Programming note: If you missed Friday's hour-long special, "Spotlight: Jeff Bagwell, Legacy of an MVP" on FSN Houston, it will re-run Tuesday night at 10 p.m. CT. Set your DVRs, this is one you don't want to miss.
Also, if I may give a plug to my friend Larry Dierker's Web site, larrydierker.com. You'll find great photos, insights and perspectives from the former Astros pitcher and manager. He's advocating a worthy cause, fighting illiteracy. Check it out when you get a chance.
On to the questions...
The title of your latest "mailbag" is "What bat will be added in '07." However, you didn't actually answer that question or even address it. What bats do you think are likely to be sought after for '07? I'm worried that we won't get anyone good like the past few years. What do you think?
-- Luke T., Houston
If I could look into a crystal ball and prognosticate the future, I would charge a lot more for my services. I can only tell you what could happen.
I feel that the Astros are going to sign one major impact bat to hit in the cleanup spot behind Lance Berkman. I believe chances are that bat will belong to Carlos Lee, mainly because he appears to have interest in the Astros as well. Mutual interest tends to push things along a little quicker than if the player has no allegiances and could not care less about playing in Houston (cough, cough, Carlos Beltran).
I do not believe Lee is a done deal, however. I have no idea how negotiations are going to go this winter. It's a long process, and while it would be great for the Astros to announce a splashy signing in front of the baseball world at the Winter Meetings in early December, there is no such thing as a guarantee this time of year.
I feel they will pursue a second-tier starting pitcher, along the lines of a Woody Williams, Randy Wolf or Ted Lilly.
Here's a tip to use during the Hot Stove season. Look at the lists of free agents and ask yourself these questions: a) does this player play an outfield position, third base or catcher? Is he a solid starting pitcher? b) Is this player a proven veteran hitter or pitcher? c) Would this player fit in with the Astros' team philosophy?
If you can answer yes to "A" and "B," then assume the Astros are interested. "C" is a bonus -- attitude problems aren't going to be a deal breaker.
Here are two names you can cross off the list: Sean Casey and Gary Sheffield. The Astros want Berkman to play first base exclusively. They want him to go easy on the knee and would prefer he stay away from the outfield. Casey is a first baseman only, so that's out.
Sheffield is going to cost $13 million, and has made it clear if the Yankees trade him, he's going to be an unhappy camper and when he's an unhappy camper, he makes life miserable for everyone around him. The Astros were somewhat intrigued early on but have decided not to pursue the Yankees slugger.
I also do not believe they're interested in Luis Gonzalez. I would say that they are interested in Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Gary Matthews Jr. and Aramis Ramirez, among others.
We disagree on Adam Everett. Why don't you want a better hitter at that position in the lineup?
-- Mike, Pasqua
Because I want better hitters at other positions, like the positions where you're supposed to have good hitters. Third base. Right field. Left field. Power positions need power hitters. Shortstop is not a power position. It's a skill position and Adam Everett is the most skilled player at that position. It's very simple.
What are the chances the Astros could make some kind of deal to get Carl Crawford? What would the Devil Rays want in return for Crawford?
-- Bob L., Houston
I have not heard that Crawford is available. He's signed through 2008, and the Devil Rays hold options for 2009 and 2010. He's one of the players that the Devil Rays are hoping to build their club around. They've repeatedly said that they are not interested in trading Crawford.
But, let's say for argument's sake that they field offers. From the Astros, they'll want Roy Oswalt. And that's just for starters. Oswalt has a no-trade clause, and he is the Astros past, present and future. So, no deal for Crawford.
How is it possible that Everett didn't win the Gold Glove?
-- Luke T., Houston
Gold Glove voting is an inexact science, to put it nicely. Managers and coaches vote, and not all of them spend enough time making informed decisions. Phil Garner and his crew took it very seriously and did some research before making their selections. I've seen other regimes that could not have been less interested in this very important responsibility.
A lot of players win Gold Gloves on reputation. I would imagine Brad Ausmus' Gold Glove was based partly on merit, partly on reputation. Omar Vizquel is a terrific shortstop, without a doubt. But the fact that he was a 10-time Gold Glover probably helped him win his 11th.
