Do you think the Astros will make a run for Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt?
-- Ruben F., San Bernardino, Calif.
They'll inquire about them, I'm sure, but I'm guessing that both are out of the Astros' price range. First of all, Zito recently hired Scott Boras to represent him, which means that not only is Zito going for the highest paycheck, someone is going to overpay for him. The Astros don't have $100 million to spend on one pitcher, and I'm guessing Zito's multiyear contract is going to cost close to that.
Schmidt will also cost a bundle, and the Astros probably won't have enough for him, either. I would imagine they'll look at the second tier of pitchers -- Randy Wolf, Woody Williams, Ted Lilly, etc. -- and hope that Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens want to pitch next year. I think a rotation of Roy Oswalt, Pettitte, Williams, Jason Hirsh and a youngster as the No. 5 -- whether it's Matt Albers, Wandy Rodriguez or Taylor Buchholz -- would be a good way to start. Throw Clemens in there around early July, and then you've got something.
Have you heard anything about Aubrey Huff being re-signed, or are the Astros going to let him go?
-- Douglas J., Fort Polk, La.
Not sure which way they're leaning on Huff. He may cost more than he's worth, and considering he's good but not spectacular at any of the positions he plays, the Astros may not be inclined to sign him to a multiyear deal. He'll probably cost around $7 million a year, and I'm not convinced the club thinks he's worth it.
They'll first have to decide if they have enough faith in Morgan Ensberg to man third base for a full season. I have my doubts, based on his '06 performance and his decision to not be forthright with his injuries. I would like to see Huff on this club next year. Last season was tough for him -- he came to a new league and had to adjust to a slew of pitchers he'd never faced, and he also had to adjust to the pressure that accompanies playing for a contender, which he'd never done in his previous six years. I'm guessing he'd be more relaxed next year given the comforts of a new contract and a comfort level with this club he didn't have last year.
He's also got a bit of an edge to him, yet he fit in well with his teammates. I think that kind of presence is good in the Astros' clubhouse.
Rumor has it that the Reds are getting rid of their big strikeout hitter -- Adam Dunn. Do you think the Astros will try to get him on a trade? I would love to see Adam here! His hometown is New Caney.
-- Samuel R., Houston
Apparently, Dunn is salivating at the idea of playing for his hometown Astros. And yes, the Reds are throwing around the idea of trading him for pitching. So it's something that I'm sure both teams will look into this winter.
I've made my opinions of Dunn clear in past mailbags, and those opinions aren't too popular among those who want the 6-foot-6 slugger in the Astros' lineup. I won't beat around the bush -- his 194 strikeouts make my stomach turn. The Astros have enough hitters who whiff on a much-too-regular basis. Why add another?
But a friend of mine who is close to the Reds organization swayed my opinions a bit. First of all, as we know, Dunn is a terrific home run hitter. He's hit at least 40 three years in a row. And he walks a lot. He's drawn at least 100 free passes in each of the last three seasons. He's averaging .380 in on-base percentage over that same span of time -- not too shabby.
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He'd look quite nice hitting in the cleanup spot, behind Lance Berkman. Yes, I'll admit that. But a .234 batting average? Yikes.
I've seen that Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Japanese League will be pursuing a career in the Majors. Given his dominating performance in the World Baseball Classic and the Astros' need of pitching this offseason, do you think the Astros will be involved in bidding for the negotiation rights?
-- Addison R., Houston
Here's the way the whole scenario has been explained to me, and after you hear this, you'll probably agree that the Astros have a better chance of signing Donald Trump as their waterboy than putting Matsuzaka on the roster next year.
Matsuzaka's team, the Seibu Lions, owns a player for nine years, then he becomes a free agent. Matsuzaka just completed year No. 8 and will be a free agent after next season, at which time he will sign with a Major League team. In order to make some money off Matsuzaka while they can, they will "sell" his rights to the highest bidder.
Any big-league team can bid on Matsuzaka. It's a one-time bid, and the offers are sealed documents. The highest bid will likely be in the $15 million to $20 million range. And that's just for the rights to negotiate with him.
The next step is negotiating a contract with Matsuzaka's agent, who is probably going to be Boras. Let's say he agrees to a four-year deal worth $44 million. Ultimately, the team that gets him will pay upwards of $64 million, including the bid price.
Sound ridiculous? To the Yankees and Red Sox, not so much. For a cash-conscious team like the Astros, however, Mr. Matsuzaka is probably not on the radar screen.
Do the Astros have any players in the Arizona Fall League?
-- Jack C., Springdale, Ark.
Yes, they have seven -- Albers, Mark McLemore, Troy Patton, Chris Sampson, Hunter Pence, Mike Rodriguez and Lou Santangelo. Plus, Koby Clemens and Tommy Manzella are playing in the Hawaii Winter League, and a slew of familiar names are slated to play Winter Ball, including (but not limited to) Rodriguez, Willy Taveras, Philip Barzilla, Ezequiel Astacio, Fernando Nieve, Hector Gimenez, J.R. House, Luke Scott and Humberto Quintero.
I know Adam Everett is one the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Would you give up his defense for more offense?
-- Austin P., Palestine, Texas
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Everett is not one of the best shortstops -- he's the best shortstop in baseball. He makes playing that position look easy. No, I would not give up his defense for more offense. I would, however, give up defense for more offense at another position, such as catcher or center field.
Everett is a .240 to .250 hitter, and I can live with that if other areas of the team improve. I know I sound like a broken record, but I will defend Everett as long as he's healthy and playing his position at such an elite level. You don't trade away the best defensive shortstop in today's game because your catcher, who's probably going to retire after '07, doesn't contribute anything offensively. That's ultimately what it boils down to in that argument, folks.
The Astros' offense needs help, yes. But humor me -- let's add another 30-homer, 100-RBI guy to the lineup and then see how much Everett's offensive shortcomings hurt the team. I promise you, no one will care what he's doing at the plate if the middle of the order does what it's supposed to.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.