© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

01/14/09 7:22 PM EST

Astros likely out of free-agent market

Economic downturn, swollen payroll influencing GM's hesitance

HOUSTON -- The free-agent market is flush with dozens of quality free agents, but don't expect the Astros to jump in on any bargain-bidding wars in the days leading up to Spring Training.

General manager Ed Wade hasn't completely ruled out nabbing a player if presented with a deal that is too good to pass up, but at the same time, he's not optimistic that the Astros would be major players if such an opportunity emerged.

"We'd have to sit down and have a discussion," Wade said. "Where we are right now, our payroll is $107 million. Last year, we finished around $98 million. We're really up against our number at 107, and it's a number, quite frankly, that the revenues don't support."

An economic downturn has changed the way teams do business, and as enticing as the list is of free agents who are still looking for work, teams that normally would be interested, such as the Astros, instead are tapped out.

The quality of the remaining available starting pitchers is somewhat staggering when considering only one month remains until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Jon Garland, Andy Pettitte, Randy Wolf, Braden Looper, Oliver Perez and Ben Sheets are still looking for work, among others.

Hot Stove

A domino effect is expected as soon as more top-tier free agents start to come off the board, and at that time, bargains for the middle class may be more tantalizing than a sale at Barney's. But even then, Wade may have a tough time convincing owner Drayton McLane to stretch the purse strings.

"Circumstances can change," Wade said. "We can see if we can create more flexibility to make it happen, but right now, the feeling is the group we've committed to at this point is the group we'll go with, with 99 percent certainty."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.