October 2012

Downs designated for assignment

Infielder Matt Downs, who hit .202 with eight homers and 16 RBIs in 91 games for the Astros last year, has been designated for assignment, essentially ending his time in a Houston uniform. Downs, claimed off waivers from the Giants on August on 2010, had a terrific 2011 season, hitting .276 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in just 199 at-bats while playing all over the infield and even the outfield.

This is the time of year when teams clear space on their 40-man roster in advance of free agency and having to protect players prior to the Rule 5 Draft. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow couldn’t be reached for comment.

 

Cosart excited to play in Rising Stars Game

Jarred Cosart, the Astros’ top-ranked pitching prospect by MLB.com, has been selected to start in Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game, which will be televised on MLB Network. Cosart is 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA in four starts for the Mesa Solar Sox, but the results aren’t as important while he works on command of a third pitch.

The seventh annual contest will be televised at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Cosart, representing the Solar Sox and East Division team, will square off against Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson of the Peoria Javelinas and West Division club.

Cosart’s normal turn in the rotation would have been Thursday, but he’ll throw in the bullpen instead to get prepared for Saturday’s game.

“I’m really excited to play in that,” he said. “I got to watch it last year and a lot of the guys that played like [Mike] Trout and [Bryce] Harper, guys that made an immediate impact in the big leagues. Obviously, that’s the goal for anybody. It’s another notch in the belt, another steppingstone to get where I want to be and a chance to show against top competition.”

Cosart is one of a handful of Astros players scheduled to appear at Friday night’s brand launch party at Minute Maid Park. That will make for a whirlwind weekend for the Houston-area product, who will catch an early morning flight to Houston on Friday and another early flight back to Phoenix on Saturday before pitching in the Rising Stars Game.

“I’ll get a nap and be ready to go,” he said.

Astros have plenty of free agent options

With the World Series suddenly over in four quick games, the hot stove season is underway. Teams can begin signing other club’s free agents on Friday night, and the Astros will be involved. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow will have the flexibility to add some free agents this winter, but the Astros aren’t going to be bidding for any of the big names on the market at this stage of their rebuilding process.

So what kind of players will the Astros be targeting? Luhnow would like to add a starting pitcher, some bullpen help and a bat or two to increase run production, which is vital when you consider Houston is now an American League club (get that in your head, folks). With that in mind, here’s a list of some players the Astros could target in free agency (please note some of these players have options for 2013):

RIGHT-HANDED RELIEVERS

Octavio Dotel

2012 club:  Detroit.

Salary: $3 million.

Analysis: The former Astros has 13 Major League stops under his belt, but he keeps going strong. He’s a hard-thrower with plenty of closing experience.

Kyle Farnsworth

2012 club:  Tampa Bay.

Salary: $3.3 million.

Analysis: He wasn’t quite able to duplicate his stellar 2011 season, but that could drive down the price enough for the Astros to land an experienced arm.

Jon Rauch

2012 club:  New York Mets

Salary:  $3.5 million.

Analysis: Workhorse reliever appeared in 73 games last season and has handled a heavy load the last few years. Perhaps he could be a fit in the late innings for the Astros?

Jason Grilli

2012 club:  Pittsburgh.

Salary: $1.1 million.

Analysis: His best days may be behind him, but he took the ball 64 times for the Pirates last season and posted a 2.91 ERA, saving a pair of games.

RIGHT-HANDED STARTERS

Joe Blanton

2012 club:  Philadelphia and Los Angeles Dodgers

Salary: $8.5 million

Analysis: If he’s willing to take a big pay cut at this point of his career, Blanton could be plugged into the rotation and guaranteed 30-plus starts if he’s healthy.

Kevin Correia

2012 club:  Pittsburgh.

Salary: $3 million.

Analysis: He’s won 12 games three times in the past 10 years on sub-par teams and could be a solid option to eat some innings in the middle of the rotation. He hasn’t pitched in the AL in his 10 years.

Ryan Demptser

2012 club:  Chicago Cubs and Texas.

