The Astros will load up an equipment truck this week and start rolling toward Kissimmee, Fla., for Spring Training, which begins when pitchers and catchers work out on Feb. 20.
New Astros manager Brad Mills will leave Friday to get a lay of the land, and general manager Ed Wade and his staff will start trickling in early next week. Wade still has to deal with the Feb. 17 arbitration hearing for pitcher Wandy Rodriguez and he might do some bargain shopping between now and then, but most of the offseason heavy lifting is done.
The winter had its usual share of ups and downs, beginning with the hiring of a new manager to more recent news, like a prospect severely cutting tendons in two fingers when he tried to cut into a roasted pig. Ah, the things that grab our attention in the winter.
Thankfully, it's almost time for Spring Training. And time for another Inbox.
I understand enough about the game to know it is a business, too. However, do you have any insight, or know of any hard feelings Wandy Rodriguez has because of the arbitration issue? I would sure hate to have him not 100 percent at the start of the season because the Astros didn't give him what he wanted. Thanks, man. Love your articles.
-- Josh S., Silsbee, Texas
Rodriguez, who is asking for $7 million in arbitration, will head to a hearing Feb. 17 with the Astros, who are offering $5 million. There's no doubt arbitration hearings could cause some hurt feelings for the player, especially if he loses, but I would doubt this will be an issue with Rodriguez.
Coming off a season in which he led the team in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts, Rodriguez will be up to the challenge this year. He's enough of a professional not to let an arbitration hearing affect his performance on the field. At worst, Rodriguez will almost double his salary from a year ago, and if he puts up more strong numbers his salary will continue to rise.
If you remember, the Astros prevailed over Jose Valverde in an arbitration hearing prior to the 2008 season, and Valverde went out and led the league in saves. Don't worry. Rodriguez will be at his best when the season starts, no matter what happens before the arbitration panel.
If you remove Bud Norris's middle starts, when they sat him and straightened him out, I think he had an excellent rookie campaign! What do you think he'll do this year? How high is his ceiling?
-- Gary S., Flint, Mich.
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I agree. Norris always had a great strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Minors and has had the stuff, but he had a tough time getting wins. He made his Major League debut last year and went 6-3 in 11 games, winning his first three starts and three of his final four.
The Astros were thrilled with his debut, and there's reason to believe the best is yet to come. He's only 24 years old, has terrific stuff and is very confident. The fact he rebounded from three rocky starts in August to go 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in four starts in September was a great sign. He faced adversity and handled it well.
I could see Norris being a frontline starter for the organization in the next few years.
How is Carlos Lee's offseason going? Does he follow a team regimented workout in the offseason? Some folks label him as lazy. I however disagree. He was brought here to produce runs and he does that very well along with a very good batting average for a power hitter. However, I do feel if he worked hard this offseason and dropped a few pounds it would lower his risk for injury and increase his speed some. Your thoughts?
-- Rob. H., Austin
Lee, a proven run-producer, has spent most of his offseason in his native Panama. Each player is given a workout regimen by strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman for the winter and is expected to report to Spring Training in playing shape. Lee is a big man, so don't expect him to show up in Kissimmee at 225 pounds and looking to steal bases. Like you said, his job is to drive in runs.
What about Edwin Maysonet? Is the guy ready for the big leagues?
-- Juan O., Houston
Maysonet has never been considered a top prospect and is only a career .255 hitter in 661 Minor League games. He can play all over the infield, including a terrific shortstop, and he did pretty well with the Astros last year, hitting .290 in 69 at-bats.
The Astros value his versatility and will even try to get him some reps in the outfield this spring. Defensively, management has no doubt he could play in the Majors right now, but at 28 years old he needs to seize the opportunity to prove he can hit well enough to stay on a Major League roster.
