01/07/08 2:36 PM ET
Mailbag: Jennings an option?
Beat reporter Alyson Footer answers Astros fans' questions
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
-- Andy K., Conroe, Texas
I believe that ship has sailed. The Astros and Jennings do not appear to be interested in each other at this point. I can't imagine Jennings would want to come back here, considering he had the worst year of his career, isn't loved by the fans, and, let's face it, was the key figure in a general manager and manager getting the heave-ho. He's probably better off starting over somewhere else, and the Astros do not appear to be trying to convince him to stay.
I know that former Astros shortstop Adam Everett was somewhat of an offensive liability, but he sure was fun to watch in the field. That being said, did the Astros ever consider moving Miguel Tejada to third base and keeping Everett at short?
-- John L., Houston
It was briefly discussed. Very briefly. What it came down to was this: Offensively, the Astros preferred the Tejada-Ty Wigginton combination instead of Tejada-Everett. So they sacrificed defense for the sake of offense.
Is Michael Bourn really the answer in center field? I think we should put Darin Erstad in center, because if he has enough at-bats, he could possibly hit 15-25 home runs in a season like he did in 2000.
-- Corey M., Galveston, Texas
Bourn has tremendous tools and no track record. That is the definition of a top prospect. We will soon find out if he has what it takes to be an everyday center fielder, but from everything I've heard about his skills, makeup and work ethic, I sense he'll do well. I believe Erstad will prove to be a solid bench player, and he can play all three outfield positions and first base, which is a definite plus. But judging Erstad on something he did eight years ago would be foolish. He has said himself he realizes he's not an everyday player anymore, and usually when bench guys have accepted that realization, they do well in a reduced role.
By all accounts, J.R. Towles will be the starting catcher next year. We've seen a glimpse of what he can do with the bat. However, with the position of catcher being a very important defensive one, what is the word on his defensive abilities?
-- Harmon W., Concord, Calif.
For more than a decade, Brad Ausmus was considered the best defensive catcher in the league, and he has lauded Towles' defensive skills. That carries a lot of weight with me, for two reasons -- Ausmus obviously knows what he's talking about, but he also doesn't dole out compliments if they're not warranted. So I have to take his word on this one.
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Many Astros fans will be high with enthusiasm and many with pessimism about the "Astro overhaul." What, in your honest opinion, do you think the Astros can achieve, not only now, but in the next few seasons, and do you think that general manager Ed Wade has made so many changes that it is a make or break season for him?
-- Joseph D., London
Wade signed a three-year contract, so I do not think he's going to be on any kind of hot seat if the Astros do not do well this season. He upgraded where he could, and if the starting pitching isn't enough to win the division, that's not his fault. He took over a team badly in need of fixing, and there are no guarantees that the massive overhaul will be enough. The team still needs to have several good Drafts in a row -- and yes, that means not only drafting good players but also signing them, even if it means stretching the budget a bit -- before it can consider itself a top-to-bottom well-oiled machine.
I can't say that I fully believe the team, as it is constructed right now, is good enough to win the division. I do believe, however, that it is better than last year's club, and a heck of a lot more interesting. Who knows? The starting rotation may surprise us.
Regarding the future -- predicting that is difficult. They gave up a lot of pitching this offseason, and I'm still bothered that Troy Patton and Matt Albers aren't here anymore. I'm concerned about the depth in that area.
Is Commissioner Bud Selig going to punish the players named in the Mitchell Report? I want to know if Miguel Tejada is going to start on Opening Day.
-- Angel P., Houston
That remains to be seen. The Commissioner could hand out suspensions, but so far we haven't heard anything. It's not out of the question, and I do know he's considering taking that course of action. How serious he is about it, I'm not sure.
We made an offer to Mark Prior, and he ended up with the Padres. What happened?
-- Hunter F., Orange, Texas
Sorry, I was never buying into that whole "Prior is interested in signing with the Astros" deal. Pitchers who haven't been successful in several years due to arm/elbow troubles and surgeries normally don't come to Minute Maid Park to resurrect their careers. Prior is better off in a pitcher's park, and PETCO Park in San Diego certainly fits that bill.
On Lance Berkman's issues dealing with chemistry, I think he might be right. Specifically, do you know if there is any bad blood between Tejada and Doug Brocail? Brocail did break Tejada's wrist with a pitch during Interleague Play last season.
-- Michael P., Houston
Only if Tejada suspects Brocail hit him on purpose, and as far as I know, that is not the case. Accidents happen and getting plunked is unfortunately a part of the game. I don't think Tejada will blame Brocail for the incident, nor do I think there will be any animosity between the two.