The Astros’ focus now is on the bullpen.
General manager Jeff Luhnow said Friday the team has some offers on the table for some relief pitchers. He said he would like sign as many as two veteran relievers to join a bullpen that was the youngest in the Majors last year.
“We’ve got some offers out there we’re waiting on,” he said. “Whether or not things happen this weekend or next week or after that, I’m not sure. We feel pretty good we’re going to get at least one or two of the guys we’re targeting.”
The Astros struggled to close out games after trading reliever Jose Veras in July. Houston went with a young bullpen and finished with a 4.90 ERA that was the worst in baseball and blew a league-high 29 saves. Veras has talked to the Astros about returning.
Luhnow also hasn’t ruled out adding another bat or even another starting pitcher.
“If we have an opportunity to bring in yet another starter, we wouldn’t hesitate to do it,” he said. “Right now, our primary focus is shifting to the bullpen.”
The Astros on Tuesday acquired outfielder Dexter Fowler and a player to be named later from the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Brandon Barnes and right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles.
Fowler, 27, hit .263 with 18 doubles, 12 home runs, 42 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, 65 walks and a .369 on-base percentage in 119 games with Colorado last season. The switch-hitting outfielder started 106 games in center field for the Rockies in 2013 and has been Colorado’s primary center fielder for the last five seasons (2009-13).
Barnes, 27, hit .240 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 136 games in what was his rookie season in 2013. He appeared in 179 Major League games over the last two seasons (2012-13) with the Astros. Barnes was originally a sixth-round pick by Houston in the 2005 draft.
Lyles, 23, went 7-9 with one save and a 5.59 ERA in 27 games (25 starts) with the Astros last season. He appeared in 72 games (65 starts) for the Astros since his MLB debut in 2011. Lyles was originally a supplemental first-round draft pick by Houston in the 2008 draft.
– Brian McTaggart
With the addition of Fowler and the removals of Barnes and Lyles, the Astros 40-man roster is now at 36 players.
Here’s Drayton McLane’s statement on the Crane lawsuit:
“I haven’t seen the lawsuit yet, but Jim Crane is highly-experienced and has been in business over 30 years. He is surrounded by top-tier accountants, attorneys, operators and marketers, and he has participated in transactions even larger than this one. His experts meticulously examined the Houston Astros financial position. My team was absolutely transparent and produced thousands of pages of documents; we provided answers and explanations to all of their questions. Any suggestion otherwise is absolutely false. As an example today, Jim Crane reportedly stated that he did not receive the business plan for CSN Houston prior to the purchase. that is not true.
“This was one of the most complex and scrutinized transactions of my business career. Jim’s group had all the facts. In fact, the told the [Houston] Chronicle this September that the regional sports network had ‘good long-term value.’ The accusations that have been reported are hollow and appear to be an attempt to recreate the facts. We will respond in a vigorous and persuasive manner to the lawsuit.”
Rule 5 Draft explained:
Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, slated to take place on Thursday, Dec. 12. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.
In other words, an international player or high school draftee signed in 2009, assuming they were 18 or under as of June 5 of that year, must be protected. A college player taken in the 2010 Draft is in the same boat.
Here are Astros players eligible to be taken in Rule 5 Draft:
|De Leon, Jorge|
|Minaya, Juan G|
Houston Astros 2014 Spring Training Schedule
Day, Date, Opponent (road site), Time ET
Friday, Feb. 28, at Atlanta (Lake Buena Vista), 6:05 p.m.
Saturday, March 1, at Detroit (Lakeland), 1:05 p.m.
Sunday, March 2, vs. Atlanta (SS), 1:05 p.m.
Monday, March 3, at Miami (Jupiter), 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday, March 4 at New York Mets (Port St. Lucie), 1:10 p.m.
Wednesday, March 5, Detroit, 1:05 p.m.
Thursday, March 6, New York Mets, 1:05 p.m.
Friday, March 7, at Washington (Viera), 1:05 p.m.
Saturday, March 8, New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m./at Philadelphia (SS) (Clearwater), 1:05 p.m.
Sunday, March 9, Toronto, 1:05 p.m.
