November 2012

Humber ‘excited’ to return to Houston

Philip Humber, the former Rice University star pitcher who threw a perfect game last season for the White Sox, was claimed off waivers Friday by the Astros, who signed him to a one-year deal with a club option for 2014.

Humber, 29, went 5-5 with a 6.44 ERA in 26 games (16 starts) for Chicago and is expected to battle for one of the final two spots in the Astros’ pitching rotation. He lives with his family in Tyler, Texas, which is 175 miles north of Houston.  Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow delivered the news to Humber via phone earlier in the day.

“It’s really exciting, more so for my family than anything,” Humber told MLB.com. “The places I’ve played before, they haven’t been able to see me but a little bit, but I’ll be right up the road no now in Houston. So we’re excited about it. My wife and I have a little baby and it will make it easier on them as far as traveling and everything. I think it’s going to be a good situation.”

The proximity to his home is a bonus, but a move to the Astros comes with plenty of opportunity as they prepare to move into the American League in 2013.

“As far as the way things went last year – there were obviously some extreme highs and getting hurt and not pitching the way I was capable of – I’m excited about the opportunity to get back out there and prove I’m capable of being a good Major League pitcher,” he said.

In 80 career Major League appearances (44 starts), Humber is 16-15 with a 4.87 ERA.

Prior to his professional career, Humber had an outstanding career at Rice. He was a member of the Owls 2003 national championship team, hurling a complete-game in the championship game vs. Stanford. Humber also earned First-Team All-America honors in 2004 and currently ranks second in school history in strikeouts and third in wins.

More from Humber to come at Astros.com

Humber coming home to Astros

Philip Humber, the former Rice star who last season pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox, was claimed off waivers by the Astros on Friday.

Humber, 29, went 5-5 with a 6.44 ERA in 26 games (16 starts) for the White Sox last season, but etched him name in history on April 21 when he threw the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history – two months before Matt Cain threw a perfect game against the Astros.

But Humber struggled after his perfect game and wound up pitching only twice in September. The third overall pick in the 2004 Draft, Humber is 16-15 with a 4.87 ERA in 80 career games, including 44 as a starter. He was 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA in 28 games for the While Sox in 2011.

Humber threw a complete game to beat Stanford in the 2003 championship game of the College World Series to give Rice its only national title.

Astros face arbitration decisions

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said the club plans to tender contracts to their four remaining arbitration-eligible players – pitchers Bud Norris, Wilton Lopez, Wesley Wright and shortstop Jed Lowrie. Lopez, of course, has been subject of trade speculation, but for now he remains with Houston.

The deadline to tender a contract is 10:59 p.m. CT Friday.

Norris, Lopez and Wright are all eligible for arbitration for the first time, and Lowrie is going through the process a second time. Each player will submit a desired salary for 2013, and the Astros will also submit their offer. That serves as the starting point for the negotiations, and both sides typically meet in the middle

If the sides can’t find common ground, they will take their case before an arbitration panel in February that will determine the players’ salary. In this scenario, this is no middle ground. The panel will side with either the player or the team, but negotiations can continue right up to the hearing.

Astros assistant general manager David Stearns is going to be spearheading the team’s arbitration process.

“He has some experience in that area, both from the labor relations side of Major League baseball, as well as the team side,” Luhnow said. “Our cases are nothing too complex at this point. They’re all first-year guys, with the exception of Jed, who’s a second-year guy. We went through preparing for a cast last year. We’re in pretty good shape, and I feel good about we’re going to get all our guys done.”

Here’s a closer look at each player:

– Jed Lowrie made $1.15 million in his first season in Houston in 2012 and was putting up All-Star numbers before a sprained right ankle suffered in mid July put him on the shelf for 52 games. He wound up hitting .244 with a career-high 16 homers and 42 RBIs. Lowrie could as much as double his salary from a year ago.

