"I don't normally talk about trades, but we're not interested in trading Valverde," Wade said. "I'm not saying we're not going to. I'm not going to say 'never' to anything, but if we can figure out a way to make it work and preserve Valverde, we're going to try to do that."
The same cannot be said about Wigginton and Tejada, although Wade's camp is mum on that front. However, the lobby scene at the Bellagio is something quite different, and at the end of Day 1 of the Winter Meetings, there were strong indications that both players were generating interest from other clubs, with Wigginton drawing the bulk of the attention.
The Twins expressed an interest in Tejada, but it's likely they're more focused on Wigginton. It could be a while before anything is resolved on both the shortstop and third baseman fronts as many teams wait for the market to establish itself.
The Astros may agree to absorb some of the $13 million Tejada is owed in 2009, although how much they'd be willing to take on is unclear. That would largely depend on who they would receive in return, and if the Astros can nab a young pitcher from the Twins' pitching-rich farm system, they may be swayed to pay a chunk of Tejada's remaining salary.
Interest in Wigginton appears to be more abundant. The offensively sound third baseman displayed versatility when he thrived as a substitute for Carlos Lee in left field late last season, and with a number of teams looking for a third baseman, he could be in high demand. The picture will become clearer once free agent third baseman Casey Blake signs, and observers believe Wigginton's trade value will increase as soon as Blake is off the market.
The Twins, believed to be out of the Blake sweepstakes, may be interested, and again, their pitching-rich farm system has the Astros' attention.
In a perfect world, the Astros would not be shopping any of the players who helped the club win 86 games in 2008, and would instead be pursuing a veteran free-agent arm, like Randy Wolf. But economic realities hit the Astros' front office with the same urgency as felt by most of the other 29 clubs, and instead of adding, the Astros must subtract, all the while keeping the Major League team competitive.
"I'm not going to say 'never' to anything, but if we can figure out a way to make it work and preserve [Jose] Valverde, we're going to try to do that."
-- GM Ed Wade
Those are undoubtedly tough marching orders for Wade, who has to pare down the payroll by $10 to $20 million to hit the $100 million mark projected for '09. Insistent that the Astros will be competitive next season no matter what happens this winter, Wade stated the obvious when he acknowledged that any trades he would make would ideally bring in young pitching.
"Controllable players, close to the big leagues," Wade said. "Those are probably the most precious commodities out there. Short of that, prospects to continue to build the system are very important. We have a few specific needs, and we've talked about them. I think there's ways of filling those things in a number of fashions, whether it's trades or being patient in the free-agent market or the Rule 5 Draft or the non-tender market. There's going to be all kinds of opportunities to do those sort of peripheral things.
"If we were in the midst of moving a significant player, we'd like to try to get some type of significant return for the player. At the same time, the reason why, at this point in time, we'd be putting a significant player in the mix is try to reconcile where we need from a payroll standpoint."
The Astros' rotation, as it stands now, consists of Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Brandon Backe and Brian Moehler. Backe could be non-tendered on Friday, but with so few starting options, the Astros may have no choice but to give the right-hander another chance, despite his disastrous finish to the 2008 season that included a 7.82 ERA in August and a 19.64 ERA over his final three starts.
In other news, the Astros continue to pursue a veteran catcher who can either serve as a backup to Humberto Quintero or share equal playing time. They can't take on a lot of salary to fill that need, making it unlikely that they would explore a trade for Orioles backstop Ramon Hernandez, who is owed $8 million in '09 and has a $1 million buyout on his $8.5 million option in '10.