Monday, March 10, at Washington (Viera), 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday, March 11, OFF
Wednesday, March 12, Washington, 1:05 p.m.
Thursday, March 13, at Toronto (Dunedin), 1:05 p.m.
Friday, March 14, St. Louis, 1:05 p.m.
Saturday, March 15, at Detroit (Lakeland), 1:05 p.m.
Sunday, March 16, Washington (SS), 1:05 p.m.
Monday, March 17, Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday, March 18, at Miami (at Jupiter) 1:05 p.m.
Wednesday, March 19, at Washington (at Viera) 6:05 p.m.
Thursday, March 20, Philadelphia (SS), 1:05 p.m.
Friday, March 21, Miami, 1:05 p.m.
Saturday, March 22, St. Louis, 1:05 p.m.
Sunday, March 23, at St. Louis (Jupiter), 1:05 p.m.
Monday, March 24, at Atlanta (Lake Buena Vista), 6:05 p.m.
Tuesday, March 25, OFF
Wednesday, March 26, New York Mets, 6:05
Thursday, March 27, OFF
Friday, March 28, vs. Texas, San Antonio, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, March 29, vs. Veracruz of Mexico, Minute Maid Park, 6:10 p.m./ vs. Texas, San Antonio, 1:05 p.m.
Sunday, March 30, Veracruz of Mexico, Minute Maid Park, 1:10 p.m.
All-Star outfielder Chris Young has certainly found a comfort level hitting at Minute Maid Park, but could it be his home ballpark next year?
Young, who is a free agent after hitting 12 homers and driving in 40 runs with the A’s in 107 games last season, said Thursday he would like to play in his hometown of Houston, but he said he didn’t know if his agent had been in contact with the Astros.
“Every team is an option,” said Young, who went to Houston baseball power Bellaire High School. “I love Houston. I’m from Houston and play well in Houston and always have. Something about being home that’s refreshing to me. I love everything about the city and the team. They’re growing, and I feel they’re going to make some moves here soon. They have a good future. I’m open to all the possibilities.”
Young, 30, is a career .235 hitter with 144 homers and 448 RBIs in eight years, including seven with the D-backs, where he was coached by current Astros manager Bo Porter. In 52 games against the Astros, he’s a career .325 hitter with 12 homers and 47 RBIs, including .392 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 23 games at Minute Maid Park.
“There’s quite a few teams I’m in conversations with right now,” Young said. “It’s an exciting time for me. It’s the first time I’ve been able to have more of an input on where I played and where I end up at, and now it’s prime time for me to be able to go somewhere I want to go and help the team win.”
Former Astros pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, who had a strong year with the Mets last year, says a return to Houston isn’t in the cards.
“I’ve got some teams that are showing a lot of interesting right now,” Hawkins, 41, said. “But it’s still early. Hopefully things will shake out towards the Winter Meetings next month.”
More than 400 people attended Thursday’s inaugural “A Legacy Last Forever Dinner” at the Hilton Americas Hotel, which benefited the Bo Porter S.E.L.F. Foundation. The Astros manager put the event together to help raise money for local schools. Here are a few photos from the event:
Not surprisingly, the Astros are not expected to make a run at any of the big-name free agents this winter. First, convincing someone to sign for five years to come to Houston might be a hard sell at this point in the team’s rebuilding process, but the Astros need to spread their available money around to three or four players than get one big-ticket guy.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was asked at the GM Meetings on Tuesday about the club’s plans for free agency. Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com last month the team would have a payroll of between $50-60 million next year.
“We definitely are going to think twice before making any big commitments that include losing a draft pick and/or committing a lot of dollars for a long period of time,” Luhnow said. “Having said that, we’re doing our own analysis on every free agent that’s out there. There is a price at which we’d be interested in almost all of them.
“Whether or not that’s the price that would transact, I don’t know. There’s some good players out there. Given the number of teams with needs, would we be likely to come away with one of the top guys? I can’t handicap that. I think it’s probably a long shot. But we’re going to sign some guys that are going to help our club.”
The Astros are receiving “significant” interest in All-Star catcher Jason Castro, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. Castro is coming off an All-Star season in which he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. He is eligible for arbitration.
