The Houston Astros and Free Agency

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The Houston Astros and Free Agency
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Now that the World Series is over, we are now in the free agency period of baseball. It reminds me a little of the climax of Christmas and the letdown of the "After Christmas" sales that tell us that the season of excitement is all over. (Granted, there are those who will use the huge After Christmas discounts this year to do their Christmas 2010 shopping).

Several names have come up with the Houston Astros of those filing for free agency: Darin Erstad, Mike Hampton, Jason Michaels, Jose Valverde, Miguel Tejada and reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Also filing are Doug Brocail and Aaron Boone.

Boone might possibly retire, Brocail was not offered an option for 2010, and Hampton will be out all of next season with an arm injury, so most likely they won't be in an Astros uniform next season.

My understanding is Houston's talking to Hawkins and Michaels. It would be smart to bring back Hawkins, who was 1-4 with a 2.13 ERA and 11 saves in 63.1 innings pitched. He also had an excellent 45-16 strikeouts to walks ratio.

Michaels? He had a light year with the bat. Maybe if Houston really needs a utility player they should keep him.

I know I'll anger some Astros fans, but I think the team should consider letting go of Tejada. Yes, he hit .313, but his 14 home runs in a ballpark that makes right-handed hitters salivate seems a bit few. Besides, Tejada's range isn't what it used to be. Unless he's willing to take a pay cut, I think Houston should let someone else take him.

Valverde had a great season as the closer, going 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA and saving 25 games out of 29 chances. I'm worried about this one: Valverde made $8 million this past season: good Astros players that start to get noticed tend to get higher offers to leave Houston, and owners like Drayton McLane and John McMullen will often talk about saving on payroll.

Let's hope Valverde wants to return to Houston. If another club needs a closer and is willing to pay him $10 million or so, chances are he'll be gone.

Houston's $107 million payroll for 2009, I understand, was the largest the team's ever had. What's more, Lance Berkman, Kaz Matsui, Carlos Lee and Roy Oswalt all have no-trade clauses and will make $54.5 million combined in 2010.

Matsui has been a disappointment, but with a no-trade clause, how do you get rid of him? What team would want to pay his salary?

I'm suspecting Houston won't go after any significant starting pitchers or great hitters in free agency, not with Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Wandy Rodriguez likely getting pay raises.

That's not going to leave a lot of money left over. True, McLane's a billionaire, but when you overpay players or pay players who don't pan out, you're restricted on what you can do.

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