Astros eager to see product on spring fields
Wade looking forward to camp as club begins to take shape
HOUSTON -- Ed Wade's offseason to-do list has been pretty much completed. He's made a pair of moves to increase run production in the middle of the infield, created some competition for the fifth spot in the rotation and moved some payroll.
With the dust still settling following last month's signing of free-agent second baseman Bill Hall and the trade that sent relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom to the Rockies, the 2011 Astros have taken shape. And the general manager is eager to see how it all comes together at Spring Training, which begins in about six weeks.
"At this point, we're pretty much in the mode of just getting ready for Spring Training," Wade said. "We've got arbitration issues we continue to deal with, and we'll continue to pay attention to other opportunities to improve that might present themselves, but by and large we're anxious to get to Spring Training and see where we are."
Houston's biggest offseason moves were the additions of Hall and shortstop Clint Barmes to start in the middle of the infield, as well as the signing of Ryan Rowland-Smith and the departure of Lindstrom, who began last season as the Astros' closer. Barmes came aboard in November in a deal with the Rockies for pitcher Felipe Paulino.
With five remaining arbitration-eligible players -- Jeff Keppinger, Wandy Rodriguez, Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Barmes -- the Astros still have plenty of work to do on that end, especially considering all five should get sizable raises. The payroll should wind up being in the $80 million range, which would be about $13 million less than last year's Opening Day figure.
Still, Wade believes the club has improved. His main focus in the winter was improving one of baseball's weakest offenses, which led to the acquisitions of Barmes and Hall. Both will come to Houston with the expectations of bolstering the Astros lineup and recapturing their form of a few years ago.
"I think we've gotten better in the middle infield on a couple of fronts, and I say that against the backdrop that Keppinger did a real good job for us last year," Wade said. "We needed to improve run production, and what Hall and Barmes bring to the table was important. And from a defensive standpoint, Barmes profiles as a guy who's going to save our pitchers a lot of runs. That helps us in that fashion and makes our pitching better, because we think our defense will be better."
Wade created several options for the fifth starter's spot with the signing of Rowland-Smith and the selection of right-handed pitchers Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton in the Rule 5 Draft. The Astros also signed left-hander Gustavo Chacin to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He'll compete with Wesley Wright and Fernando Abad for the role of left-handed specialist in the bullpen.
"We like what Chacin did for us last year," Wade said. "We weren't comfortable with the arbitration numbers. It didn't make sense to go through the process of tendering him and having him as an arbitration-eligible player, but bringing him in on a Triple-A contract made a lot of sense."
Lindstrom, who saved 23 games last year, is the most significant loss the club had this winter. The Astros would have liked to have kept Lindstrom with Brandon Lyon and Wilton Lopez at the back of the bullpen, but economics got in the way. Lindstrom made $1.625 million in arbitration last year and was in line for a raise. Instead, the Astros dealt him for a pair of pitching prospects.
"Even without [Lindstrom], I think we'll be better than OK on the back end of the bullpen, and other guys we're counting on are going to have perform well in their bullpen roles," Wade said. "But this year is going to be about guys hitting their marks. That means veteran players hitting their production in the past or younger guys building on numbers they produced a year ago.
"There's no reason to believe that's not going to happen. There are a lot of good things to point to, but as often is the case, you've go to get to Spring Training and get the club ready and show what they're capable of doing. Talking about it during the offseason and whether it's been busy or not, it doesn't mean a whole lot once the real stuff starts to happen."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.