Astros general manager Tim Purpura shared his outlook about the 2007 season during a Web chat Monday. Purpura also discussed the fourth and fifth rotation spots, who will be the everyday right fielder, and the depth on the Astros bench.

From attached: Will you guys be trying to give Craig Biggio more time off than in recent years? Do you think he'd be more effective overall for the team if he only played something like 120 games?

Tim Purpura: Hi everyone, it's Tim Purpura. Thanks for joining us today. To answer the first question -- Craig's playing time will be determined by his health status and his productivity. It's not unusual for players, later in their careers, to need some time off, and Craig has been open to that in the last several years. A lot will depend on how he feels physically and how productive he can be. He's obviously chasing a huge milestone but his No. 1 priority is to win.

Hawkeye12: Will Jeff Bagwell's number be retired opening night? That would be a great way to open the year!

Purpura: Well, as you may already know, we will be honoring Jeff on Friday, April 6, with a special ceremony at Minute Maid Park prior to our game with the St. Louis Cardinals. As for retiring his number, it will not be done at that point. It will occur at some point, if not this season, then certainly in the near future. Nonetheless, the only person in camp wearing No. 5 right now is Jeff Bagwell. We won't even let any of our Minor League players wear that number. Biggio's No. 7, either.

Hawkeye12: With China opening up as a marketing area (the Yankees are in already), will the Astros get their name recognition in there and the marketing dollars that would come with it?

Purpura: While we have great interest in Asia, for the time being, Major League Baseball will be working toward an industry-wide approach to developing the game in China and we will certainly participate in that effort. But at this stage, those plans are very preliminary and we will be in constant dialogue with MLB to ensure that the Astros get the opportunity to scout and hopefully develop Chinese players.

bryanagan: With the Astros current lineup, do you feel strongly about winning the World Series in 2007?

Purpura: Each offseason, every move that we make is with the goal of getting back to the World Series and winning the World Series. So, the answer is yes, I do feel good about our chances. A lot of things can happen over the course of a season, but we feel like we have as strong a lineup as we've had in years. We have a strong starting three in the rotation, we have many good options for our fourth and fifth spots and we have one of the strongest bullpens in the league. And, with the addition of Mark Loretta, probably the deepest bench in the league as well.

biggio07: What is the status of a contract with Jason Jennings?

Purpura: On Sunday, Drayton McLane and I met with Jason's agent, Casey Close, and had a preliminary meeting to discuss the possibility of a contract extension. It was certainly not a negotiating session, but I would characterize it as a good first step toward exploring the Astros' interests and Jason's interests and we'll continue to work on that throughout the course of the spring.

firetruck1: Some would say that last year we stuck with certain people for way too long, for example Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and Brad Lidge. Are their leashes going to be much shorter this year if they show signs early on of not performing to expectations?

Purpura: Through the course of a six-month season, every player is going to have good times and bad times. It's rare that a player is consistent in his performance from start to finish. But our belief is that if a player is healthy, and has the talent and ability to be successful, that you have to do everything you can to ensure that they reach their potential as a player. It would certainly be difficult to say that we would have a shorter leash than last year because circumstances may be different from last year. But we do feel that Lidge and Ensberg should be able to return to their positions and contribute greatly to the team. As for Lane, he now finds himself in a position where he's competing for a job on the team with Luke Scott and Richard Hidalgo. It'll be his challenge to make the club as one of our outfielders

Spring Training
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firetruck1: How is Fernando Nieve's arm? I knew last year he started having some elbow discomfort. Is it something that is lingering or did a full offseason take care of the issue?

Purpura: The problem Fernando had last year resolved itself over the winter. However, he did have some mild soreness in his flexor tendon while preparing for winter ball. But we had him examined in Houston and he was diagnosed with having simple tendinitis. He's in camp right now and is 100 percent and is feeling very, very good.

maximus98: How does Hunter Pence look so far this spring?

Purpura: It's very early to evaluate payers. They're just getting themselves into game shape. But as the exhibition games begin this week, we'll have a chance to look at him and get a better handle on where he stands. But certainly during batting practice, he's been impressive and has held his own with the more veteran players.

astrosfan911a: What are you most looking to evaluate at Spring Training this year, and what will the plans be for Brandon Backe if he does progress quickly and return this year? Would putting him in relief be an option if the position is there?

Purpura: The two biggest issues that we have to decide upon this spring are the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation and who is the everyday right fielder. We're also anxious to watch Chris Burke make the transition to center field. As for Backe, his rehab from Tommy John surgery has gone exceptionally well and while things are progressing nicely, we'll know a little bit more in the next week or two when he starts throwing from the mound. After that, it'll take some time for him to build arm strength and start throwing his breaking pitches. We're hopeful for a return in September, but if he continues to progress as well as he has been so far, the timetable could be a bit shorter than that, but probably not by much. As for a relief role, coming off surgery, in order to lessen the wear and tear on his elbow post-operatively, we would probably be more inclined to keep him in the rotation as opposed to the potential of back-to-back appearances.

reds4433: How long will Roger Clemens be around for the spring?

Purpura: As long as he likes. He's a great asset to our player development system.

denisemister03: Great job on all the changes. I think you will have a stellar 2007!

Purpura: Thanks, Mom. (Just kidding.) This was an enjoyable offseason for us because we had a lot of flexibility to make changes and while everyone has a different opinion on the moves we made, we feel like what we have done is put ourselves in a position to continue to contend in our division and our league.

kb2007: Does Nolan Ryan ever throw any batting practice and if so, does he still have a pretty good fast ball?

Purpura: No, Nolan does not throw batting practice. As a matter of fact, Nolan has expressed to us he has no desire to put on the uniform anymore. He feels more comfortable out of uniform and he talks to players a lot on a one-to-one basis. He's been a great asset to the organization in his role. But knowing Nolan, he could probably get out some Major League hitters even today, at age 60.

Shamus: Besides Troy Patton, who do you feel has the highest upside between Jimmy Barthmaier, Juan Gutierrez, Matt Albers, or Felipe Paulino Del Guidice?

Purpura: All four of the pitchers you mentioned are what I would consider the next wave of great arms in the system. However, since Albers has already made it to the Major Leagues and reached a much higher level in his career, I think he has the best chance to help us this year. And that would be even above Patton, who has just gotten his feet wet at the Double-A level and still has some time to go before he's Major League ready.

rastronomi: What role does the use of sabermetrics or advanced statistical analysis play in your decision-making processes? Would you say that the Astros are more aggressive in their use than other teams, or more cautious, or about the same?

Purpura: I think all teams use statistical analysis to assist in player evaluation and evaluating players for trades and free agent acquisitions. We also use our own internally developed metrics to assist our pitchers in our development system as well as our hitters in the system. We use these as teaching tools to emphasize, for example, the importance of a pitcher to get ahead in the count and stay ahead in the count. But we also use traditional scouting methods to get a feel for a player's competitiveness and aptitude.

sshark: Who will be the main pinch-hitter this season?

Purpura: As things stand right now, the bench would appear to be one of our greatest strengths with Orlando Palmeiro, Mike Lamb, Loretta and potentially an extra infielder like Eric Bruntlett or one of the outfielders (Scott, Lane or Hidalgo). But primarily I'm sure we will use Palmeiro and Lamb, much as we have in the last few years. Loretta gives us even a greater dimension because he's a very good clutch hitter and one of the best two-strike hitters in the game.

Purpura: Thanks everyone for joining us, see you at Minute Maid Park this season!