– Bud Norris had a strange year statistically, going 7-13 with a 4.65 ERA in 29 starts. He had 165 strikeouts in 168 1/3 innings, but went nearly three months without a win while battling various injuries and some inconsistencies. He was 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA at home and 3-12 with a 6.94 ERA on the road. He started strong, but was 0-12 with a 6.17 ERA in 18 starts from May 26-Sept. 20. He finished the season having not allowed a run in his final two starts, 13 1/3 innings.

Norris made $511,000 last season and should see a substantial bump based on his body of work, perhaps in the $2 million range

– Wesley Wright, who made $512,000 last season, is one of the longest-tenured Astros, having pitched parts of five seasons with the club from 2008-12. He made a career-high 77 appearances as lefty specialist last year and went 2-2 with a 3.27 ERA, including a 19-game scoreless streak. Lefties have hit just .170 off of him the last two years combined and he’ll remain a key cog in the bullpen.

The Astros got Wright in the Rule 5 Draft in 2007, and he’s had an unusual tenure in Houston. He’s been tried as a starter, had his arm slot temporarily changed and bounced between Triple-A and Houston so many times he could start his own shuttle service. But he appears to have entrenched himself in the bullpen and will be paid accordingly.

Wilton Lopez, claimed off waivers in 2009 by Ed Wade, has been a workhorse member of the Astros’ bullpen the past three years, going 6-3 with a 2.17 ERA last year in 64 games. He also had a career-high 10 saves after assuming the club’s closer role following the trade of Brett Myers and ineffectiveness of Francisco Cordero. He posted the lowest walks-per-innings ratio among all NL relievers (1.09) last season after setting the franchise record in 2010 by issuing only five walks in 67 innings pitched. He began last season by facing 78 batters without issuing a walk.

Lopez made $515,500 last season and could wind up around $1 million next season based on his workload and track record. That’s if the Astros don’t trade him.

Astros-Phils talking about Lopez

The Astros are working on a deal that would send relief pitcher Wilton Lopez to the Phillies in exchange for Minor League prospects, a baseball source confirmed to MLB.com

Lopez has been a workhorse member of the Astros’ bullpen the past three years, going 6-3 with a 2.17 ERA last season in 64 games. He also had a career-high 10 saves after assuming the club’s closer role following the trade of Brett Myers and ineffectiveness of Francisco Cordero.

He posted the lowest walks-per-nine-innings ratio among all NL relievers (1.09) last season after setting the franchise record in 2010 by issuing only five walks in 67 innings pitched. He began last season by facing 78 batters without issuing a walk.

The departure of Lopez would leave the Astros with a glaring hole at closer, something the team will likely address in the near future

The Astros claimed him off waivers on April 10, 2009.

Astros sign Gonzalez, Valdez

The Astros have signed right-handed pitchers Edgar Gonzalez and Jose Valdez to Minor League contracts with invites to Spring Training. They were both outrighted and removed from the 40-man roster on Nov. 1.

Gonzalez, 29, went 3-1 with a 5.04 ERA in six starts for the Astros last season after having his contract purchased from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Sept. 3. He has pitched in parts of eight Major League seasons with Arizona (2003-08), Oakland (2009), Colorado (2011) and Houston (2012).

Gonzalez is expected to compete for a spot in the back end of the Astros’ pitching rotation.

Here are Gonzalez’s contract details: Minor League contract for $15,000/month. Agreement for Major League contract for $90,000. $525,000 in Majors. Plus: $25,000 for 20 games; $25,000 for 22 games; $25,000 for 24 games; $25,000 for 26 games; $25,000 for 28 games; $50,000 for 30 games; $100,000 for 32 games. Major League invitation to Spring Training.

Valdez, 29, compiled a 2.25 ERA in 12 relief appearances after being a September callup for the Astros last season. He spent the majority of his season with Oklahoma City, where he posted a 4.95 ERA with 21 saves in 46 relief appearances.

