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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.