You know who should vote on this award? The players. I would appoint the five starting pitchers and the catchers on every team to vote on the Gold Gloves. Trust me, starting pitchers know exactly who's good and who stinks, since they depend on their fielders to keep their ERAs in check. And catchers are generally the most astute, given the cerebral nature of their job, plus the fact that they have the best view of everything happening on the field.
And perhaps it would be a good idea to have position players vote for their positions, without being able to vote for themselves.
It's time to put the voting responsibility in someone else's hands.
Has an ex-catcher ever been a pitching coach? With Ausmus being so good with the pitchers, would that even be a possibility?
-- Omar S., Rio Grande Valley, Texas
A number of former catchers have become very successful pitching coaches. The Cardinals' Dave Duncan is one that comes to mind. He caught for the Royals, A's, Indians and Orioles over an 11-year career from 1964-76 and has been a highly successful big-league pitching coach for the past 20 years.
The general consensus around baseball is that Ausmus would make a great manager if he chooses to go that route. The same goes for any coaching aspirations he may have. I can't see him paying his dues by riding buses through the Minor Leagues, but I would imagine plenty of teams would offer him a job on the Major League level immediately.
But let's not push him out the door just yet. The Gold Glover has one more year left as a player.
How has Brandon Backe's recovery been? When can we expect the Galveston Kid back?
-- Paul S., Baytown, Texas
Backe's progressing well, but he's not coming back anytime soon. Tommy John elbow surgery requires 12 to 18 months of recovery. It's usually closer to 18 months than 12. He had the surgery in September, and he won't be back until spring of '08 at the earliest.
Is Greg Maddux a possibility for the Astros?
-- Kevin C., Los Angeles
I assumed that Maddux would stay with the Dodgers, but there are rumblings out of your neck of the woods that they may not re-sign the future Hall of Famer. From what I've heard, Maddux, who lives in Las Vegas, prefers to stay out west. If he's open to other options, I can't imagine the Astros wouldn't at least inquire about him.
Now that the Astros have declined Jeff Bagwell's '07 option, do you think they will retire his number, just like Jose Cruz, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott etc.?
-- Jeremy J., Houston
Bagwell's number definitely will be retired at some point. I would hope it would happen during opening week next year. But I haven't heard anything definitive yet. It's safe to assume there won't be a waiting period as there was with the other players whose numbers were retired. No one will ever wear No. 5 or 7 again, and the Astros should act quickly when the retirements are official.
What do you think the chances are that Taylor Buchholz makes the starting rotation at the beginning of the year?
-- Chase H., Yoakum, Texas
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That up to Buchholz. He's been given multiple opportunities at the Major League level and hasn't exactly left an indelible impression. The Astros would like nothing more for Buchholz -- who three years ago was the prize of the Billy Wagner trade -- to solidify himself on this pitching staff.
But while Buchholz has a tremendous arm and tremendous stuff, he hasn't adopted an air about him, a feeling of invincibility when he's on the mound. He needs to gain confidence, and no amount of coaching is going to push him in that direction. He has to find that within himself. I believe he's healthy, so it's up to him to win a spot in the rotation next spring.
With Aramis Ramirez filing for free agency and us needing a bat, would that not be a good fit and put Aubrey Huff in the outfield?
-- Cambo N., Tomball, Texas
I'm not convinced Huff is returning. The Astros are expecting him to test the free-agent market, and considering he's not going to make less than the $6.75 million he pulled in last year, and he's probably looking for a multi-year deal, he may be expendable.
The Cubs have exclusive rights to negotiate with Ramirez until Nov. 11 and they are trying to re-sign him. The Angels and Dodgers also are interested if he becomes available. Ramirez is definitely intriguing, but I hope the Astros exercise caution. While Ramirez did set career highs in home runs and RBIs this year, he got off to a slow start and didn't pick up the slack when Derrek Lee was hurt. He's good. But is he clutch?
What's the scoop on a new pitching coach?
-- Cary P., Hannibal, Mo.
The Astros are taking their time on this one. GM Tim Purpura and Garner have spoken by phone with a couple of candidates but have not conducted any in-person interviews yet.
You mentioned that Chris Sampson is playing in the Arizona Fall League. Which team is he playing for? He isn't listed on the Mesa roster.
-- Coy B., Fort Sumner, N.M.
Chris was on the roster but ended up not playing. He's not injured -- he just opted to rest instead. Sorry about the confusion.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.