Results tagged ‘ Ed Wade ’

What the Astros got for Pudge.

One scouting report describes Matt Nevarez as having a “huge arm” but also as “extremely raw.” The Astros do not see him as raw. They like his plus-plus fastball and see what could be the makings of an average slider. Nevarez is young, only 22, and even though that’s a little old for Class A, where he was at the time of the trade, he missed some time because of an elbow injury. Now seemingly healthy, the Astros envision Nevarez as a possible power arm for the back end of the bullpen.

Reportedly, the Astros also received infielder Jose Vallejo as one of the two players to be named later. According to this report, the Astros will get a second PTBNL if the Rangers reach the playoffs. 

It’s obviously too early to tell if this trade will work in the Astros favor, but that they obtained a young power arm is encouraging. I would have preferred a starting pitcher, but it would have taken more than Pudge Rodriguez to get that.

Ed Wade addressed several topics during his briefing with the media Tuesday. First, he offered a timeline of how the deal was done. Rangers GM Jon Daniels, according to Wade, called him Friday after front-line catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was diagnosed with an arm ailment. Daniels expressed interest in Pudge, and after mulling over the Astros asking price, he called Wade again Tuesday morning and said he was prepared to move forward with the trade.

The Rangers, Wade said, did not have interest in Pudge until Saltalamacchia went down.

Pudge has a no-trade clause, and he had to agree before the two sides could make it official. That part is why it took so long between the news breaking that Pudge was headed to the Rangers and the Astros acknowledging that they had indeed completed the trade: Pudge first had to accept a trade that would push him into a backup role with his new team.

Wade also offered this interesting tidbit: during their parting conversation Tuesday morning, Pudge wanted to talk about next year, and his interest in possibly returning to the Astros. Wade told him they were prepared instead to look at some of their young catching prospects. “I advised him to take advantage of going ‘home’ and see what the offseason presents at that time,” Wade said.

Astros owner Drayton McLane was pressed about the public perception that the team was throwing in the proverbial towel by trading away one of their most experienced players, and McLane insisted this was not the beginning of the club going into full tear-down mode.

“If we were interested in changing the total texture of the team, we would have done it at the trade deadline,” McLane said. “We had not had conversations about trading Pudge. This was unusual. We got call after the Rangers No. 1 catcher was injured.”

McLane added that Rangers owner Tom Hicks called him about Pudge. “I was very reluctant,” McLane said. “I said, ‘You need to make a strong offer before we’d even consider this.’”

Astros players reactions ranged from disappointment to indifference. Some took it hard and feel that taking away someone with Pudge’s history is equal to giving up on the season. Others weren’t terribly surprised — after all, Pudge was pretty much down to catching a few times a week and splitting time with Humberto Quintero.

“Pudge wasn’t catching as much lately,” Lance Berkman said. “That’s what it seemed like. That’s why I thought there might be something going on even before this (trade). It’s one thing if he was the every day catcher. But he was more part-time.”

Roy Oswalt had this to say: “I guess that’s the process of trying to build the club for next year. That’s what I’m hoping they are doing now. There is a time where you have to start rebuilding, and if you wait until the end of the season, you may not get the pieces you need for the next year.”

My take: While I realize Pudge was a popular player in the clubhouse and with the fans, and he’s accomplished a heck of a lot in his career, and he’s probably headed for the Hall of Fame, I’m not understanding why this is viewed as such a huge loss. Pudge was hitting .251, he grounded into 13 double plays and was showing signs of wearing down, hitting just .170 (10-for-59) with one extra base hit over his last 15 games. And his defense, lauded for so many of his 19 years in the big leagues, wasn’t anything great. Five passed balls in 90 games is, in my estimation, too many.

The 37-year-old Rodriguez is going back to the Rangers, where he spent his best years, to be a backup to Taylor Teagarden. The Astros have a farm system with giant holes and a big league team playing poorly. At first glance, this appears to be a win-win for both sides.

The Astros were also negotiating from a position of strength, which doesn’t happen too often. The Rangers needed Pudge and the Astros were in no huge hurry to rid themselves of him. From the reports I’m reading, the Rangers didn’t give up just a bag of beans for Pudge. We’ll see.

