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After big trades, Astros getting younger

After big trades, Astros getting younger

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HOUSTON -- Jeff Bagwell now has a locker in the coaches' room. Craig Biggio spends his time roaming a high school baseball field. Roy Oswalt is wearing red shoes with the Phillies. And Lance Berkman is -- gasp -- now donning pinstripes as a member of the Yankees.


These are not your father's Astros.

Less than five years after reaching the World Series for the first time in team history, the Astros continued to plan for their future by trading franchise icons Oswalt and Berkman within 48 hours of each other, announcing the Berkman deal 2 1/2 hours before Saturday's Trade Deadline.

The Astros got 27-year-old pitcher J.A. Happ and four Minor Leaguers in the deals as they continued to try to beef up their depleted farm system. One of the players acquired, Brett Wallace, takes over for Berkman at first base, which means the Astros will start four rookies on most nights the rest of the season.

That's quite a shift of philosophy for a team that for many years wasn't shy about trading away prospects for big-name stars like Randy Johnson, Miguel Tejada and Carlos Beltran. Call it what you want, but don't call it rebuilding.

"You consistently have to move forward with young people," Astros owner Drayton McLane said. "A lot of people say this is a total rebuild, and I say absolutely not. We have some really experienced players in center field, right field, second base and left field, and then some of our pitchers we have are veteran pitchers. We're trying to blend young players that have bright futures with experienced, veteran players."

The Astros dealt Oswalt and $11 million to the Phillies on Thursday for pitcher J.A. Happ and Minor Leaguers Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose, who was then traded to the Blue Jays for Wallace. On Saturday, the Astros finalized a deal to send Berkman and $4 million to the Yankees for Minor League pitcher Mark Melancon and infielder Jimmy Paredes.

General manager Ed Wade said the club fielded calls about pitchers Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez, but didn't pull the trigger. Wade contacted Rodriguez early Saturday to let him know he wasn't being traded ahead of his start against the Brewers, and after the Deadline, told reporters the Astros were close to announcing a multi-year extension with Myers.

"I think we've had a few good days here," Wade said. "We traded players of great magnitude and great profile and guys who are going to go on and do great things for their respective clubs over the next couple of months. It's tough to make these types of moves and give up those types of players, particularly players who have established the types of identities that these two guys have done here in Houston."

Just because the Trade Deadline has come and gone doesn't mean more deals won't get made.

Over the next month, deals involving players on the 40-man roster cannot be made unless the players already have cleared waivers. A player exposed to waivers can be claimed by any team and -- if there are multiple claims -- the player would be offered to the team with the worst record.

At that point, a team has 48 hours to either try to work out a trade with the claiming club or remove the player from waivers. A player can only be pulled back from waivers once, but if he clears waivers either the first or a second time through, a team can attempt to trade him to any club.

Wade said he plans to ask waivers on everybody on the roster as a matter of course.

"This Deadline is big, but it's not the end of the world and not the end of the process," he said. "There's going to be players moving between now and Aug. 31 when you have to set playoff rosters."

By trading Berkman and Oswalt, who would have made a combined $31 million had they both been retained next year (Oswalt was under contract and Berkman had an option), the Astros not only got appreciably younger, but they created some payroll flexibility for next season.

"Because I care so much about the organization and I'm used to winning in this organization, it's different knowing we're going in this direction," Bagwell said. "That being said, I understand the direction had to be changed, and this is the right one."

The Astros have less than $40 million in committed payroll for 2011, and the average age of the 25-man roster dropped to 28.7 years old from 30.2 on Opening Day. With youngsters like Chris Johnson at third base, Jason Castro at catcher, Wallace at first and Happ, Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino in the rotation, Wade likes how the future sets up.

"In some respects, in all candor, we're sort of turning a battleship here," Wade said. "It takes time to turn a battleship. It doesn't turn on a dime, and sometimes, there's rough seas along the way. I'm not telling you this thing is turned or we're finished confronting some rough seas, but we're doing the right things here and people have to be patient in some respects with what we're doing. There's no quick fix to this thing. We hope to get good and stay good for a long time."

With Berkman and Oswalt gone to the East Coast to pursue a ring, outfielders Hunter Pence, 26, and Michael Bourn, 27, are the future faces of the franchise and could take on more of a leadership role with each passing season.

Despite this week's trades, the bulk of the Astros' best Minor League talent remains below the Triple-A level, but the future suddenly looks brighter -- and certainly younger.

"We have a lot of talent and we do have a lot of youth, and we've been playing some good ball lately and we've added some more young guys who definitely have some remarkable track records," Pence said. "It looks like we're moving in the right direction, moving forward. We have good attitudes, refreshing attitudes, and a lot of energy."

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

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