Here are Valdez’s contract details: Minor League contract for $15,000/month. Agreement for Major League contract for $100,000. $500,000 in Majors. If not on Major League roster, Player may sign with Japan for $50,000 if prior to March 31; $100,000 if after March 31 OR will be added to roster within 48 hours. Major League invitation to Spring Training.

Astros face roster decisions

Here are the players the Astros must place on the 40-man roster by Tuesday or be eligible to be take in next month’s Rule 5 Draft:

Alvarez, Luis H
Castro, Erik B
Cisnero, Jose L
Cosart, Jarred L
Cruz, Luis L
De La Rosa, Luis A
Fick, Charles J
Garcia, Rene F
Genoves, Ernesto E
Goebbert, Jacob D
Gonzalez, Alfredo R
Gouvea, Murilo
Grimmett, Zachary
Grossman, Robert E
Hamburger, Mark J
Heredia, Angel L
Hogue, Jackson G
Krauss, Marc S
Lo, Chia-Jen
Martinez, David J
Martinez, Jose G
Meszaros, Daniel J
Monzon, Jose A
Moronta, Cristian M
Musick, Thomas W
Oberholtzer, Brett R
Orloff, Ben
Perez, Juri E
Quevedo, Carlos E
Quezada, Euris F
Rivera, Darwin J
Seaton, Ross A
Simunic, Andrew
Stoffel, Jason A
Tiburcio, Frederick
Urckfitz, Patrick
Villar, Jonathan R
Weiland, Kyle E
Wikoff, Brandon W
Zeid, Joshua A

Astros reveal new coaching staff

The Astros have hired former All-Star pitcher Dennis Martinez as bullpen coach and former Major League first baseman and coach Eduardo Perez as bench coach, finalizing their coaching staff.

“We wanted to make sure it was a diverse staff, a staff that covers all the disciplines and a staff that has a good mix of experiences and everybody was a good teacher,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “I think we accomplished all of the goals we had. There were a lot of moving parts.”

Here’s a look at each member of the staff:

Manager Bo Porter: Porter, 40, has 18 years of combined experience as a player, coach and manager in the Minor Leagues and Major Leagues. He spent the previous two seasons as the third base coach for Washington. Prior to joining the Nationals staff in 2011, he began the 2010 season as third base coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks before being promoted to bench coach on July 1 when Kirk Gibson was named manager. Porter also served as third base coach for the Florida Marlins for three seasons (2007-09) prior to joining the Diamondbacks.

Porter also has experience as a manager, skippering the Marlins’ Jamestown club of the New York-Penn League for the 2006 season. He made his coaching debut as hitting coach for Class A Greensboro of the South Atlantic League in 2005.

During his playing career, Porter played in parts of three seasons in the Major Leagues as an outfielder for the Cubs (1999), A’s (2000) and Rangers (2001), appearing in a total of 89 games. He appeared in two playoff games for Oakland during the 2000 season. Porter was originally selected by the Cubs in the 1993 June Draft and hit 113 home runs with 503 RBIs and 236 stolen bases in 10 Minor League seasons.

Bullpen coach Dennis Martinez: Martinez, 57, who had been a pitching coach in the St. Louis Cardinals system for the past six seasons, won 245 games in his out­standing Major League career, a total that ranks first among Latin American-born pitchers. He appeared in four All-Star Games and led the American League in wins in 1981. While pitching for the Montreal Expos on July 28,1991 at Dodger Stadium, he hurled baseball’s 13th perfect game in a 2-0 victory. Overall, Martinez pitched 23 seasons in the Majors (1976-1998).

Martinez, who is from Nicaragua, is currently serving as manager of the Nicaraguan team that will be playing in the qualifying round for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. He had been the pitching coach for the Palm Beach Cardinals (A) for the past two seasons (2011-12). He also served stints as pitching coach for the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate in Springfield and for their Gulf Coast League club. Martinez, 57, also served as a special assistant for the Orioles prior to joining the Cardinals organiza­tion.