Salary: $14 million.

Analysis: Probably way too rich for the Astros’ blood, but he would certainly solidify the top of the rotation alongside Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles and Lucas Harrell.

Anibal Sanchez

2012 club:  Miami and Detroit.

Salary: $8 million.

Analysis: Sanchez would have to take a pay cut to come to Houston, but he would be a good fit. He’s pitched at least 195 innings in each of the last three years.

Edwin Jackson

2012 club:  Washington.

Salary:  $11 million.

Analysis: Another veteran arm who would have to take a pay cut to Houston, but some of his best days came while he was pitching in the American League for Tampa and Detroit.

Shawn Marcum

2012 club:  Milwaukee

Salary: $7.725 million

Analysis: He topped 200 innings in his first year in Milwaukee in 2011, but was limited to 21 starts last year. Perhaps a move back to the American League would be welcomed.

Kyle Lohse

2012 club:  St. Louis.

Salary:  $11.875 million.

Analysis: Considering he’s won 30 games the past two years for the Cardinals, he’s probably going to be priced out of Astros range. But don’t underestimate Luhnow’s Cardinals ties.

LEFT-HANDED STARTERS:

Erik Bedard

2012 club:  Pittsburgh.

Salary: $4.5 million.

Analysis: This could be the type of player that will attract the Astros – a veteran coming off a sub-par season and looking for rejuvenation. Hasn’t lived up to hype since winning 15 games for Baltimore in 2006.

Dana Eveland

2012 club:  Baltimore

Salary: $750,000.

Analysis: Could be had on the cheap if the Astros are looking for a left-handed arm to plug into the rotation, but it’s been five years since he started more than 13 games.

OUTFIELDERS/DH

Xavier Nady

2012 club:  Washington and San Francisco

Salary: $700,000.

Analysis: He’s been reduced to a part-time role at age 33, but he’s versatile in that he could play first base, outfield and handle designated hitter duties.

Angel Pagan

2012 club:  San Francisco.

Salary: $4.85 million.

Analysis: Coming off one of the best years of his career and a World Series championship with the Giants, Pagan would fit nicely into the Astros’ outfield if he’s not too pricey.

Raul Ibanez

2012 club:  New York Yankees.

Salary: $1.1 million.

Analysis: He’s 40 years old, but he proved in the playoffs he’s got plenty remaining in the tank. He would be ideal to be a designated hitter at this point in his career.

Scott Hairston

2012 club:  New York Mets

Salary: $1.1 million.

Analysis: He had his best power season of his career in 2012 when he slugged 20 homers for the Mets. He’s never appeared in the playoffs in nine years in the league, which could be a priority at this point in his career.

CATCHERS

Rod Barajas

2012 club:  Pittsburgh.

Salary: $4 million.

Analysis: Barajas would be an ideal backup for Jason Castro and provide the Astros some much-needed power at the position.

Henry Blanco

2012 club:  Arizona.

Salary: $1.2 million.

Analysis: He hasn’t played much the last two years and might not bring enough offense to the table. If the Astros are looking for a cheap back up, he could be an option.

Ronny Paulino

2012 club:  Baltimore

Salary: $1 million.

Analysis: He hasn’t been a bad offensive player throughout his career, but doesn’t have much power anymore. Another cheap option as a back up.

David Ross

2012 club:  Atlanta

Salary: $1.625 million.

Analysis: He’s done a nice job backing up Brian McCann the past four years and last season hit .256 with nine homers and 23 RBIs. He could get more playing time in Houston in ’13 considering DH options.

Kelly Shoppach

2012 club:  New York Mets.

Salary: $1.35 million.

Analysis:  His production and playing time have slipped the last few years, but maybe a move back to his native Texas and a return to the American League could provide a career boost.

DESIGNATED HITTERS

Lance Berkman

2012 club:  St. Louis.

Salary: $12 million.

Analysis: Yes, it would be a great feel-good story if Berkman returned to his hometown Astros, where he could DH and save his knees. He’ll have to decide if he wants to keep playing.