As for how the catching situation will shake out…for now, Chris Coste and Quintero will share the time behind the plate. The Astros will strongly consider bringing up J.R. Towles when rosters expand to 40 on Sept. 1, which would give them a true emergency catcher. Jason Castro, who is headed for the World Cup games in September, does not appear to be on the radar this year. I am holding out hope they consider giving him a chance to win the starting catcher job out of Spring Training in 2010.

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Fun at the Puma palace

We’ll never accuse Berkman of forgetting from where he came, especially when it comes to his alma mater.

Puma recently welcomed 25 Rice University students to his home as part of orientation week, during which co-eds are sent on a scavenger hunt with specific items to obtain on their excursion. Apparently, one of those items this year was a picture with Puma. A friend had reached out to Berkman ahead of time, so it was no surprise when the group showed up at his place wanting a quick pose. Berkman readily obliged, remembering his own “O-Week” at Rice nearly 15 years ago.

“I did it when I was a freshman,” he said. “We fit a full soccer goal into the back of a mini pick-up truck.”

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Need to vent? Join Facebook.

Frustrated. Elated. Mad. Sad. Indignant. Excited. Optimistic. Annoyed. Indifferent. Hopeful.

Baseball evokes a wide range of emotions from its fans, and over the course of this season, and seasons past, I’ve heard from fans who have expressed one or two, or all, of the above. Now, thanks to social networking, we can be mad, sad, elated, hopeful and annoyed together.

Some of you post on my blog, some on Twitter, some on Facebook. Your comments (keep them clean, please) are always welcome and I try my best to join in the conversation and address/answer everything I can. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to join the Astros Facebook page. There are some lively conversations that take place there, and I promise that you’ll find a ton of people who think just like you, and another ton who will think you’re nuts.

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Cheap tickets alert

Two of the more popular summer promotions have been extended to the end of the season…

Price Matters: For $10, you get a View Deck II ticket, a hot dog, soda and chips. The offer is for the following games: Aug. 23 (D-Backs), Sept. 4-7 (Phillies), Sept. 8 (Braves), Sept. 11-13 (Pirates), Sept. 22 (Cardinals), Sept. 25-27 (Reds).

Kids Free All Summer…er, season:
This offer was originally scheduled to end on Sunday, but it’s been extended to include all remaining home games. For every full price adult ticket you purchase in the View Deck I, View Deck II or Mezzanine you can get two free tickets in the same price level for kids 14 & under.

On Wandy and LosAstros. And a few random thoughts.

Wandy Rodriguez was the recipient of quite a few man hugs from when he got back to the clubhouse after his complete game shutout over the Pirates on Wednesday, and who can argue? He tied his career-high with 11 strikeouts, doing so for the second time this year, and he lowered his home ERA this season to 2.21.

A couple more notes on Wandy’s outstanding start:

The Astros are 12-6 in games he has started this year.

He threw 125 pitches, a career-high.

The shutout was the second of his career and the fourth complete game thrown by an Astros pitcher this year.

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The Twitter craze is a world-wide phenomenon, and count Astros En Espanol as the latest entity to jump into the social networking era. “LosAstros” is  now fully functional and giving 140-character updates on all things Astros, in Spanish.

The Astros have one of the largest local Hispanic fan bases in baseball, right up there with the Dodgers and Mets. They also have a huge following internationally because of their Spanish Web site, which reaches fans in Mexico, Venezuela, Panama and Puerto Rico.

Through “LosAstros” on Twitter, the Astros hope to give fans insight into the team they wouldn’t otherwise get and also to give information about the Spanish Web site, TV show and radio broadcasts.

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Random thoughts:
* Last year, I remember thinking on more than one occasion that this Michael Bourn thing wasn’t working out and they really needed to start looking for another solution in center field.  Patience, of course, is one of the most important qualities in a general manager. It is not, however, one of my strong suits, which is why I’m glad Ed Wade is the GM and I’m not.

* When the Astros and Nationals game was suspended on May 5, Elijah Dukes was on first in the bottom of the 11th inning. But Dukes has since been shipped to Triple-A, so the Nationals will simply put in a pinch-runner for him when the game resumes Thursday.