Bench coach Eduardo Perez: Perez, 43, has both playing and coaching experience in the Majors and has also had success as a manager in Latin America. He currently is serving as manager of the Columbian team that is preparing for the qualifying round for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Perez previously had suc­cess as manager of the Ponce Lions in the Puerto Rico Winter League for two seasons (2008-09), earning Manager of the Year honors in 2008 and also guiding the Lions to the Caribbean Series in 2009.

Perez, who is the son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, most recently had been the hitting coach for the Florida Marlins since June 8, 2011. Prior to that, he had served as a special assistant to the baseball operations department for the Cleveland Indians, a role which included considerable time in uniform providing instruction at the Major League and Minor League levels. Perez played parts of 13 seasons (1993-2006) in the Major Leagues with the Angels, Reds, Cardinals, Rays, Indians and Mariners. Following his playing career, he spent several seasons as a baseball analyst for ESPN, working the postseason and for Baseball Tonight.

Hitting coach John Mallee: Mallee, 43, has 17 seasons of experience in professional baseball, primarily as a hitting coach in both the Major Leagues and minor leagues. Most recently, he spent a year as the Major League hitting coach for the Marlins between 2010-11. Prior to being named the Marlins big league hitting coach, Mallee spent eight and a half seasons as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator. While at that position, Mallee worked with Porter, who was also a coach and manager in the Marlins farm system at the time (2005-06).

Third-base coach Dave Trembley: Trembley, 60, spent the last two seasons as the Minor League field coordinator for the Atlanta Braves. Trembley brings a wealth of experience to the staff, having spent his last 28 years in professional baseball, including 19 years as a Major League manager with Pittsburgh (1987-89), San Diego (1991-93), Chicago-NL (1994-2002) and Baltimore (2003-06). In 2000 with the Cubs, Trembley managed Porter in what was his first season in the Major Leagues.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail: Brocail, 45, returns for what will be his second full season as the Astros pitching coach in 2013. He took over the position midseason in 2011 after serving nearly two years (2010-11) as a special assistant to the Astros general manager. Brocail had a long professional career (1986-2009), which included three stops in Houston (1995-96, 2001, 2008-09). Brocail has been with the organization in some capacity, as a player, special assistant or coach, since 2008.

First-base coach Dave Clark: Clark, 50, will return for his fifth consecutive season on the Astros coaching staff, serving the previous four as third-base coach. A member of the Astros organization since 2005, Clark has also spent time as a Minor League manager in the organization at the Double-A (2005-07) and Triple-A levels (2008) and also served as the Astros interim manager for the final 13 games in 2009. Clark had a 13-year Major League playing career (1986-98), which included a one-year stint with Houston in 1998, the same team that won a franchise-best 102 games.

Bogusevic has no regrets about time in Houston

Brian Bogusevic, drafted by the Astros in the first round of the 2005 as a pitcher and later moved to the outfield, became a free agent Saturday when the club outrighted him and removed him from the 40-man roster.

Bogusevic, 28, began last season as the Astros’ starting right fielder, but he struggled at the plate all season and wound up hitting .203 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. He hit .287 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 87 games in 2011.

“It’s definitely a different feeling because it’s the first time I’ve been in this situation, but that’s the nature of the game and everybody is going to go through it at some point,” Bogusevic said.

The Astros also outrighted outfielder J.B. Shuck and right-handed pitchers Jorge De Leon, Chuckie Fick and Arcenie Leon.  De Leon and Shuck cleared waivers and became free agents, while Fick was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Leon was claimed by the Brewers.

The moves put the Astros’ 40-man roster at 31

Bogusevic was a college All-American two-play player at Tulane when the Astros drafted him with the No. 24 overall pick in ’05. Some teams viewed him as an outfielder, but the Astros saw his future on the mound. He made 77 Minor League appearances as a pitcher (64 starts) and was 14-21 with a 5.11 ERA.

The Astros moved Bogusevic to the outfield in ’08 and he spent nearly two full seasons at Triple-A Round Rock before making his Major League debut in 2010. His career highlight came last year when he hit a walk-off grand slam against the Cubs for his first pinch-hit home run.