Carlos Pena

2012 club:  Tampa Bay.

Salary: $7.25 million.

Analysis: He doesn’t hit for a very high average anymore, but he could be plugged into the DH role and be good for 25-30 homers.

Jonny Gomes

2012 club:  Oakland.

Salary: $1 million.

Analysis: If you’re looking for an ideal designated hitter candidate, Gomes is your guy. He hit 18 homers in only 279 at-bats for the A’s last season and comes on the cheap.

James Loney

2012 club:  Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston.

Salary: $6.375 million.

Analysis: Houston native’s game has slipped the last few years, but his hometown could be attractive to give him a season to get his left-handed swing back together.

Eric Chavez

2012 club:  New York Yankees.

Salary: $900,000.

Analysis: Chavez stayed healthy and had a nice bounce-back season for the Yankees last season, which could mean he’ll be looking for a bigger payday than the Astros are willing to offer.

Mark DeRosa

2012 club:  Washington.

Salary: $800,000.

Analysis: His game has really slipped offensive the past few years, but the Astros could be willing to take a flier on him at 37 years old.

Scott Rolen

2012 club:  Cincinnati.

Salary: $6.5 million.

Analysis: Rolen’s power numbers have dropped dramatically since his heyday with the Phillies and Cardinals. Could be undergo an offensive surge if he doesn’t have to play defense.

Astros claim Taiwanese product Lin

The Astros claimed Taiwanese outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin off waivers from the Boston Red Sox on Friday and designed right-handed pitcher Enerio Del Rosario for assignment.

Lin, 24, appeared in nine games for the Red Sox last season in his Major League debut, going 3-for-12 with a run scored and five strikeouts. He appeared in one game in April for the injured Jacoby Ellsbury before rejoining the Red Sox in May to provide outfield depth with injuries to Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross.

The right-handed Lin was signed by the Red Sox as an international free agent in 2007 and is a career .256 hitter with 22 homers, 216 RBIs and 145 stolen bases in 2,379 Minor League at-bats. He hit .247 with two homers, 30 RBIs and 15 steals last season at Triple-A Pawtucket.

In 2008, Lin was considered one of the Red Sox top prospects and homered in the All-Star Futures Game for the World Team at Yankee Stadium. He went 2-for-2 and was named as the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Del Rosario, 27, made 19 relief appearances for Houston this season, posting no record and a 9.00. He spent the majority of his campaign at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he went 4-1 with a 5.01 ERA in 36 relief appearances. He was originally acquired by Houston from Cincinnati in exchange for cash considerations on Sept. 16, 2010.

Crane hopes to have staff in place by week’s end

Here are a few tidbits from the Astros on Tuesday:

Jim Crane, appearing at the groundbreaking at Diez Park as part of his Community Leaders program, said the Astros hope to have the remainder on the field staff in place by the end of the week. Last week, the Astros named four members of their 2013 Major League field staff: John Mallee (hitting coach) and Dave Trembley (coach). Doug Brocail (pitching coach) and Dave Clark (coach). Trembley and Clark’s field positions will be announced at a later time.

It was reported last week that Red Sox coach Tim Bogar, who has twice interviewed to be the manager in Houston, turned down a chance to be the bench coach with the Astros.

Crane also reiterated what he said last week, that he doesn’t plan to make any changes to Tal’s Hill or the locomotive above left field, which is partially obscured by the Community Leaders billboards.

“We’re not going to do anything this year with the hill and the train,” he said. “We have some projects in the ballpark. We’re rebranding the ballpark with different signage, all new logos. We have a lot of work to do. We’re going to redo the Diamond Club and a couple of the premium areas, but we’ll take a look at this next year. We have enough on our plate this year with getting a new staff in and a lot of other changes we’ve made.”

The Astros will unveil their new logo, color scheme and mascot on Nov. 2 at Minute Maid Park.

“I think everybody will like what we’ve done,” Crane said.

——–

Crane said he doesn’t have a pick in the World Series. He grew up in St. Louis, of course, and used to park cars at the old Busch Stadium, so his rooting interests were gone when the Cardinals were eliminated by the Giants on Monday.