There are a few stories about the Rangers and Astros swapping locations of there Triple-A affiliates come next season -- Astros to Oklahoma City and Rangers to Round Rock. My question is, would the Astros consider moving their Double-A or Triple-A team to San Antonio? Neither of the two clubs have had a presence in San Antonio in the past, so why not now for the Astros?
-- Joshua D., Houston
The Astros' player development contract with Triple-A Round Rock expires at the end of this year, general manager Ed Wade said. Houston management has expressed a desire to the Nolan Ryan family to keep the affiliate in Round Rock, but with Ryan having an ownership stake in the Texas Rangers, don't be surprised to see the Express become a Rangers affiliate eventually.
Houston's contract with Double-A Corpus Christi, which is also owned by Ryan Sanders, expires following the 2012 season. The Double-A San Antonio Missions are currently affiliated with the San Diego Padres. If the Astros do lose Round Rock to the Rangers, Oklahoma City might be their best option.
Being that Jeff Bagwell is eligible for the Hall of Fame next year, do you think he has a chance in his first year? Or will he even make it in your opinion?
-- Ed Z., Bakersfield, Calif.
Bagwell definitely has a good chance to make the Baseball Hall of Fame at some point, perhaps even on the first ballot. He won a Rookie of the Year and a Most Valuable Player Award and put up some huge numbers, hitting 449 home runs and driving in 1,529 runs. Plus, he's a career .297 hitter.
Because he was a power hitter, some voters will take a longer look at him because of the era during which he played. He never reached the magical 500-home run milestone in a period when balls were flying out of ballparks at historic rates because his career was cut short because of a shoulder injury.
I think at the end of the day, Bagwell gets in. He was a complete player, a smart player. He ran the bases well, played solid defense and, of course, swung a big bat. He was also a great guy for the media, which never hurts when the baseball writers sit down and begin filling out ballots.
What will the Astros do in the outfield when one of their young prospects forces his way onto the active roster? Would they leave him in the Minors or bring him up and actually give him some at-bats?
-- DeWayne C., Katy
The Astros have several top outfield prospects in the low Minor Leagues, including Jay Austin, Jon Gaston, T.J. Steele, Telvin Nash and J.B. Shuck. Collin DeLome is a little farther along and could be knocking at the door soon, but, as you pointed out, the outfield situation is set.
Carlos Lee has three more years left on his big-money contract, Michael Bourn appears to be a rising star and won a Gold Glove last year and Hunter Pence is coming off an All-Star appearance. You never know what will happen with injuries, but if any of these prospects are Major League-ready the Astros could have a surplus of outfielders.
That would give the club some flexibility to perhaps make a trade down the road, but these guys are still two or three years away. A lot could happen between now and then. But having Major League-ready prospects pushing for playing time is a problem the Astros would like to have.
Will Brad Ausmus come back to the Astros to mentor Jason Castro? His influence will definitely help a young catcher grow up. Even if Ausmus only plays in 25-plus games like he did last year, I think management should at least try for it.
-- James B., Overland Park, Kan.
Too late. Ausmus has re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers to be a backup to Russell Martin. His days of playing in Houston are done, but he's got a future as a manager if he wants it. Don't be surprised to see the Astros try to get him to return to their organization when he finally retires.
I recently saw that ESPN.com had Jordan Lyles listed as a better prospect than Castro. What are the plans for Lyles' future?
-- John B., Cleveland, Texas
Castro, who will compete for the starting catching job, Lyles and 2009 No. 1 Draft pick Jiovanni Mier are considered the top three prospects by most experts, though the order changes depending upon which site you're reading.
Lyles, a first-round pick in 2008, had a strong first full season in the organization in 2009, striking out 167 batters in 145 innings at Class A Lexington. He could start this season as high as Double-A Corpus Christi along with one or two other pitchers that did so well at Lexington last year. The Astros have said they will push players as long as they can handle it physically and mentally.
Mier, who only has 51 professional games under his belt, is much farther away, but he had a solid debut last year at Rookie-league Greeneville.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.