November 2011

Quirk leaving for the Cubs

Jamie Quirk, who has spent the last two seasons as Astros bullpen coach, is leaving the team to become bench coach for the Chicago Cubs under new manager Dale Sveum.

“It’s just a great opportunity,” Quirk said. “When Dale Sveum was interviewing, he asked me if I’d be interested if he gets any of the jobs and he got the Cubs. I talked with [Cubs general manager] Theo [Epstein] and passed that test and called [former Astros general manager] Ed [Wade] for permission and all that. I was excited.

“It’s the Cubbies. Who wouldn’t watch that job? They have a very famous tradition in baseball, and it will be nice to be part of turning it around.”

The appeal of the Cubs was one factor, but Quirk is eager for a chance to get back on the bench and stay more involved in the game. Most of the work he did during the season as bullpen coach was done in pre-game meetings, and he worked in the bullpen during games.

“Pretty much, once the game started I was out of it,” Quirk said. “I was looking forward to the opportunity to get back in the dugout and having more one-on-one with the manager and feeling like you’re actually helping rather than sitting back and watching. I’ve done it many years before, and I kind of missed it.” <p>

Astros manager Brad Mills has already put a list together of possible replacements for Quirk.

“I’m very happy for him to get this opportunity,” Mills said.

Quirk, 57, joined the Astros two years ago after working as a professional scout in 2009. Prior to that, he had served as bench coach for the Colorado Rockies for six years (2003-08) under then-manager Clint Hurdle. He began his Major League coaching career in 1994 as bullpen coach for the Royals and later served as bench coach.

Quirk played in the Major Leagues for 18 years, appearing in 984 games, including 525 at catcher. He compiled a .240 career average with 43 home runs and 247 RBIs while playing for eight teams, including 11 years with the Royals. He was on the Royals’ 1985 World Series championship team.

Friedman, Levine in Astros mix

The Astros have asked for permission to speak to Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman and Texas Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine about their GM vacancy, a source has confirmed for MLB.com.

Friedman, who has guided Tampa Bay to the playoffs three times in the last four years in the rugged American League East, is a Houston native who could be lured to return to his hometown and help the Astros return to respectability. Friedman is 35.

Levine, 40, is in his sixth season as the Rangers’ assistant GM, taking the position following the 2005 season. He assists GM Jon Daniels in player acquisitions, roster composition, contract negotiations, statistical and financial analyses and the day-to-day management of the baseball operations department.

Astros president and CEO George Postolos had no comment.

Houston owner Jim Crane, who took control of the club a week ago after purchasing it from long-time owner Drayton McLane, has spoke of his admiration about the way the two-time defending AL champion Rangers rose to prominence through scouting and player development. The Astros are trying to follow a similar blueprint.

Another Rangers executive, senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller, is also reportedly on the Astros’ radar as they try to fill a position left vacant when Ed Wade was dismissed following a club-record 106 losses in 2011.

 

New GM will come after Winter Meetings

The Astros won’t have a new general manager in place until after the Winter Meetings, which get underway Monday in Dallas.

Assistant general manager David Gottfried, who has assumed the role of general manager until a full-time replacement can be found, said Monday he was told by team president and CEO George Postolos he would remain as interim GM through at least the Winter Meetings.

“George indicated yesterday it would be through the Winter Meetings, and he didn’t indicate how far beyond and I didn’t ask,” Gottfried said.

The Astros are searching for a new GM after Ed Wade was dismissed following four-plus seasons on the job. New owner Jim Crane and Postolos will have plenty of opportunities to interview potential candidates at the Winter Meetings, when front-office executives from every team will be in attendance.

Postolos, who wasn’t available for comment Monday and hasn’t laid out a timetable for finding a GM, did contact manager Brad Mills to address rumors his job status was in question. Mills is under contract through 2012 with a club option for 2013 and no change is imminent.

“There was some speculation out there [Sunday] night and I think that was all premature and not accurate,” Gottfried said. “George reached out to Millsie personally to make him aware.”