“I’m going to stay neutral on the deal,” he said. “San Francisco is playing good and Detroit really spanked the Yankees, so it should be a good series. I hope it goes seven.”

Crane plans to attend at least one World Series game in each city, beginning this weekend in Detroit. If the series returns to San Francisco next week, he’d like to make a visit to AT&T Park. He attended World Series games last year in Arlington and St. Louis.

Meanwhile, Crane had planned to jet Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton to Game 2 of the World Series if the Cardinals had made it. The long travel to San Francisco didn’t bode well with Milo, but Crane said the offer to go is still on the table.

“It’s up to him,” he said. “We still maybe something in Detroit or San Francisco if they get to the back end of it.”

Pettini out as Astros bench coach

Joe Pettini, who spent last season as the bench coach under manager Brad Mills, confirmed in a text message to MLB.com on Thursday he will not return next year. Pettini came to the Astros after spending 10 seasons as the bench coach under Tony La Russa in St. Louis, where he won two World Series titles.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wouldn’t confirm Pettini’s departure, writing in a text message no staff announcements have been made. Earlier in the day, Luhnow said he and new manager Bo Porter were in the process of finalizing the coaching staff for 2013, a process he hoped to wrap up within a week.

“We have been spending a lot of time on staff, both Bo and myself and other people, and I feel like we’re probably a few days away from beginning to finalize some deals, but I feel like it’s still going to be a week or two before we have the whole staff complete,” Luhnow said.

Pettini, 58, chose to leave the Cardinals for Houston after more than 25 years as a player and coach in the organization for a chance to reunite with Luhnow, who had spent the previous eight years with the Cardinals.

Finalizing staff top job for Luhnow, Porter

Astros manager Bo Porter, who has officially taken control of the club following the elimination of the Nationals from the playoffs on Friday night, was at Minute Maid Park on Monday for a meeting with general manager Jeff Luhnow.

The top priority for Porter and Luhnow is finalizing the Major League coaching staff, something Luhnow said they would like have done in the next 10-14 days.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Luhnow said.

The Astros’ current coaching staff consists of bench coach Joe Pettini, hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo, pitching coach Doug Brocail, third-base coach Dave Clark, first-base coach Dan Radison and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson. Van Burkleo and Radison took over in August when manager Brad Mills, hitting coach Mike Barnett and first-base coach Bobby Meacham were let go.

Pettini, who came to the Astros after 10 years as the Cardinals bench coach, and Brocail both said last month they would like to return next  year, but their fate remains up in the air. Tony DeFrancesco, who served as interim manager for the final 41 games, could also return to the field staff in some capacity.

“It was fun with this young club,” Pettini said last month. “It wasn’t so much fun losing so many as we have, but it’s always fun working with younger guys and seeing guys develop. Some guys turn into everyday players and some guys might not make it or stay here. That’s the growing pains in the organization.

“Yeah, I would [like to stay]. I’m 57 years old and have 11 years as a coach at the big league level and a few as a player, and I’m not quite ready to retire yet. I’d like to do it a few more years.”

Brocail, 45, put in a full season as pitching coach in 2012 after taking over midway through the 2011 seasons when Brad Arnsberg was let go.

“Of course, I’d love to be back,” he said last month. “I love this job, but we have a lot of work to do. I’d like to see it through. I don’t know what their thoughts are. Nobody’s talked about it, but if they want to sit down and talk, I’d love to be back. We all know we have a ton of work to do, we all know there’s a plan in place, and that plan needs to be followed to a T, and I hope I’m the guy and they have confidence in me.”

Porter, 40, spent the previous two seasons as third-base coach for the Nationals and is inheriting an Astros team that has lost 213 games in the past two seasons. Luhnow said Porter will meet with the media at Minute Maid Park on Thursday.

The Astros have said they’re considering getting rid of Tal’s Hill in center field and the locomotive above left field, which is now partially blocked by billboards. The feedback from the fans seems mixed, so let your voice be heard once and for all. What do you want to happen to the Hill and the train?