While it’s true the Astros like catching prospect Max Stassi, whose Major League debut was hampered by a concussion suffered in his second career game in August, they remain relatively thin at the position. Plus, the Astros, coming off three consecutive 100-loss seasons, are at the point they need to start moving forward, which would mean hanging onto their young talent.
Castro, the former first-round pick, hit .276 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs before missing the final month of the season with a knee injury. The Astros have said previously this year they would be open to exploring a contract extension at some point with Castro.
At the GM Meetings in Orlando, the Astros’ Jeff Luhnow said:
“I’m not surprised that there would be interest in Jason. He’s clearly one of our most valuable players. I’m never going to say someone is untouchable. But we fully expect Jason to be on our club for a long time to come. He’s reaching his peak. He was our All-Star last year. He’s a team leader.
“He had a tremendous year. He’s an athletic catcher who can hit home runs and throw runners out. Those guys don’t exist very often, so I really don’t have a lot of interest in exploring that. Like I’ve always said, I’ll listen to anything if someone wants to talk to me.”
Now that free agency is underway, we anxiously await the Astros’ first signing. Nothing could happen until next month’s Winter Meetings, but the Astros are going to spend some money, perhaps pushing their payroll to $60 million. Still, I don’t envision them making a run at any of the big names, who likely wouldn’t target a rebuilding club anyway.
They sorely need relief help, along with a veteran starting pitcher and a corner outfielder with some pop. Having gone through the list of free agents, I’ve plucked a few names that could be headed to Houston – players who could be had on two-year deals that wouldn’t break the bank.
Some of these players might be reclamation projects, but the reality is it could be hard for the Astros to land some players because they lost 111 games last season.
Anyway, here’s the list of potential Astros free agents:
Corey Hart – He’s coming off knee surgeries, but when healthy he’s good for 30 homers and respectable average and on-base percentage.
Marlon Byrd – Coming off one his best seasons with the Pirates and Mets at age 36.
David Murphy – The Houston-area product had a down year, but he’s been good for .275 average, 15 homers, 75 RBIs yearly.
Nate McLouth – Doesn’t hit for much power anymore, which might not make him a fit with Astros.
Jose Veras – The Astros may have goofed in trading Veras in July considering their bullpen woes. He was a solid clubhouse citizen and liked it in Houston, so maybe he comes back?
Jesse Crain – The University of Houston product has proven to be a solid late-inning reliever when healthy.
Ryan Madson – Former Phillies closer could be had on the cheap after missing last two years following Tommy John surgery.
Pat Neshek – Member of Oakland’s bullpen the last two seasons, but not a key one.
Francisco Rodriguez – Posted pretty good numbers last season and would certainly like to close again.
Chris Perez – Former Indians closer struggled for much of last season and he wasn’t exactly a model citizen. But he does throw hard.
Joel Hanrahan – Saved 76 games in 2011-12 before Tommy John surgery cost him nearly the entire 2013 season.
Edward Mujica – An All-Star with the Cardinals this year who had a terrible September.
David Aardsma – Former Rice University closer is looking for another opportunity.
James McDonald – He had two incredibly similar and consistent seasons in 2011 and 2012 before getting injured.
Shaun Marcum – Had a season to forget this year, but is only two years removed from 13 wins.
Roy Halladay – His career could be over, but maybe he’d be worth giving a look if he’d even considering Houston at this point.
Ryan Vogelsong – The Giants declined the $6.5-million option on Vogelsong, who had a 5.73 ERA in 19 starts.
Jason Hammel – Has never been really good or really terrible. He would serve as an upgrade over Bedard.
Scott Feldman – Went a combined 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA in 30 starts with the Orioles and Cubs.
Colby Lewis – Hip surgery limited him to 16 starts last season, but he had 200 innings in each of the two seasons prior.
Jason Vargas – Has been an innings eater the previous four years in Seattle, so he knows the division.
Mike Pelfrey – He’s only 29 and could still regain pre-Tommy John surgery form he had with Mets.
Kevin Slowey - Didn’t pitch too poorly with the Marlins last season.