HOUSTON -- What was expected to be a quiet offseason for the Astros has blossomed into an era of change, with new owner Jim Crane and president and CEO George Postolos dismissing longtime president of baseball operations Tal Smith and general manager Ed Wade less than a week after taking control of the club. Needless to say, the Astros will head into next week's Winter Meetings in Dallas with issues to resolve, both on and off the field. Wade's full-time replacement won't be in place in time for the start of the Winter Meetings on Monday, but assistant general manager David Gottfried will handle the day-to-day baseball duties on an interim basis.
The Astros, who are coming off a season in which they lost a club-record 106 games for their third consecutive losing season, will have their scouts and player-development staff in town later this week to make some final preparations. "We'll head to Dallas first thing Monday morning, and from there be open for business and stay the course we've been doing," said Gottfried, who will remain in an interim GM role through the Winter Meetings. "We're certainly looking to get young and target a long-term plan and reach out to clubs and where it gets us." The dismissal of Wade and Smith shouldn't have much bearing on the immediate direction of the club, which has been clear since the Astros dealt franchise icons Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt at the Trade Deadline in 2010.
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That was a strong indicator the Astros were in a rebuilding mode, and they revved up those efforts even more this year when they traded outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn and infielder Jeff Keppinger in July and got 10 players in return.Several of those players -- pitchers Jarred Cosart, Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer, outfielder Domingo Santana and first baseman Jonathan Singleton -- are among the top prospects in the Astros' ever-improving Minor League system. Crane, who was consulted about the trades of Bourn and Pence, is committed to getting the Astros back into contention through player development, which is why they don't figure to be much of a player on the free-agent market this offseason and shouldn't make many headlines at the Winter Meetings. Houston still has a need at shortstop, following the departure of Clint Barmes, and it could explore adding a player at that position in free agency or trying to make a trade. There are internal candidates, including raw third baseman Jimmy Paredes changing positions, but shortstop is the one area in which the Astros appear most likely to make an offseason acquisition. Crane has been trying to trim payroll, which means pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers are likely going to be shopped in Dallas. The Astros offered both at the Trade Deadline, and the Rockies unsuccessfully tried to work out a trade for Rodriguez after putting in a waiver claim. Both Rodriguez and Myers are due hefty paydays next year, which will complicate working out a deal. The Astros have $47 million in salary committed next season to Carlos Lee ($19 million), Myers ($12 million), Rodriguez ($10.5 million) and Brandon Lyon ($5.5 million). While the future of the Astros' rotation will likely center around Jordan Lyles, Bud Norris and Cosart, Myers and Rodriguez have value. They combined for 18 wins last year, but both are proven innings-eaters who could slot nicely into the rotation of a contender willing to take on some money. Astros manager Brad Mills, who has two years under his belt, said on multiple occasions last year that he'd like to carry a third catcher, but only if that player was capable of playing other positions. Mills' desire for another backstop will ease the burden on starting catcher Jason Castro, who missed all of last season following knee surgery. Houston has already set its 40-man roster in advance of the Dec. 8 Rule 5 Draft and has two remaining spots, so don't be surprised to see the Astros take a chance on a player left unprotected by another organization. Last year, Houston claimed Aneury Rodriguez from the Rays and kept him on the active roster all season. Considering the Astros are still looking to stockpile youth, the Rule 5 Draft could be one of the team's most important events of the Winter Meetings.