Astros adept at unearthing treasures
Claimed off waivers, Fulchino, Arias prove key for Houston
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros general manager Ed Wade can't bring himself to comprehend what would have happened to the bullpen last year if Jeff Fulchino and Alberto Arias hadn't came from nowhere to eat up some valuable innings.
Fulchino, who had only 13 Major League games under his belt prior to last season, wound up appearing in 61 games en route to being the team's Rookie of the Year as a 29 year old, and Arias pitched in 42 games -- doubling his previous career total -- to rescue a bullpen besieged by injury.
Both Fulchino and Arias were claimed on waivers after being cast off by other clubs for any number of reasons. They could have been victims of a numbers game, been ineffective on the field or been taken off the 40-man roster.
"Somebody's trash is somebody else's treasure," Fulchino said.
In Fulchino's case, the Royals placed him on waivers to make room on the 40-man roster for veteran Kyle Farnsworth. The Astros paid $20,000 to claim him off the waiver wire on Dec. 8, 2008, and he became an integral member of Houston's bullpen. Arias was claimed off waivers from Colorado on July 31, 2008, and he pitched in three games, including two starts, for the Astros that season.
"I thought Fulchino was the second most valuable pitcher last year behind Wandy [Rodriguez]," Wade said. "He filled every possible role you could ask him to fill other than closer -- he worked in back-to-back games, threw multiple innings, the sixth inning, eighth inning, with men on base and bases empty. He covered it all.
"We'd be lost without him, and the same thing is true with Arias until his knee barked at him last year. Those were big innings, valuable innings. You have to figure out a way to cover them, because fewer and fewer starters get to the seventh inning."
Fulchino and Arias, 26, are both in the thick of the competition to land a bullpen spot this year. They are two of a handful of Astros players who were claimed off waivers, including pitcher Wilton Lopez and outfielder Jason Bourgeois.
Wade makes sure his staff, particularly assistant general manager David Gottfried and director of baseball research/pro scouting Charlie Norton, pays close attention to the daily waiver bulletin and is prepared to act accordingly if they come across a name that could fill a need.
"If it's a guy we have interest in, Charlie puts a packet together and we call all the scouts who saw the guy and we try to think of anybody else in the organization who might have seen the player," Wade said.
Astros East Coast scouting supervisor Clarence Johns had familiarity with Arias when both were in Colorado. Arias spent 8 1/2 years in the Rockies' organization after being signed as a undrafted free agent in 2000, when he was 16 years old.
"It's great when you have roster flexibility and can grab a guy every once in a while," Wade said. "Sometimes it works out very significantly."
Just ask Fulchino, who comes to camp this spring not having to prove himself. Fulchino, who spent seven years in the Florida organization before being signed by Kansas City in 2008, pitched almost exclusively as a starter until he got to the Royals.
He worked in relief in 2008, and appeared in 12 games with the Royals that season before being claimed off waivers by the Astros. He made three trips between Triple-A Round Rock and Houston at the start of the 2009 season, but wound up throwing 82 innings and going 6-4 with a 3.40 ERA in Houston. He led all Astros relievers in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts (71).
"That's how it happened," Fulchino said. "The rest is kind of history. I came here in Spring Training, and they didn't know me other than scouting reports and seeing me a couple of times in Major League games. I had thrown 15 innings at the Major League level with the Royals, so I came in here ready to go and hoping to impress them and get a shot at making the team.
"I didn't make the team, but I had a good Spring Training and I was the first guy they called up. It took a couple of times, but I showed them I belong here."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.