* Pirates starter Charlie Morton faced the Astros only one other time before Wednesday’s game, and while his start then wasn’t memorable, the game certainly was. Morton was with the Braves on July 6, 2008, when he allowed six runs over six innings. That was the forgettable part. What was unforgettable — if you were a) playing for the Astros; b) watching the game on TV or listening on the radio; or c) covering the game as a reporter (such as myself) — was that the game was delayed by rain for more than two hours and then promptly lasted 17 innings.

What I’ll really never forget is how hungry I became around the 14th inning, to the point of desperation. I scoured the ballpark for an open concession stand and had made it almost around the entire circumference before mercifully finding one lone stand still operating. I said, “what do you have?” The lady at the stand said, “Nachos, and one hot dog.” So I bought both.

Later, I bragged to Wade that I bought the last hot dog at Turner Field. He said, “I don’t know if I’d want to eat something that had been sitting around that long,” and I said, “No worries. I gave it to McTaggart.”

* Puma, observing my furious typing after Wednesday’s win: “Twitter! Twitter!” See, I knew he’d come around. For those of you who have asked, no, Puma is not into the Twitter-Facebook thing and never will be…he likes a simpler life, even though he does travel with one of those cool electronic books. So he’s not totally living in the early 2000s.

* LaTroy Hawkins will “start” the suspended game Thursday. He was on the mound when the game was called in D.C.

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Throwing out the ceremonial pitch on Wednesday was Roberto Duran, a retired boxer from Panama. Considered in boxing circles as one of the greatest of his generation, Duran is a friend of fellow Panamanian Carlos Lee, who invited Duran to visit with him at Minute Maid Park:

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Mier signs on the dotted line…and heads to Greeneville.

Jiovanni Mier didn’t have a lot of time to acclimate himself to Houston on Friday — in fact, it was one of those here today, gone tomorrow trips that involved taking care of business quickly and moving on to the next task.

That’s fine with Mier. Over the course of 36 hours, he will have signed his first professional baseball contract and arrived to the city where he’ll reside for the next several months — Greeneville, Tenn., home of the Rookie League Greeneville Astros.

Mier, the Astros’ first-round Draft pick, will assume the full-time duties at shortstop as early as Sunday. Prior to his departure, the California native spent a little over a day in the Bayou City, where he signed on the dotted line, autographed a handful of baseballs, met with the media, took batting practice on the field with the Astros and waved to the Minute Maid Park crowd as he was introduced by P.A. announcer Bob Ford in between innings.

Not bad for an 18-year-old only three weeks removed from his high school graduation.

Here’s a quick pictoral overview of Mier’s day:

Mier and Doug Deutsch, the scout who signed him, chat with club owner Drayton McLane.

 

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After a brief exchange of pleasantries, it was time to get down to business. I quickly learned signing a professional contract is sort of like closing on a house. Requires lots and lots of signatures, and then when you think you’re done, you sign your name around 10 more times (Scouting GM Bobby Heck on left).

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That’s his brother, Robert, and his mom, Leticia. Mier’s other brother, Jessie, is a catcher in the Dodgers system.  

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Leticia had to sign the contract as well, because Jiovanni is under the age of 21 — the legal age in New York, where Major League Baseball is based. As Heck pointed out, that is why the relationships between the team and the family of the player is important — the parents or guardians have to know the club will take care of their son.

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Group photo — Heck, McLane and Deutsch; Leticia, Jiovanni and Robert Mier; agents Brodie Scoffield  and Greg Genske.

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Mier signed about a dozen baseballs — the first of many, many dozens of baseballs he hopes to sign throughout his career.

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The Mier family brought personalized champagne bottles to the front office as a thank you…each bottle came with a picture, and the words “in appreciation in joining the Houston Astros.”

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Jiovanni suits up in the clubhouse. I have to say he did a phenomenal job of acting natural despite the cameras following him around.

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Now comes the hard part: meeting the team. Everyone was very welcoming (yes, Tejada included).

