Pitchers and catchers officially report tomorrow, February the 14th. It’s safe to say the off-season is over and Spring Training has begun. Excitement is in the air. Before taking a look at the Houston Astros going into Spring Training, let’s take a look at how they fared this off-season.
Ed Wade said on more than one occasion that the teams main objective for the off-season was to retain Randy Wolf, Doug Brocail, and LaTroy Hawkins.
It was reported that the Astros made Randy Wolf an offer of $28.5 million and three years. Before Wolf had time to make a decision Houston was forced to pull their offer from the table due to economic reasons. Wolf has since been pursued by many MLB teams and landed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $5 million.
However, Wade was successful in retaining both Hawkins and Brocail who will both play a pivotal roles in the Astros bullpen, which is probably the strongest aspect of their team.
Once Drayton McLane put away his wallet the Astros priorities shifted. The team was still looking to add a starting pitcher, especially with Wolf no longer an option. But, for that to happen Wade was going to have to move some payroll through trades. Ed Wade went into the winter meetings shopping Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada. Wigginton garnered significant interest while teams showed virtually no interest in Tejada.
Wade came away from the Winter Meetings with a catcher, Lou Palmisano, via the rule 5 draft, and both Wigginton and Tejada still in a Houston uniform. Shortly after the Winter Meetings the Astros non-tendered Ty Wigginton, again for financial reasons and much to the dismay of Houston fans. Wigginton has since signed a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, also known as Houston Astros American League team. (see former Astros on Baltimore Orioles)
The biggest signing the club made this off-season was when they picked up Mike Hampton. Hampton, a former Astro and Cy-Young winner, signed with the club for 1 year and $2 million dollars plus incentives.
The rest of the off-season was peppered with minor league contracts, (including David Newhan and Russ Ortiz) and veteran signings (Aaron Boone and Jason Michaels).
Houston managed to avoid arbitration with all eligible candidates:
Jose Valverde signed for $8 million, Brandon Backe $1.55 million, Tim Byrdak $1 million, and Humberto Quintero for $610,000. All for 1 year contracts. The club also signed Wandy Rodriguez to a $2.6 Million dollar contract with incentives, as well as Geoff Geary for $1.7 million, both one year contracts.
After the dust settled the Astros are a very similar team to the team that hit the field last season. Going into Spring Training they are without Wolf and Wigginton but they have added Mike Hampton whowill be key in Houston’s success this season if he can stay healthy. Houston is also counting on a Geoff Blum/Aaron Boone platoon (or Georran Blooney as a few people have started to refer to the duo) to fill in for Wigginton.
The starting rotation is the most glaring issue for the club in that there are a lot of questions to be answered. Can Hampton stay healthy? Will Backe pitch better or will he give up the most dingers in MLB again? Wandy Rodriguez had a pretty good season last year but he has to stay healthy and develop more consistency. (see Wandy’s home-road ERA the past two seasons.) One thing the team and Houston’s fans can count on is Roy Oswalt. Oswalt started off a little rough last season but finished strong.
The Houston Bullpen is possibly the best in the NL Central. With Jose Valverde, or Papa Grande, anchoring and with Doug Brocail/LatroyHawkins as set-up men, the Houston Pen should fare well this season if they can stay healthy. Chris Sampson is coming off of elbow surgery and is said to be pitching without pain for the first time since his original stint with the team. Sampson came to life after being moved to the Houston pen last season. Geoff Geary and the two left handed relievers Wesley Wright and Tim Byrdak give Cecil Cooper plenty of options coming out of the pen.
The Houston line-up will feature much of the same players as last season, except for Ty Wigginton. Aside from Blum/Boone filling Wiggy’s spot, I would also look for Michael Bourn to hit lower in the line-up. If Bourn does well and is moved up to the lead-off or two spot look for Miguel Tejada to drop a spot and Hunter Pence to drop in his spot, probably the 5-hole.
This is all before Spring Training even begins so who knows what will happen. Houston didn’t have the most successful off-season but they managed to keep a team together and add a few pieces that will give them the chance to contend in a division that has somewhat weakened since last year.
Spring Training ‘officialy’ begins for Houston tomorrow although Jose Valverde and Felipe Paulino threw bullpen sessions today and Brian Moehler, Doug Brocail, Humberto Quintero, Lou Palmisano, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Backe, Geoff Geary, and Chris Sampson all worked out.
I will be celebrating tomorrows holday (No, not Valentine’s Day) with a chili dog and a beer. Thanks to baseball, all things are right again in the universe.