Bourn, Barmes, Keppinger avoid arbitration
Astros swap figures with Wandy, Pence but optimistic about deal
HOUSTON -- The Astros reached one-year deals with outfielder Michael Bourn and infielders Clint Barmes and Jeff Keppinger on Tuesday to avoid arbitration, but they have a sizable gap to cover to get deals done with outfielder Hunter Pence and pitcher Wandy Rodriguez.
Bourn, who has led the league in stolen bases and won two consecutive National League Gold Gloves, signed for $4.4 million, giving him a $2 million raise over last year. Keppinger signed for $2.3 million plus bonuses, doubling his 2009 salary, and Barmes got $3.925 million plus bonuses.
"[Assistant general manager] David [Gottfried] handled the negotiations and indicated yesterday that we thought we had the opportunity to get at least these three done," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "The goal is always the same. It's to slot a player at the proper place in the salary structure, and I think the work David did and the cooperation of the players and their agents allowed us to do that with these three guys."
Rodriguez, who went 11-12 with a 3.60 ERA last year, is asking for $10.25 million, which is substantially more than the Astros' offer of $8 million. He lost his arbitration case last year and had to settle for $5 million after asking for $7 million.
Pence, named the team's Most Valuable Player after hitting .282 with 25 homers and 91 RBIs last year, is asking for $6.9 million, with the Astros countering at $5.15 million. Pence made $3.5 million last year in his first year of arbitration.
"The spreads are fairly significant, and our hope still is that we can get something done, preferably on a multiyear basis with Wandy and [we] would [like] to get Hunter done as well," Wade said. "The spreads are significant and there's a lot of ground to cover."
Wade set a deadline of close of business next Tuesday to reach an agreement with Pence or Rodriguez, otherwise they will go to a hearing. Dates have yet to be set for the hearings, which can begin Feb. 1.
"We just think it's a reasonable amount of time with the amount of preparation that has to go into preparing a case and that's reasonable to put a deadline on the process," Wade said. "A week should be ample time, if there's common ground to be found to find it. We don't believe that the process is designed towards a courthouse steps settlement, so to speak.
"Most of the information with regard to comparables and salary structure are in place, and both sides should take advantage of the information currently in hand and try to get to the finish line."
Barmes, who made $3.225 million last year, was pleased with his new contract. The Astros traded for him in November to be their everyday starter at shortstop. He's a career .254 hitter with 61 home runs and 285 RBIs in 665 games, all with the Rockies.
"I'm excited and happy with the way things turned out," said Barmes, who was heading to Austin, Texas, on Tuesday as part of the Astros' Winter Caravan. "I'm glad we got to an agreement before I got to Austin for the Caravan. It seems like talking to my agent, everything went pretty well and it was a pretty easy, pretty simple agreement. I'm extremely happy with the number we settled on."
Bourn, 28, hit .265 with 25 doubles, six triples, two homers, a career-high 38 RBIs and an NL-leading 52 stolen bases in 141 games for the Astros in 2010, his third season with the club. He made his first NL All-Star team last season.
Keppinger, 30, who underwent surgery on his left foot on Friday and is expected to miss the start of the regular season, hit .288 with a club-best 34 doubles, six homers and 59 RBIs in 137 games. He took over as the starter at second base early in the season, but the Astros traded for Bill Hall last month to push Keppinger back to a utility role.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.