake out:

CF Michael Bourn – Has tremendous speed, but needs to get on base at a better clip.

SS Clint Barmes — Hall could hit here as well, but Barmes has more plate appearances here than any other spot.

RF Hunter Pence — Became entrenched in No. 3 hole after Berkman was traded.

LF Carlos Lee — Still has the ability to drive in 100 runs in the order.

3B Chris Johnson — The fifth spot in the order was a revolving door last year, with Johnson getting most of the at-bats late in the year.

1B Brett Wallace – Astros are waiting on his power to show itself at Major League level.

2B Bill Hall — Astros had only 10 homers from the seventh spot last year.

C Jason Castro – Maybe the Astros rushed him a bit, but they had to find out if he could play. This season should be telling. 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Astros to sign Bill Hall

The Astros on Friday reached a contract agreement with free agent Bill Hall, a Major League source confirmed for MLB.com. Hall drove in 18 home runs and drove in 46 runs for the Boston Red Sox last season and would likely play second base.

Astros general manager Ed Wade had no comment.

Wade had several conversations with the agent for Hall during the Winter Meetings last week, and his addition completes Wade’s desire to upgrade the middle of the infield offensively. The Astros traded for Clint Barmes last month to play shortstop, and the addition of Hall certainly gives the middle of the infield the pop it lacked last year.

The move means Jeff Keppinger could be traded.

Hall, 30, is a career .250 hitter with 122 homers and 425 RBIs since he broke in with Milwaukee in 2002. He can play pretty much anywhere in the infield and can even handle some limited outfield duties, but he has extensive experience at second.

Updated Spring Training roster for Astros

Spring Training begins in two months, and here’s the Astros’ roster for Kissimmee, Fla., as of Dec. 15, 2010. The Spring Training roster currently stands at 50 players, 39 of which are on the 40-man roster. Players not on the 40-man roster are designated with an asterisk.

PITCHERS (28)

LHP Fernando Abad

*LHP Douglas Arguello

RHP Alberto Arias

RHP David Carpenter

RHP Cesar Carrillo

RHP Jorge DeLeon

RHP Enerio Del Rosario

*RHP Casey Fien

RHP Nelson Figueroa

RHP Jeff Fulchino

*RHP Sammy Gervacio

LHP J.A. Happ

RHP Arcenio Leon

RHP Matt Lindstrom

RHP Wilton Lopez

RHP Brandon Lyon

RHP Mark Melancon

RHP Brett Myers

RHP Bud Norris

RHP Lance Pendleton

RHP Aneury Rodriguez

*RHP Fernando Rodriguez Jr.

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith

*RHP Jose Valdez

RHP Henry Villar

*RHP Ross Wolf

LHP Wesley Wright

CATCHERS (5)

Jason Castro (L)

*Carlos Corporan (S)

*Brian Esposito

Humberto Quintero

J.R. Towles

INFIELDERS (11)

Clint Barmes

*Brian Dopirak

Matt Downs

*Anderson Hernandez (S)

Chris Johnson

Jeff Keppinger

Tommy Manzella

*Oswaldo Navarro

Jimmy Paredes (S)

Angel Sanchez

Brett Wallace (L)

OUTFIELDERS (6)

Brian Bogusevic (L)

Jason Bourgeois

Michael Bourn (L)

Carlos Lee

Jason Michaels

Hunter Pence

 

Wallace is going to get a chance

Astros general manager Ed Wade admitted Wednesday the Astros are at this point unlikely to add a left-fielder to either start or split time with Jason Michaels if Carlos Lee winds up at first base. Wade said adding such a player would probably shut the door on Brett Wallace beginning the season at first, and the team isn’t ready to make that determination.

“The more we’ve talked about the composition of our club, we would love to see Brett Wallace be our first baseman,” he said. “If we go out and sign a left field of some magnitude with an expectation that he’s going to play in a platoon situation or regularly, we’re almost putting ourselves in a position of Carlos having to be the first baseman and that pushes Wallace off the page.

“I don’t want to create an environment where Brett’s opportunities disappear simply because of us acquiring someone else. If we get into Spring Training and Brett is struggling and we think moving Carlos [from left field] to first base makes sense at the time, we’re going to be evaluating [Brian] Bogusevic and others.”

Wade did admit the club had interest in Jack Cust, who signed with Seattle, but he was concerned about his defense.

 

Astros update from Winter Meetings

With Day 3 of the Winter Meetings getting underway Wednesday, here are few interesting Astros items:

This is what we know on Wednesday morning: the Astros clearly are ready to improve their second base situation, which is why they’ve made contact with Bill Hall. The scuttlebutt is manager Brad Mills is a fan of Hall and would like to add him to the mix next year. The Astros like Jeff Keppinger, but see him more of a utility-type player.