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Mier takes batting practice, while Wade takes in the scene from behind the cage.  

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Read Jason Grodky’s full report of the signing here.

Other news from Astros camp includes this bit  about Mike Hampton coming off the DL in time to pitch Tuesday.

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Mier’s BP session was fun to watch, but not quite as entertaining as Ed Wade and Carlos Lee’s exchange behind the cage while the young shortstop was hitting. The two had some laughs as Wade sent some pretty funny zingers Lee’s way. My favorite:

Lee (noticing Mier is a good hitter): “He swings like me.”

Wade: “He swings like you. I just hope he doesn’t run like you.”

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For those of you on Facebook (and really, these days, who isn’t?), are you member of the Astros Facebook page? It’s a useful tool — sort of one-stop shopping for information about promotions, ticket specials and player appearances, while also providing links to this blog and the news of the day from Astros.com.  I’m also posting a bunch of photos under the fan photo section at the top.

Astros Facebook Page

 

Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter

Geary activated from DL. And outrighted to Round Rock.

Surprising news out of Astros camp today…the club activated right-hander Geoff Geary from the disabled list and outrighted him to Triple-A Round Rock. He cleared waivers. He could opt for free agency if he does not want the assignment.

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And the Astros expect swift negotiations with their first four picks. Ed Wade and Bobby Heck keep owner Drayton McLane apprised of everything they’re doing, including giving McLane insight as to how long they think it’ll take them to sign their top picks. There appears to be heightened optimism that the picks will sign soon.

Here is a quick shot of Wade and McLane having a quick conversation before Day 2 of the Draft got underway, just after 11 a.m. CT:

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Hey, look who I ran into.

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You never know who you’re going to bump into when you stop by clubhouse manager Dennis Liborio’s office, the unofficial center of the Houston baseball universe. Not only do players go there for bats, balls, haircuts (yes, haircuts. Every couple of weeks, I believe on Sundays, a hairdresser comes in, sets up shop in the back room and trims a little off the sides for whoever needs it) and other equipment needs, it’s simply a place where people stop by to chat with Dennis, who has been with the Astros for about 30 years and pretty much knows everyone in baseball.

When the Phillies are in town, you’ll find Larry Andersen in Dennis’s office before batting practice. When it’s an ESPN game, Joe Morgan usually pops in. Both President Bushes have spent time in Dennis’s office, as have a slew of former Astros who have stayed in the biz, either as broadcasters, or coaches, or front office staffers — such as Charley Kerfeld of the reigning World Champ Phillies.

Most park it in the big blue comfy seat located in the center of the room, but on Wednesday, an old friend made a beeline for Dennis’s chair, as he did for the majority of his 20-year career. Craig Biggio isn’t a frequent guest in the Astros’ clubhouse these days, but when he does stop by — as he did this time, with his 16-year-old son, Conor — he knows how to make himself right at home.

Soon after Biggio arrived, Astros owner Drayton McLane strolled in and the two chatted for a while, talking mostly about the draft and the sky-high signing bonuses that are awarded to the top-shelf picks. Both men, as you can imagine, think that part of the game is getting a tad out of hand.

“What did you sign for?” McLane asked Biggio, the Astros first-rounder in 1987.

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“One-hundred thousand,” Biggio said proudly.

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“Too much!” McLane responded with a laugh.

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In baseball circles these days, much of the conversation is focused on the upcoming draft, which begins next Tuesday [June 9] at 5 p.m. CT. Biggio will represent the Astros, who have the 21st pick overall. All 30 teams are sending a notable representative to make their first selections, which will be broadcast live from the MLB Network Studio in Secaucus, N.J.

The group includes several Hall of Famers, including Al Kaline (Detroit), Bill Mazeroski (Pittsburgh) and Billy Williams (Cubs). Many former superstars will be there as well, including Seattle’s Jay Buhner, Cleveland’s Ellis Burks, Cincinnati’s Eric Davis and the Yankees’ Tino Martinez.

“That’s a pretty impressive group,” Biggio said. “This is great for the game.”

