Astros designate Wilson for assignment

Astros designate Wilson for assignment

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros were faced with a difficult decison on Saturday when they had to decide who to remove from the 25-man roster in order to open a spot for rookie right-hander Jason Hirsh.

Preston Wilson was the odd man out, receiving the news minutes before the start of batting practice from manager Phil Garner and general manager Tim Purpura that he was designated for assignment. The club has 10 days to trade him, reassign him to the Minor Leagues or give him his outright release.

Assuming they do not succeed in trading him to another team, they will be responsible for paying the remainder of his $4 million contract, which calculates to approximately $1.6 million.

"From a club composition point of view, we've got a lot of outfielders, and there's only three spots out there," Purpura said. "It's a tough one. Preston has carried himself very well on this club. He's a professional, and he's done everthing we've asked him to."

Wilson, a veteran of seven-plus Major League seasons, can and presumably would refuse any assignment to the Minor Leagues. The Astros have been discussing trade possiblities with several clubs, but it's more likely that Wilson will be granted his release after 10 days and become a free agent.

Wilson, 32, signed a one-year contract in January with a club option for an additional three years. But the outfielder struggled offensively, hitting only nine homers over 102 games this season. Coming off a 25-homer year in 2005, the Astros expected Wilson's right-handed bat and the Crawford Boxes in left field at Minute Maid Park to translate into significant power numbers for the outfielder.

Wilson hit .269 (105-for-390), driving in 55 while playing mostly left field. His playing time was significantly diminished two weeks ago, due mostly to the offensive emergence of outfielder Luke Scott. Wilson received eight at-bats in 10 games in August.

"Certainly, from a production point of view, I think he's been disappointed and so have we, but he went about his business very professionally and he was a good guy to have on the club," Purpura said.

"It's tough to do," Garner said. "The easiest thing is just to stay with what our original plan was. But Luke has gotten hot, it looks like [Aubrey] Huff is going to start to swing the bat and Willy [Taveras]...all those guys are doing well.

"Preston would like more playing time. I won't argue with that. I don't think Tim has argued with that, either. We'll just go ahead, work with what our club looks like it's evolving into right now, while at the same time trying to accomodate what would be right for Preston."

Wilson sat quiety at his locker after hearing the news, talking on his cell phone in a low tone while making an obvious effort not to draw attention to himself.

"I'm never shocked about anything that happens, but I'm disappointed," he said. "I'm just trying not to make a scene. I'll try to sneak out of here. I haven't been a disruption yet, and I don't plan on being one now."

Wilson acknowldeged he was disappointed with his low power numbers but also pointed out he was second on the team with 55 RBIs.

"It is a disappointment," he said. "But, in a way, I feel like I wasn't getting home runs like I normally do and I was still able to drive in runs. That says that I'm not a guy that can just drive in runs with home runs. I don't feel like I've been like that over my career. But I wish there were more home runs. There's nothing more that I could do about that. But, if I had 30 RBIs, it would have really been a bad season."

Wilson signed a unique contract in January, receiving a one-year deal with a club option for three years that would have been worth up to $9 million a year if incentive clauses were met. The contract also includes a $500,000 buyout option after 2006.

The Astros had high hopes that Wilson would give the middle of the order a lift, something they were sorely lacking throughout the 2005 season, all the way through the World Series.

But Wilson started slowly, hitting .231 in April. He improved to .295 in May and .337 in June, but hit only four homers over those two months. Wilson hit .209 in July and was informed by Garner on Aug. 1 in San Diego that he was no longer guaranteed a starting job.

"I think there's a little bit [of disappointment], but we're trying to look at going forward," Garner said. "I wish it would have worked out the way we wanted it to work out. Through no fault of anybody's efforts -- I think what you have to do in this game a lot of times is you assign players, you make changes and sometimes it doesn't work the way you want it to.

"What you need to do when you get to a point where you're doing something else, you have to go ahead and make the changes."

The Astros are in the midst of playing 20 games in a row without a day off and felt they would be better armed with a 12-man pitching staff, rather than 11. For that reason, the Astros did not want to option reliever Fernando Nieve to the Minors to make room for Hirsh.

The Astros would have rather optioned Jason Lane back to Triple-A, but he did not clear waivers and in turn will remain on the 25-man roster for the remainder of the season. Lane was told as much on Friday.

Chris Burke was not a logical option for a demotion, considering he's the club's only backup infielder who can play second and shortstop.

Wilson appeared to be the logical candidate to be removed from the roster.

"This is a decision that it seemed like we labored over it for the last week," Purpura said. "We had a pretty good idea that we were going to bring up Jason. The opportunities to make a move were pretty limited. We felt like this was the one option that would hurt our club the least. But it certainly does hurt our club."

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