If the Astros add a player like Hall to a lineup that already includes newcomer Clint Barmes, the Astros are suddenly more interesting. They already have enough pitching to compete in the NL Central next year if things fall into place, but adding a pair of bats to the lineup – even if they’re not Pete Rose or Manny Ramirez – will be significant.

But general manager Ed Wade said adding one or two players is not going to be key for next year, and he’s right. The key pieces that are already in place, specifically Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, will have to perform from wire to wire.

“For us to move to the next level, it’s not going to be the addition of one guy at a position,” Wade said. “It gets repetitive, but it’s got to be Lee. If Carlos and Hunter get off to the type of start they’re capable of getting off to and [Chris] Johnson continues to do what he did last year, you’ve got three guys in the lineup right here all capable of hitting 25 or more home runs in knocking in a bunch of runs.

“It’s not like we’re in a position where we have to look at ourselves as necessarily a small-ball club. But we have to be more consistent from the standpoint of performance over the next six months, more consistent game-to-game, inning-to-inning. We have to be more selective at the plate and get more guys on base.

“Adding one particular player could help because that does have a domino effect on the lineup, but at the same time everybody needs to hit their mark. It can’t be, ‘We’ll ride this guy, we’ll ride that guy.’ It has to be collective.”

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Here’s what Wade said about the pursuit of a second baseman: “Even at second base, Kepp did a good job for us last year and we knew [Angel] Sanchez can go over and play second and Millsie likes Anderson Hernandez and we re-signed him. We have alternatives. If you look at our club, we’re committed to [Jason] Castro behind the plate. The first base situation will resolve in some fashion, hopefully with [Brett] Wallace being the guy.

“At shortstop, [Clint] Barmes is our guy. C.J. is our guy [at third]. If Carlos is in left, Carlos is our guy. And [Michael] Bourn and Pence [are established]. We started talking about where do you upgrade this thing? We have to look at a couple of the infield positions and say, ‘Is there something that incrementally gives us better run production and gives us that need? That’s sort of what we’re doing right now.”

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Wade expects his team to try to make a pick in the Rule 5 Draft, which is Thursday morning in the final event of the Winter Meetings. Houston’s 40-man roster stands at 36, so there’s room to add a player.

“We’ve gone through some preliminary discussions on the Rule 5 and we’ll have more substantive conversations,” Wade said. “There’s a possibility we could take somebody in the Rule 5 Draft. Unless things change, we’re at 36 and we should have room to make a pick if the right player or players is available.”

During the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, players left unprotected may be selected for $50,000. The selection rules provide that a player must remain on the drafting team’s active Major League roster during the following season or be offered back to the original club at half the original price. The Astros pick ninth this year.

Internally, team officials aren’t too concerned about losing any players in the Draft.

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Wade told MLB.com last month the team was going to consider putting left-hander Fernando Abad and right-hander Henry Villar in the starting rotation. Villar’s stock has risen so much that he’s considered one of the club’s top three prospects.

Jordan Lyles, another one of the team’s top prospects, is likely to come to Spring Training to compete for the fifth starter job, perhaps along with Villar and Abad. Nelson Figueroa was signed to a $900,000 contract and will be in the mix for that spot.

“I’m always willing to listen and can be persuaded, but philosophically I’m of the mind that if a guy’s got a chance to be a good starting pitcher, you exhaust that opportunity before you decide to make him a bullpen guy,” Wade said. “I’d like to run the string out with the guys we have until we know they can’t. With the way we set up right now, Abad, if healthy, and he’s healthy right now – I always says that with pitchers – that’s a pretty significant left-handed arm in our bullpen. But if he can win 11 games in our starting rotation, we’ll figure out the left-handed, right-handed stuff to deal with.”

The Astros are still on the hunt for a low-cost starting pitcher, and despite recent reports don’t have “quiet interest” in not-very-low-cost Cliff Lee. That’s just not going to happen.

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Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith has been to nearly every Winter Meetings for the past 54 years and has seen incredible changes in the event. Smith missed a Winter Meetings in the early  1960s when he was involved in the building of the Astros.

“I can’t think of any others that I may have missed,” he said.

The biggest change Smith has seen has been a lack of personal touch. General managers aren’t on the floor of the lobby as much as they used to be. Many GMs now stay in their suites and send members of their staff out to poke around about potential deals.

And technology has changed things as well.

“So much is done by cell phone or email or text message, and a lot of the personal contact has been lost,” Smith said.

 

Astros show interest in Bill Hall

The Astros had a couple of conversations Tuesday with the agent for free agent Bill Hall, a versatile player who hit 18 homers and drove in 46 runs for the Boston Red Sox last season. Hall has extensive experience at second base, which is an area the Astros are trying to upgrade.

“We’ve had a couple of conversations, but it was nothing very substantial,” said Terry Bross, the agent for Hall.

Astros general manager Ed Wade told reporters during a media briefing Tuesday afternoon the club is looking at options at second base. Jeff Keppinger won the starting job last season and led to the release of Kaz Matsui, but the club envisions second as a place where it can get better offensive production.