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The Astros, like all teams, are currently knee-deep in pre-draft meetings to prepare for the big day — or should I say, three days — next week. I’m going to sit in on some of these meetings to get a taste of everything that goes into getting ready for Draft day, and I’ll also be blogging and Twittering from inside the draft room next Tuesday and probably Wednesday. I’ve never been on the inside before and I’m looking forward to watching the process unfold. And, of
course, I’m looking forward to sharing that insider view with you.

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If you didn’t get a chance to watch the video chat session Brian McTaggart and I conducted Wednesday afternoon, you can find it on the third panel on the Astros web site. It will also be posted in the video section of my “Footnotes” blog, which you can find here.

Right now, we’re running the Spring Training reports in that section but our goal is to replace
those with more current videos in the near future. First up will be today’s chat session.

McTaggart and I answered approximately 25 questions during the 45-minute chat. A wide variety of topics were addressed, including rumors surrounding a couple of the more popular players. The recent Roy-Oswalt-to-White-Sox speculation was front and center, and Brian and I did our best to address, and squelch, any notion that the two teams were in talks regarding the star right-hander.

General manager Ed Wade has a policy to never discuss trade rumors with media, either to conform or deny. It’s a sound practice, considering discussing players under contract with other teams is against Major League Baseball rules. But Wade, as well as White Sox GM Kenny Williams, set aside this policy because they felt this was a special case. Both sides confirmed there have been no talks at all, about any players, including Oswalt.

The reports began to surface after a high-level White Sox executive was spotted at several Astros games during Houston’s recent road swing through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and the assumption, seemingly unconfirmed, was that the executive was scouting Oswalt.

Perhaps the White Sox/Jake Peavy trade that was apparently completed and then called off fueled the rumors that they were now targeting another front-line starter. That part I don’t know. I do know that every team has advance scouts in every ballpark this time of year. It’s standard practice.

The story gained more steam when Oswalt was quoted as saying he would invoke his no-trade rights if the Astros and White Sox did complete a deal.

The Astros made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that they are not talking to the White Sox and they’re not shopping Oswalt. Confirmation from the White Sox side should be enough to put this one to bed.

I’m fairly certain Mark Teixeira’s Yankees aren’t going to be pursuing Lance Berkman anytime soon, either.

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Trade rumors are part of baseball, and in general, they’re a part of why this game is fun for the fans. In today’s 24-7 news cycle fueled by the Internet, there is never a shortage of rumors, innuendos and speculation. Most of it is harmless. Every once in a while, however, it can be flat incorrect, and sometimes, cruel.

I read a recent report on SI.com that stated quite bluntly that the problem in Houston was not manager Cecil Cooper, but rather GM Ed Wade, who, according to the report, is meddling and negative and “puts everyone in a defensive mode,” including Cooper.

It goes on to say that Shawn Chacon’s actions last year involving “pushing Wade down last year” were “cheered” by other players. I read that and thought, if this is true, and I missed it, then I really had no business covering the Astros for as long as I did. So I made my way around the clubhouse to poll the players who were on the team last year. I told them about the report and the reaction was unanimously one of surprise.

“If anything, we understand (Wade is) somewhat hamstrung by the payroll,” one player said. “But we’ve always been impressed with the job he’s done, especially after he went out and got Randy Wolf last year when everyone else had counted us out of the race.”

And I can assure you, no one was cheering Chacon when he “pushed Wade down,” wh
ich is sort of like saying Yao Ming is “slightly” taller than Tiny Tim. The act was violent, it was beyond inappropriate, and not a single player was anything but disgusted that it happened.

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From the homepage:

Miguel Tejada wants to remain an Astro

Jose Valverde continues to make progress

Surprising news out of Atlanta: Braves release Tom Glavine

And Wade says he’s not interested:

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Ed Wade does not owe me an apology.

Ed Wade does not owe me an apology.

I absolutely hate to have to go back to this, because it is my desire to move on from this subject, for good. But now that my name has been brought up specifically in an SI.com article, I need to again set the record straight.

Ed Wade does not owe me an apology, because Ed Wade never lied to me. Let me say it again — Ed Wade has never lied to me.

Ever.

