The Astros had three ranked free agents eligible for salary arbitration -- Randy Wolf, Doug Brocail and Mark Loretta. A fourth free agent, Brad Ausmus, is unranked.
The decision means the Astros will receive no Draft pick compensation if Wolf, a Type B free agent, or Brocail, a Type A, sign with other teams. The club appears to still be open to retaining both Wolf and Brocail, but the chances for Brocail to remain in Houston are greater than those for Wolf.
"We've had discussions with Brocail, and I'd like to think we'll have something done soon," Wade said.
Wolf's situation is more complicated. He was once the club's main offseason target, but as each day passes, he appears to be more and more of a long shot. Wade cited current economic times as the main reason why they have to be more deliberate with their decision-making process. Namely, sponsorship sales, as well as season ticket sales, are projected to be down next year, which directly affects how much money can go toward player salaries.
"We're not immune to what's taking place in the real world, so to speak," Wade said. "The projections aren't good."
Seemingly, the risk of Wolf accepting the offer wouldn't have been terribly costly. Had he accepted, the Astros would have had to commit only one year to the veteran left-hander, and while his salary would have probably reached upwards of $10 million, the club wouldn't have been burdened with a long-term deal.
But in the end, Wade decided the financial risk was too great to take that chance.
"We don't know what landscape is out there with regard to offers from other clubs he might get," Wade said. "We thought long and hard about this one."
The projected $100 million payroll may be lowered, and if the Astros want to re-sign Wolf, they'll have to rid themselves of other high salaries. Miguel Tejada will be tough to move, considering his numbers declined in '08 and he is owed $13 million next year. Carlos Lee has said repeatedly that he will not waive his no-trade clause. Ty Wigginton and Jose Valverde are due hefty pay raises in arbitration and could be moved, but with both heading toward free agency after 2009, it might not be easy to receive reasonable value in return.
"In order for us to pursue top-shelf free agents, that would entail us moving significant payroll that's on the club," Wade said. "There's no certainty we can do that or even have a great appetite to do that."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.