Hall, 30, is a career .250 hitter with 122 homers and 425 RBIs since he broke in with Milwaukee in 2002. He can play pretty much anywhere in the infield and can even handle some limited outfield duties, but he has extensive experience at second.

The Astros have already signed Clint Barmes to add some punch to the offense at shortstop, and Wade said second base is the one area on the field they could still upgrade.

Astros Winter Meetings notes

One thing the Astros aren’t going to be willing to do is trade away any of their top prospects. That’s not surprising considering how much of a commitment the club has made in the last three years to try to replenish its farm system through the draft and player development.

“Generally speaking, we’re going to be very, very reluctant to talk about the young players in our system,” general manager Ed Wade said. “We’ve spent a lot of years now waiting for a group of some substance to show up, and they just don’t show up. It’s a lot of hard work on the part of the scouts and the development guys, and we’re beginning to get there at this point.

“You can’t shortcut the process. We need to be patient with those guys, and being patient with them we have to be reluctant to move them because it doesn’t take a lot of moves to have it turn our poorly.”

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The longer the Winter Meetings drag on, the less convinced I am the Astros will make any deals. Sure, that’s an easy assessment to make, but based on conversations with some in the organization, I feel there’s a decent chance Brian Bogusevic will be the club’s left fielder in a platoon situation with Jason Michaels in the event Carlos Lee is at first base.

“I think we could go to war with the players we have right now and not have to make any adjustments on our payroll, but at the same time it makes sense for us to be open-minded with regard to the structure of our club now because we may be able to free up additional payroll to do something that makes us better,” Wade said.

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Pat Gillick, the former general manager of the Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners and Phillies, gave some credit to Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith upon learning Monday he was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“He was the biggest influence on me,” Gillick said.

Smith and Gillick go back to their days with the Colt .45′s, when Paul Richards and Eddie Robinson brought Gillick to Houston. Smith was in charge of scouting and player development, and Gillick worked for him as a regional scouting director. Gillick followed Smith to he Yankees and two years later joined the Blue Jays.

The two men are so close they’ve often vacationed together in locations as such Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.

“He’s a very dear friend and we’ve stayed in touch in all his career moves,” Smith said. “He’s a superb guy. It’s a great honor and very deserving. Pat has done a lot of things. He’s been successful with the club he’s put together and had a great reliance on scouting, probably more so than anybody else in the game.

“The thing that separates him is the way he treats and deals with people. He makes everybody feel pretty good and that really inspires them. He works very hard himself and he expects other people to do so. He treats them well and creates a so-called baseball family. I think the results speak for themselves.”

Smith plans to be in Cooperstown, N.Y., when Gillick is inducted next year. That will mark only the third Hall of Fame induction ceremony Smith has attended. The others are Nolan Ryan and former Astros broadcaster Gene Elston.

If you remember, when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Gillick immediately credited Wade for helping put that club together.

 

Astros make tender decisions

Right-hander Sammy Gervacio, who missed most of last season with right rotator cuff inflammation, was the only unsigned player on the 40-man roster the Astros chose not to tender a contract to prior to Thursday’s deadline to do so.

The move reduces Houston’s 40-man roster to 36 and makes Gervacio a free agent and able to sign with any team, but general manager Ed Wade said the club will attempt to re-sign him at some point. The shoulder ailments limited the side-armed Gervacio to just 13 combined relief appearances last season between Triple-A Round Rock and the Astros.

“It’s really a move of economics more than anything because of the uncertainty of his status going into Spring Training,” Wade said. “Had he been injured coming into Spring Training and unable to perform, we would have had to carry him on the Major League disabled list.

“While we’re protecting ourselves with respect to the tender, we still want Sammy to be part of our picture going forward.”

Gervacio, who went 1-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 29 games in his Major League debut in 2009, is still dealing with shoulder discomfort despite not pitching in a game since May 3. He made $403,000 last season, which is slightly above the league minimum.

“We’re going to have to be cautious how we bring him along,” Wade said.

Wade said the club never entertained the possibility of non-tendering pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Matt Lindstrom, infielders Clint Barmes and Jeff Keppinger and outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence, all of whom are arbitration eligible and figure to play a key role in 2011.

“All of those players have value and will be counted on in some fashion going forward,” Wade said.

Keppinger ($1.15 million salary in 2010), Bourn ($2.4 million), Pence ($3.5 million) and Lindstrom ($1.625 million) are in their second year of arbitration eligibility and Rodriguez ($5 million) and Barmes ($3.25 million) are in their third and final year.

Earlier this week, the Astros agreed to terms on one-year contracts with right-handed pitcher Nelson Figueroa ($900,000) and catcher Humberto Quintero ($1 million), thus avoiding arbitration with both players. Right-handed pitchers Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers and outfielders Carlos Lee and Jason Michaels are also all signed through 2011 or beyond.

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