Gottfried, who’s been with the club for 13 years, including five as assistant GM, said the club’s goal remains the same in the wake of the dismissal of Wade and long-time president of baseball operations Tal Smith.

“We’re just going to continue to load up the farm system as best we can,” he said. “Certainly, in all my conversations with George, he wants to get good and stay good for a long time and believes, like many people, the best way to do that is with a strong farm system.”

Wade told last week he wouldn’t return

Former Astros general manager Ed Wade told MLB.com on Monday that he was informed by owner Jim Crane and club president and CEO George Postolos last week that he would not be returning for another season in Houston.

The Astros began a major shake-up of their front office by announcing late Sunday president of baseball operations Tal Smith andWade were being dismissed. The moves come less than a week after a group led by Crane assumed control of the club from long-time owner Drayton McLane and only a week before baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, scheduled to begin next Monday in Dallas

Wade said he was informed in a meeting with Crane and Postolos on Wednesday morning he wasn’t going to be retained, and he left flew to his Philadelphia-area home later that night for a previously scheduled to trip to spend time with his family at Thanksgiving.

“There was really no discussion beyond that beyond timing of announcement,” Wade said. “I did have an opportunity to talk about some of our staff and the esteem I hold them and [manager Brad Mills]. It was a very brief conversation. We’ll move forward from here.”

Wade, who was hired Sept. 20, 2007 to replace Tim Purpura, inherited a team with a barren Minor League system and an owner who would trim payroll over the next few years prior to selling the club. The Astros contended in 2008, going 86-75 and finishing in third place, before slumping to 88 losses in 2009 and 86 in 2010. <p>

The team, which traded away franchise icons Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman in 2010 and up-and-coming players Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn in 2011, hit rock bottom last season en route to losing a club-record 106 games and having 20 rookies see playing time. <p>

Smith, Wade out in front office shake-up

The Astros began a major shake-up of their front office by announcing late Sunday president of baseball operations Tal Smith and general manager Ed Wade were being dismissed.

The moves come less than a week after a group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane assumed control of the club from long-time owner Drayton McLane and only a week before baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, scheduled to begin next Monday in Dallas.

Crane’s $610 million bid to buy the Astros was approved by Major League Baseball owners Nov. 17, and he told reporters shortly after being approved that significant changes were on the way.

Smith, who just completed his 54th season in baseball and 17th consecutive with the Astros, was a close confidant of McLane and has been a mainstay in the Houston baseball scene for decades. Wade had been on the job with the Astros for four-plus seasons.

In a statement released by the club, team president and CEO George Postolos said assistant general manager David Gottfried will serve as interim general manager, but is not a candidate for the permanent position.

“With the change in ownership, we would like a fresh start in baseball operations,” Postolos said. “We have told Ed Wade and Tal Smith that we are making a change. We recognize their dedication to the Houston Astros. We thank each of them for their significant contributions and many years of service to the Astros, and wish them our very best as they pursue new opportunities.

“The search for a new general manager begins immediately. We are searching for a candidate who has the knowledge, skills and experience to build a winner and a strong commitment to player development in order to sustain success. Our goal is to consistently compete for a championship, and we know the first step towards that goal is to develop one of the top farm systems in baseball. We will hire the best candidate available to achieve our goal.”

Astros news and notes

The recent departures of first baseman Brett Wallace and Triple-A manager Tony DeFrancesco from their assignments at Escogido of the Dominican Winter League came only a few days before both men were scheduled to return to the U.S.

Wallace, who was released Thursday, was supposed to leave the Dominican on Sunday, and DeFrancesco, who was managing Escogido, was due to return about the same time. It’s not surprising to see players or managers cut loose. Astros third base coach Dave Clark was let ago about a year ago while managing Licey in the Dominican, and former Houston infielder Tommy Manzella was released by Aguilas Cibaenas a year ago.

“Brett’s been struggling down there,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said. “It’s a very competitive environment down there. The organizations and fans have high expectations and it’s a short window in which you have to produce. It’s not uncommon for player changes to made and managerial changes to be made.”

Wallace hit .173 with two homers and nine RBIs in 52 at-bats.

