Writing on the wall for Burke
Matsui signing likely signals end of infielder's Astros career
HOUSTON -- Technically, Chris Burke is still a member of the Houston Astros. But in the wake of Sunday's transaction that officially made Kazuo Matsui the club's second baseman for the next three years, it doesn't take a super sleuth to figure out where Burke stands in the organization.
In a matter of weeks, Burke went from heir apparent to Craig Biggio to trade bait. Like everyone else following the Astros, Burke paid close attention to the offseason rumor mill and was well aware that general manager Ed Wade was pursuing no fewer than three second basemen: Luis Castillo, Tadahito Iguchi and Matsui.
So the fact that Burke's not in the mix for second base next year, at least as a starter, really came as no surprise. Still, the news came as somewhat of a blow.
"For me, the overwhelming feeling is disappointment," Burke said via cell phone from his home in Louisville, Ky. "I'd always hoped to be the everyday second baseman for the Astros. I always believed that would happen one day. The fact that it's not going to is disappointing. But I believe things happen for a reason and hopefully there's a better opportunity for me out there somewhere else."
Wade said he would attempt to trade Burke, who ideally would fetch pitching if packaged in a deal with outfielder Luke Scott. It's likely Wade will pursue a deal along those lines during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., this week. How much value those two players can have remains to be seen.
"Obviously, I don't know exactly what Ed's thinking, but he made clear to my agent [Barry Meister] that they're going to try to trade me," Burke said. "There's hope that someone will give me a chance to play second base."
Selected in the first round by the Astros in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, Burke was immediately heralded as the successor to Biggio. Burke hit well during his ascent through the Minor Leagues, but with Jeff Kent manning second base in 2003 and 2004 and Biggio reclaiming that position beginning in 2005, Burke was the odd man out.
Burke made his big league debut in 2004 and the following season found playing time as both an outfielder and occasional second baseman when Biggio needed a day off. He started the 2007 season as the center fielder, but lost that job before the end of April when Hunter Pence was called up.
Burke did not have a good offensive year in '07, hitting .229 over 111 games while playing some outfield and some second base. Once the free agent period began this offseason, Wade began aggressively pursuing free agent second basemen.
After waiting for so long in Biggio's shadow, Burke was saddened to discover the team had other plans for 2008.
"I never felt they owed me anything," he said. "The frustrating thing was I felt like they were going to give me a chance. The fact that they didn't disappointed me. But I understand Ed had to do the best thing for the team. That's his job. I have to live with that. I'll move on and wish them well.
"You don't want to say it's over until it's over, but if I don't come back, I'll be leaving some really good friends, friends I'll be keeping for the rest of my life. We had great moments we'll never forget. That'll be what makes it tough if I don't end up coming back."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.