HOUSTON -- The Astros had until 11 p.m. CT on Monday to offer their four remaining free agents arbitration, but the club has decided to not make that information public until Tuesday morning.
Doug Brocail and Randy Wolf are the focal point of this deadline. Mark Loretta, who qualifies as a Type B free agent and will command a hefty salary, and Brad Ausmus, who didn't qualify under the Elias Sports Bureau rankings, are not expected to be offered arbitration.
As recently as a week ago, it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that the club would offer Wolf arbitration, but now the Astros may have changed their stance. Wolf, a Type B free agent, would net the club a compensation pick between the first and second rounds of next year's Draft should he reject the offer and sign elsewhere. Offering him arbitration would seem to make sense because if he accepted, the Astros would have to commit only one year to the veteran left-hander.
But the addition of Mike Hampton to the starting staff, assuming he passes his physical Tuesday, may affect the Astros' interest in Wolf. At first glance, it would appear Hampton's deal -- a low-base, incentive-laden contract that protects the club against chronic injury issues that have hampered him for several years -- has nothing to do with Wolf, who is four years younger than Hampton and is seemingly past his prior injury issues.
But even before the Astros signed Hampton, Wolf was starting to slip off the Astros' radar, with the club citing financial concerns as a reason to "slow down" the negotiations. Wolf, once the Astros' main offseason target, may find that payroll constraints will prevent the club from committing to a multiyear contract while trying to keep the 2009 budget around $100 million.
General manager Ed Wade made it clear that in order to sign Wolf, he'd have to shave money off the payroll in other areas. Presumably, if he cannot trade Ty Wigginton and/or Jose Valverde, both of whom are due hefty raises in arbitration, Wolf may be too expensive and therefore headed elsewhere this winter.
The club also appeared to be leaning toward not offering arbitration to Brocail, who is a Type A free agent and would bring in two Draft picks should he reject the offer. But Brocail, who had a solid year as the Astros' setup man in 2008, would likely make a bundle in arbitration -- probably more than Brocail's $3.25 million '09 option, which the Astros declined.
Many players from other teams were not offered arbitration, including Cardinals right-hander Russ Springer, who is believed to be drawing interest from the Astros. With no threat of losing Draft picks for Springer, a Type A free agent, the Astros may emerge as a front-runner for the veteran reliever.
Springer is garnering interest from several teams, including contenders in both leagues, but he may opt for a deal from Houston -- located close to his Louisiana home. Springer is one of several relievers the Astros have inquired about in case they lose Brocail.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.