Elsewhere, second baseman Jose Altuve entered Monday hitting .403/.437/.524 for Magallanes of the Venezuelan Winter League. He had 13 strikeouts in 124 at-bats. Outfielder Brian Bogusevic was hitting .291 with two homers and eight RBIs and a .384 on-base percentage for Aguilas of the Dominican Winter League.

For all of the Astros’ winter ball stats, click here.

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The Salt River Rafters, which was home to the Astros’ prospects in the Arizona Fall League, won the league title last weekend with a 9-3 win over the Surprise Saguaros in the AFL Championship Game on Saturday.

Astros catcher Jason Castro hit .289 with four RBIs and eight walks in 12 games (38 at-bats) for Salt River as he continues to his path to recovery after missing all of last season following knee surgery.  Outfielders Jay Austin (.311 batting average) and Jake Goebbert (.247) also competed in Arizona.

“I texted Jason after the game and congratulated him and told him to get some relaxation and told him to get ready for Spring Training,” Wade said.

Complete stats for the Rafters can be found by clicking here.

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Even though the Astros are headed to the American League, likely in 2013, Wade said the club hasn’t had any discussions about implementing the designated hitter more at the lower level of the Minor Leagues.

“We haven’t really talked about those types of adjustments,” he said. “Our focus still has to be roster composition for 2012. We’re clearly aware of the differences between the two leagues, but I don’t believe they’re as pronounced as some would make them out to be. We’ll prepare when the time comes.”

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Spring Training is only three months away. The Astros will hold their first workout for pitchers and catchers on Feb. 20 in Kissimmee, Fla., and the first full-squad workout will be Feb. 26.

Barmes tells MLB.com he’s agreed to terms with Pirates

Clint Barmes, who appeared in 123 games for the Astros last season, has agreed to terms on a two-year, $10.5-million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Barmes, who was in Pittsburgh on Monday for a physical, told MLB.com he chose the Pirates because they guaranteed him two years and he was able to reunite with manager Clint Hurdle, who was Barmes’ manager in Colorado when he broke into the Major Leagues. It also appealed to Barmes he could remain at shortstop.

“In talking with my agent and talking with the club, they were wanting to make a decision and they wanted to know by pretty much yesterday who their shortstop was going to be so they could continue to move on,” Barmes said. “It was one of those things they had a few others guys lined up behind me, and the way it was explained to me I was the first in line as far as who they wanted. They threw a great offer.”

Barmes, 32, played a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop last season for the Astros, who couldn’t afford to re-sign him during their rebuilding phase. Barmes missed the first couple of weeks of the season after breaking his hand in Spring Training and wound up hitting .244 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs.

“I definitely enjoyed my time in Houston,”  he said. “I know talking to [general manager] Ed Wade and the plans for the club and different things, I hate to say that I didn’t fit. But the direction they were heading made it hard. I enjoyed my time there, especially the people in the organization and my teammates and I think their heading in the right direction.”

Barmes said Milwaukee talked to him about a possible two-year deal, but the Brewers wanted to wait until the Prince Fielder situation played out before making any moves.

“We decided [Pittsburgh’s] offer was too good to pass up,” Barmes said.

The Astros could choose to find a shortstop through a trade or free agency or fill void the internally with Angel Sanchez or Jimmy Paredes, who could be moved from third base, though the club is reluctant to do that.

“We’ll have to explore different options to find a front-line shortstop or someone to share time with Sanchez,” Wade said.

Because Barmes is a Type-B free agent, the Astros will receive a compensation draft pick in next year’s First-Year Player Draft if he signs officially with the Pirates before Wednesday.

Astros set 40-man roster

The Astros finalized their 40-man roster Friday ahead of next month’s Rule 5 Draft by purchasing the contract of right-handed pitcher Paul Clemens, who was acquired by the Astros from the Braves in last summer’s Michael Bourn trade.

Friday was the deadline to set 40-man rosters prior to the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held Dec. 8 at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. By purchasing the contract of Clemens, the Astros’ 40-man roster stands at 38.