Bogusevic said he had no regrets about his time in the organization.

“It was definitely a different experience than most people have,” he said. “But I mean, I was happy with my time there, but it’s time to move on.”

Astros to reach out to Berkman

Lance Berkman, one of the most accomplished and most popular players in team history, could be returning to the Astros next year in free agency. Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said Friday he plans to reach out to the Big Puma to gauge his interest in returning.

“Lance can still produce at the Major League level,” said Luhnow, who was with St. Louis when Berkman played a huge role in the Cardinals’ run to the 2011 World Series. “He’s a guy a lot of clubs are going to be interested in. We’ll have a conversation with him and see where it goes.”

Berkman, who’s been hobbled by bad knees the past few years, could get extended time at designated hitter for the Astros, who are moving to the American League next year. He lives in Houston year round and could opt to finish his career in his hometown.

“He is an offensive weapon and has been his entire career,” Luhnow said. “No matter how you get that bat in the lineup – and obviously in the AL you have an opportunity to use him as a DH – he’s an offensive force, no question about it.”

Berkman, 36, played the first 12 years of his career with the Astros, hitting 360 home runs with 1,200 RBIs. He was traded to the Yankees midway through the 2010 season before signing a pair of one-year deals with the Cardinals.

He hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs in 2011, but was limited to 81 at-bats last season because of knee injuries. The Cardinals have said they’re not interest in bringing him back, and Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week he’ll wait until December to decide if he wants to keep playing.

“Clearly, Lance has a great history here and was a key part of a great franchise at a great time,” Luhnow said. “If we feel there’s a fit in terms of what we need and what he can provide, we won’t hesitate to pursue it. We have a lot of different options out there and we’re not going to leave any stone unturned.”

Braves claim Schafer from Astros

In Jordan Schafer, the Astros got a player with plenty of athleticism, but who could never seem to put it all together or stay on the field because of health reasons.

Schafer was claimed off waivers Thursday by the Braves, the team that traded him to Houston in the middle of the 2011 season as part of the Michael Bourn deal.

Schafer began last season as the Astros’ starting center fielder, but numerous injuries and a drop in production, as well as some concerns about his attitude, caused him to fall out of favor. He hit .211 with four homers, 27 stolen bases and 106 strikeouts in 313 at-bats with the Astros, but a shoulder injury limited him to 21 at-bats in the final two months.

The Astros have options in center field with Justin Maxwell, who can play all over the outfield, and rookie Brandon Barnes, who made his debut last year and made a handful of highlight reel catches in center. Waiver claim Che-Hsuan Lin can also play center field.

The subtractions of Schafer and infielder Matt Downs, who was designated for assignment earlier this week, and catcher Chris Snyder, whose option wasn’t picked up, and the addition of Lin put the 40-man roster at 37. That doesn’t include pitchers Kyle Weiland and Sergio Escalona, both of whom are on the 60-man disabled list.

Schafer was one of the top prospects for the Braves, who drafted him, four years ago before they sent him to Houston on July 31, 2011. In the deal, the Astros also received pitchers Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens, both of whom reached Triple-A last year, and reliever Juan Abreu, who’s no longer in the organization.

Schafer was pulled from a game in July for what then manager Brad Mills described as “behavioral reasons” and was out of the lineup the following day. He was arrested last year and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia during a traffic stop. He entered a drug pre-trial interview program.

Considered a solid defensive player who can run, Schafer will have a chance to begin the 2013 season as one of Atlanta’s backup outfielders. His acquisition likely lessens the odds of Jose Constanza beginning next season with the Braves.

Schafer hit .228 with four home runs and a .616 OPS in the 132 games he combined to play for the Braves during the 2009 and ’11 seasons. He homered in the first at-bat of his career and tallied two home runs in his first three games. But Schafer was never the same after suffering a left wrist injury during the fourth game of his career.

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