HOUSTON -- Even though the Astros' six remaining arbitration-eligible players figure to play a key role for the club next year if they all return, general manager Ed Wade said the decision of whether to tender a contract isn't one to be made without much deliberation.
The Astros have until 10:59 p.m. CT on Thursday to offer 2011 contracts to any of the unsigned players under their control: pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Matt Lindstrom, infielders Clint Barmes and Jeff Keppinger and outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence.
Players who are not tendered contracts become free agents and are free to sign with any club, including their previous team.
"We think all the arbitration-eligible players we have on the roster have a chance to help us next year," Wade said. "How that's affected by the tender deadline remains to be seen. We think the profile of the players who are still arbitration-eligible and still unsigned is significant enough that we think they all factor for us next year. That said, we have to use all of the remaining time to try to make the right decisions."
The decision whether to tender a contract is a delicate one. The team has to decide what the player could earn in arbitration and how that fits into the club's payroll scheme, as well as determining if the player's expected production will merit his possible salary.
According to the Basic Agreement, when teams tender contracts, they can't cut any more than 20 percent of what a player earned in salary and performance bonuses the previous season or 30 percent of those figures during the past two seasons. Non-tendered players, however, can be re-signed by their teams at larger cuts.
Wade said assistant general manager David Gottfried is still having dialogue with representatives for some of the club's arbitration-eligible players in hopes of getting some things accomplished prior to the tender deadline. The Astros on Wednesday reached a one-year, $900,000 deal with pitcher Nelson Figueroa, who was arbitration-eligible for the first time.
That non-tender deadline was moved up this year, which means teams will hit the Winter Meetings next week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., with a complete list of available free agents.
"This will be the first Winter Meetings in my experience where the tender deadline has preceded the Meetings, and that being the case you're going to have another group of free agents on the market that normally wouldn't have hit the market until the Winter Meetings had been concluded," Wade said.
Wade said that could have an impact on the amount of trade activity that takes place at the Meetings. Clubs could be less willing to make a trade and a give up a player in return, because they'll have more options on the free market.
"In the past, clubs weren't certain or sure who was going to be non-tendered or who maybe out there as free agents and were in a position also to conduct their business against the backdrop of some uncertainty in that regard," he said. "Now you're going to have every conceivable potential free agent out there, and that could have a bearing on the amount of trade activity that takes place in Orlando."
The Astros' list of arbitration-eligible players includes three of the team's most productive players in 2010: Pence, Bourn and Rodriguez. Those three, along with newcomer Barmes, appear to be shoo-ins to get tendered a contract. Pence, Bourn and Rodriguez made a combined $10.9 million last season in base salary, which accounted for more than half of the $16.84 million the Astros paid their eight arbitration-eligible players a year ago.
Houston will probably be on the hook for at least $20 million from among this year's group of arbitration-eligible players, no matter if they decide to tender contracts to all of them or not. The club already has about $44 million committed for next season.
Keppinger ($1.15 million), Bourn ($2.4 million), Pence ($3.5 million) and Lindstrom ($1.625 million) are in their second year of arbitration, and Rodriguez ($5 million) and Barmes ($3.25 million) are in their third and final year.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.