“At this stage, we want to have some flexibility to add a free agent or take a swipe at somebody in the Rule 5 Draft,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said.

The Rule 5 Draft was implemented to prevent teams from stockpiling too much young talent in the Minor Leagues. Players who are eligible to be taken are those who aren’t on the 40-man roster and were signed at 19 and have been in the organization for four years, or were signed at 18 and have been in the organization for five years.

The players selected by another club must remain on that team’s active roster for the entire following season or be offered back to their original club.

Among the players in Houston’s organization not on the 40-man roster who will be eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft are pitchers Danny Meszaros, Xavier Cedeno, Sergio Perez and Kyle Greenwalt, outfielders Brandon Barnes, Jon Gaston, Collin DeLome and T.J. Steele and infielder Kody Hinze.

“We talked to a lot of our people here about their feelings about candidates for protection, and I always try to hold it to the premise that any player taken in the Rule 5 Draft has to stay with the club for an entire season,” Wade said. “When you do that, it lends some clarity to your decision-making. It’s tough to carry a guy.”

For more on this story, check out the headlines at Astros.com

 

Who’s the DH of the future?

With the Astros headed to the American League West beginning in 2013, there’s going to be a different brand of baseball played at Minute Maid Park. There will be less bunts, fewer pitching changes and almost no double-switches. All of which is thanks to the presence of the designated hitter.

If you grew up a baseball fan in Houston, seeing the designated hitter at Minute Maid Park will take some time to embrace. Beginning in 2013, there will be no more watching pitchers trying to bunt and swing away aimlessly. No more acting shocked when the Gustavo Chacins of the world hit home runs (unless the Astros are playing Interleague Play in a National League park).

OK, now I’m confused.

The bottom line is the Astros are going to have to find a designated hitter. They have a pretty good candidate to be DH in Carlos Lee, but as luck would have it, his contract expires at the end of the 2012 season. The Astros aren’t likely to bring him back after paying him $100 million over six years.

The DH is usually associated with a guy like Frank Thomas or David Ortiz, burly sluggers who have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark and who aren’t the greatest defenders. But some of the best DH’s have been guys who can flat out hit, but not necessarily hit the long ball as proficiently as the Big Hurt. Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines, two of the best DH’s ever, never hit more than 40 homers in a season, and Baines never hit more than 30.

Could the future DH be Brett Wallace, who has yet to establish himself in the Majors? Wallace will need to find his power stroke first, but if he’s still in the organization in two years he’ll be in the mix.

The two players in the system who appear to have the most potential to be DH’s down the road are Jonathan Singleton and Telvin Nash, who is build like Ryan Howard.

Singleton, acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence deal, is one of the club’s top prospects and has emerging power. A left-handed hitter who plays first base, he hit a combined 13 homers last season between high Class A Clearwater and Lancaster. The kid is bursting with potential.

Nash, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound right-hander, looks more like your prototypical DH. He bashed 14 homers in only 268 at-bats last year at low Class A Lexington, missing two months after breaking a bone in his hand.

If Singleton is indeed the team’s first baseman of the future, Nash is destined for a DH role. Another slugger who push for DH time is Kody Hinze. He’s not a top prospect, but he’s shown some pretty good power and has been playing first base as well.

Could the Astros lose compensation for Barmes?

One of the biggest the decisions the Astros need to make this offseason is deciding whether to offer arbitration to free agent shortstop Clint Barmes, who’s a Type B free agent. The Astros are unlikely to re-sign Barmes, but if they offer him arbitration and he accepts, the team would be on the hook for about $5 million (he made $3.92 million last season).

That decision, however, could be pointless if a report in the New York Post is true. The newspaper, citing two officials briefed on collective bargaining talks, reported compensation for Type-B free agents will be eliminated this offseason. Presently, teams who offer arbitration to Type-B free agents and watch them sign with another team are given a sandwich pick between the first and second round in next year’s First-Year Player Draft.

If the elimination of compensation is part of the new Basic Agreement, the Astros would have no reason to offer arbitration to Barmes, who doesn’t appear to be in the team’s plans going forward because of his salary.

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