12/04/09 12:00 AM EST
Astros to weigh options at Meetings
Relief, offensive upgrade at third base top priorities
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
Relief pitchers: Specifically, the Astros are in need of back-of-the-bullpen help. They offered arbitration to Jose Valverde, but he could opt for a multiyear deal in free agency and leave the Astros without a closer. They still hope to re-sign LaTroy Hawkins, who wasn't offered arbitration. J.J. Putz and Brett Myers are among the players they're reportedly interested in.
Third baseman: The Astros re-signed switch-hitting veteran Geoff Blum to return to play third base, but they'd like to find an offensive upgrade. Jeff Keppinger can play third and the position could be filled if Miguel Tejada re-signs with the Astros, who didn't offer him arbitration. But don't expect the Astros to break the bank to bring in a big name to play third. They'd be content with Blum and Keppinger.
Bench depth: The Astros have had several good, veteran bench hands in recent years, including Mark Loretta, Darin Erstad and Jeff Keppinger. Jason Michaels and Erstad came off the bench in the outfield last year, and both struggled early. Michaels did well in the second half, but his return is questionable. Houston would like to add another versatile infielder.
There isn't much to trade. Their established veterans -- left fielder Carlos Lee, right-hander Roy Oswalt and first baseman Lance Berkman -- have no-trade clauses and at this point likely wouldn't approve a trade. And up-and-comers Michael Bourn (center field), Wandy Rodriguez (starting pitcher) and Hunter Pence (right field) are young and still working relatively cheap, though they are eligible for arbitration for the first time.
But if they were going to make a trade ...
2B Kazuo Matsui: He's entering the final year of a three-year deal that will pay him $5.5 million next year and certainly won't be returning to the Astros beyond this deal. He hit .250 last season, played in a career-high 132 games and was stellar defensively, but that's a contract the Astros wouldn't mind shedding.
3B Chris Johnson: Once one of their top prospects, Johnson has gotten little chance to prove himself at the Major League level, and the re-signing of Geoff Blum won't exactly open up playing time. And if the Astros re-sign Miguel Tejada, he's going to get the lion's share of time at third. The book is out on whether Johnson can play at the Major League level.
RHP Bud Norris, C Jason Castro, RHP Sammy Gervacio, RHP Chia-Jen Lo: The Astros have renewed their commitment to developing players recently after years of dealing away Draft picks to get established stars. It's unlikely they would deviate from that theory any time soon. All four of these players could play big roles on the Major League club next year.
Big contracts they might unload: None.
Arbitration-eligible: CF Bourn, LHP Rodriguez, RF Pence, RHP Chris Sampson, LHP Tim Byrdak, IF Jeff Keppinger, C Humberto Quintero
Non-tender candidates: None
Payroll summation: The Astros have $58.5 million tied up already for 2010 in Lee, Oswalt, Berkman, Matsui, Blum and Brian Moehler and have several players eligible for arbitration, including key pieces in Bourn, Rodriguez and Pence. The Astros plan to trim the payroll from last year's $107 million and could wind up in the low $90-million range, which doesn't give them much payroll flexibility.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.