Astros address middle infield, acquire Barmes
Houston gives up right-hander Paulino to add offensive punch
HOUSTON -- Clint Barmes was relaxing at home with his family in his downtown Denver apartment on Thursday morning when Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd called him to inform him he been traded to the Astros.
As excited as Barmes was about the chance to get a fresh start in Houston, he became even more encouraged when Astros general manager Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills told him he was going to play primarily shortstop, which is his preferred position.
"I always believed that playing with the Rockies the last couple of years ... I looked at myself as a shortstop playing second base," Barmes said. "I'm very excited to get the opportunity to play on that side of the field."
The Astros made their first significant move of the offseason by acquiring Barmes for pitcher Felipe Paulino, the big-armed right-hander who could never gain consistency or stay healthy. By adding Barmes, the Astros helped fill one of their biggest offseason needs: more offense in the middle of the infield.
"We certainly think this is an improvement for us, to be able to add a run-producing middle infielder who's a plus defender on both sides of the bag," Wade said.
Barmes, who was a candidate to be non-tendered by the Rockies, made $3.325 million last season and is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility before becoming a free agent following 2011. He hit .235 in 133 games in 2010, with 21 doubles, eight home runs and 50 RBIs.
"I'd have to say I'm very excited," Barmes said. "I honestly thought I was going to be working on some type of deal to stay with the Rockies this offseason, and to get the call from Dan O'Dowd this morning, it was a little bit of a surprise. But I have to say I'm very excited to get an opportunity to play, and I love playing in Houston.
"I understand how well the team played in the second half of last [season]. The young talent is there, and it's going to be exciting to see how it all unfolds."
Neither Wade nor Mills would commit to what role Barmes would play next year with the Astros, but he likely will come to camp in 2011 with a chance to win the starting shortstop job. Houston finished last year with Tommy Manzella and Angel Sanchez at shortstop, but Barmes represents an upgrade offensively.
"We're excited about his ability and capabilities and how he's going to fit in with this ballclub and what we're trying to do," Mills said. "He plays the game with intensity, is a team player and he's accomplished things in the past. His ability to play the different infield positions makes him extremely valuable."
Barmes, 31, is a polished defensive player who is a career .254 hitter with 61 homers and 285 RBIs in 665 games in five-plus seasons in the Majors, all with the Rockies. He's split time nearly equally between shortstop and second base, and has even played the outfield and some third base.
Barmes started 69 games at second base and 39 games at shortstop last season, starting 32 of 33 games at shortstop while Troy Tulowitzki was on the 15-day disabled list. He hit .284 in that span with three home runs and 12 RBIs, but was coming off the bench at the end of the year.
The chance to call Minute Maid Park -- a kind ballpark to right-handed pull hitters -- his home is enticing. "I'm a pull hitter," Barmes said. "I've been a pull hitter my whole career. I can't tell you what my numbers are against the Astros, but I'm expecting big things. I can't sit here and tell you what kind of numbers I'm going to throw up. I've been inconsistent with numbers the last few years at the Major League level. But I know I'm going to compete and help the team more than I hurt them on an offensive note."
Barmes was drafted in the 10th round by the Rockies in 2000 out of Indiana State University, and he has been in the Majors since making his debut as a 24-year-old in 2003. He finished eighth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2005 despite missing substantial time with a broken collarbone suffered in a fall while carrying a package of deer meat up the stairs of his apartment.
After hitting .289 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs in 2005, Barmes slumped to .220 with seven homers and 56 RBIs in '06. With Tulowitzki winning the starting shortstop job, Barmes spent most of 2007 in the Minor Leagues before becoming the starting second baseman in 2008.
Barmes, who smacked a career-high 23 homers and 76 RBIs in 2009, took over for Tulowitzki when he was injured last season, and moved back to second base during the second half of the season and was eventually benched.
"We're excited to add Clint to our club," Wade said. "He's a plus defensive player at two positions, has gap and some home run power and has great makeup. It's tough to give up a power arm like Felipe's, but Clint fits a need that we had to address."
Paulino, 27, has a big arm but could never stay healthy in his time with the Astros. He made his Major League debut by pitching in five games in 2007 and missed all of the 2008 season while recovering from a pinched nerve in his right arm. He was 3-11 with a 6.27 ERA in 23 games in 2009, including 17 starts.
Paulino won a spot in the rotation to begin last season, and was 1-9 with a 5.11 ERA in 19 games, including 14 starts. He had a promising stretch in the middle of the season when he posted a 1.75 ERA in five consecutive starts, but went on the disabled list June 21 with right shoulder tendinitis and missed nearly three months.
"There's no doubt Paulino has a lot of ability and we've seen that at times, but you have to give up some quality to get some quality," Mills said. "We're sorry to see Felipe go, but at the same time we're excited to bring in a guy like Clint."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.