Thursday, December 08, 2005

Clemens decision Astros' biggest move

No deals, but Houston makes headway on arbitration front

DALLAS -- The Astros were quiet on the trade front at the Winter Meetings, but they created quite a buzz when they opted not to offer Roger Clemens salary arbitration.
At first glance, it may seem as if the decision ended Clemens' tenure in Houston, because they cannot negotiate with or re-sign him until May 1. But that rule may work in the Astros' favor, because Clemens may be intrigued by the idea of pitching an abbreviated season.

The Rocket broke down in September and October of '05, and a five-month season may suit him better than a full seven-month campaign, including the playoffs. Clemens plans to at least attempt to pitch in the World Baseball Classic in March, and that will serve as a test regarding the health of his back and hamstrings, all of which caused problems in 2005.

By not offering arbitration to Clemens, who said he wouldn't make a decision on whether he wanted to pitch in '06 until late January at the earliest, the Astros can build a team without waiting for a high-priced player to pick a team, or in Clemens' case, retire. The Astros will likely pursue a third or fourth starter and a bat to boost a lagging offense that cost them during the World Series.

Lost in the Clemens news was the Astros' decision not to offer salary arbitration to Jose Vizcaino, thus ending the super utilityman's five-year tenure in Houston. Eric Bruntlett is the most likely candidate to fill Vizcaino's shoes, and Chris Burke and Danny Klaussen will also have an opportunity to serve in a backup role.

Deals done: Re-signed Orlando Palmeiro to a two-year contract.

Rule 5 activity: Drafted RHP Ben Diggins from Milwaukee (Huntsville) as the 17th pick in the first round of the Triple-A phase.

Goals accomplished: The Astros needed an answer from Clemens, and when they received word that he wouldn't have a decision regarding 2006 until late January at the earliest, that allowed for them to cut ties with The Rocket, however temporarily. They can now proceed in building their roster for 2006.

Unfinished business: The Astros now know for sure that they need a No. 3 or 4 starting pitcher, and they also are on the lookout for an impact bat to insert in the middle of the order. The club has had several discussions with other teams, and they could make a trade in the near future.

GM's bottom line: "We'll find a way to make it work, there's no doubt about it. We have two of the most dominant starters in baseball in Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte. Brandon Backe came on strong. I had one club today talk to me about how much they like Wandy Rodriguez. That's not somebody who we're looking to trade, but we really saw what great growth Wandy had last year.

"We've got some other young pitching coming throgh the system with [Jason] Hirsch and [Fernando] Nieve. Their time is coming soon. I can't say with certainty that they'll be ready to start the season, but I think everyone will be impressed with what they see."

Major League Baseball : News : Major League Baseball News

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