Astros winter rosters

The following is a breakdown of all the players in the Astros Minor League system who are rosters to play this fall and winter. The players listed belowon are the reserve lists for their respective clubs. This does not mean necessarily that they will play winter ball, just that they are on a roster.

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE

Mesa Solar Sox — 3B Bobby Borchering, RHP Jarred Cosart, RHP Chia-Jen Lo, SS Jiovanni Mier (taxi squad), 1B Jonathan Singleton, LHP Alex Sogard, OF George Springer, P Nick Tropeano.

DOMINICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Toros del Este — LHP Fernando Abad, SS Jose Fernandez, C Cristian Moronta.

Gigante de Cibao — RHP Jose Ciserno, RHP Rhiner Cruz, RHP Enerio Del Rosario, OF Jimmy Paredes.

Leones de Escogido — RHP Jorge DeLeon, OF Fernando Martinez.

Tigres de Licey — RHP Juan Minaya, OF Domingo Santana, UT Ruben Sosa, RHP Jose Valdez, RHP Henry Villar.

Aguilas Cibaenas — OF Emilio King, SS Jonathan Villar.

Estrellas Orientales — RHP Jose Trinidad.

MEXICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Naranjeros de Hermosillo — RHP Edgar Gonzalez

NICARAGUA

Orientales de Granda — C Marlon Avea.

Tigres del Chinandega — OF Mesac Laguna.

PUERTO RICO

Gigantes de Carolina — LHP Xavier Cedeno, C Carlos Corporan, C Rene Garcia, 2B Enrique Hernandez, C Jobduan Morales.

Criollos de Cagua — LHP Luis Cruz, OF Edwin Gomez, C Roberto Pena.

Indios de Mayaguez — SS Angel Sanchez.

VENEZUELAN WINTER LEAGUE

Magallanes — 2B Jose Altuve, C Luis Alvarez, RHP Enderson Franco, LHP Gabriel Garcia, C Ernesto Genoves, RHP David Martinez, OF Jose Monzon, RHP Juri Perez, RHP Carlos Quevedo.

Leones de Caracas — OF Brandon Barnes, SS Marwin Gonzaelz, RHP Luis Ordosgoitti, C Carlos Perez

Aguilas de Zuila — RHP Elieser Hernandez, SS Kristian Trompiz, RHP Arcenio Leon, SS Arturo Michelena.

Tigres de Aragua — 2B Jose Martinez.

Astros season by the numbers

The Astros finished the 2012 season with a 55-107 record. Here’s a breakdown:

Wins leader: Lucas Harrell, 11

ERA leader (starter): Lucas Harrell, 3.76

Strikeouts: Bud Norris, 165

Saves: Brett Myers, 19

Batting average leader: Jose Altuve, .290

Games: Jose Altuve, 148

Hits: Jose Altuve, 167

Runs: Jose Altuve, 80

Doubles: Jose Altuve, 34

Triples: Jose Altuve, 4

Home runs: Justin Maxwell, 18

RBIs: J.D. Martinez 55

Stolen bases: Jose Altuve, 33

Overall record: 55-107

Home record: 35-46

Road record: 20-61

Series record: 14-39-1

Sweeps: 3-14

When scoring 4 or more: 40-28

When scoring 3 or fewer: 14-79

Shutouts: 9-14

One-run games: 17-27

Two-run games: 12-19

vs. LH starters: 15-27

vs. RH starters: 40-80

Day games: 15-32

Night games: 40-75

When scoring first: 39-37

Opponent scores first: 16-70

Outhit by opponent: 17-80

Outhit opponent: 33-21

Equal hits: 4-6

When hitting a home run: 45-47

No home runs: 11-57

Walk-off homers: 0-3

Comeback wins: 21

Largest comeback: 4 runs

Losses after leading: 46

Last at-bat wins: 8

Largest blown lead: 4

Extra-inning games: 1-11

Different batting orders: 144

Players used: 58

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