I have been working with him for a year and a half. I have had many candid conversations with him over time and the one thing he guaranteed me is that if I ever approached him with something regarding rumors — as long as they weren’t trade rumors, because it’s against the rules for teams to comment on players under contract other teams — if I was headed in the right direction, he would never flat out tell me I was wrong.

That doesn’t mean he’d help me, or give me any details, but he would not lie to me. And he hasn’t.

I told you that eventually I would have more on the timeline detailing the events that occurred from the time that I last talked to Ed about Pudge Rodriguez to the day that the news broke that they signed him.

So here it is.

The Astros had a night game last Friday, March 13, and that afternoon, I dropped by Ed’s office and asked him if he had a few minutes to answer some questions for a couple of features I was working on. At the end of the meeting, I asked again about Pudge, because I kept hearing his name tied to the Astros.

Ed, as you all know by now, vehemently denied that he was talking to Pudge’s agent, Scott Boras, about the free agent catcher. He was telling the truth. He had not had a conversation with Boras regarding Pudge prior to my meeting with Ed, unless you count the preliminary exchange the two had the last week of January.

(On Jan. 29, I asked Ed if he had interest in Pudge. Here is his quote, taken right from the story I posted that day: “At this point, nothing is going to fit for us. I got a sense they’ve plotted a certain floor with regard with what they want contractually. We’re not going to be able to meet those demands.” This is an important piece of the puzzle, because as you can see, I asked Ed about Pudge and Ed was honest, telling me that he had indeed talked to Team Pudge.)

Back to last Friday.

At some point, before the game, Wade met with his staff and became increasingly more worried about the catching situation. I honestly don’t know what freaked him out more, the quality of the catching throughout the spring or the team’s horrendous record. Heck, maybe after he heard himself railing about Pudge during his conversation with me he wondered if he really felt that way. I don’t know. All I do know is he changed his mind. He called Boras that night and left him a message. Then he called Drayton.

Boras, apparently unbeknownst to Wade, had actually already reached out to Drayton a day earlier and given him the “you really need Pudge, he really wants to be in Houston” speech to the Astros owner.

Meanwhile, Pudge was sending text messages to one Astros player, expressing his desire to be with the Astros. He talked publicly about being willing to change positions. He did not want to be a backup. Playing time was a priority. It smacked of desperation.

Time to pounce.

Ed talked to Boras after Friday night’s game. Ed made an offer. Boras didn’t think it was enough, but he said he’d get back to him.

The next day, Lou Palmisano, the Astros’ Rule 5 catching candidate, made two throws to second base on steal attempts that were anything but strong, putting it mildly. I thought, “Uh oh.”

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

Ed and Boras didn’t talk again until Monday. They went back and forth, and a deal was reached.

That’s it.

This story is pretty simple. Wade and Boras talked in late January, and they talked again last Friday. There were no conversations in between. Ed changed his mind about Pudge, Drayton changed his mind about the unmovable payroll structure and Pudge signed a contract.

This is the business of baseball. Things change every single day.

When I heard the news that the Astros signed Pudge, I never thought to myself, “I can’t believe Ed lied to me.” My initial reaction was, they waited him out and they got him on the cheap, because he wants to be an every day player.

Then I thought, this is going to look really, really bad to the public. I was right on both fronts.

One more thing. Several web sites are quoting my blog entry regarding Ed’s reaction to my question about Pudge during my meeting with him last Friday. But they only included part of the paragraph. Here is the whole thing:

“After checking with Ed Wade yet again today, I can assure you the Astros are not pursuing him. And judging from the irritated look on his face, I can also assure you I won’t be asking him about Pudge again anytime soon. At least not for two weeks. Or maybe 10 days. At the very least, I’ll wait a week.”

That was a tongue-in-cheek, humorous way of poking fun at myself for getting on Ed’s nerves with my incessant questions about Pudge. The last part was my way of saying this may be over, but it’s probably not really over.

The dig at myself was taken the wrong way, and I apologize to you and to Ed.

That’s my story. I stand by everything I have written and said over the last month and I have no regrets expect for one. I wish I had asked Ed about Pudge on Saturday at noon instead of Friday at 3.

In this game, it’s all about timing.

Hampton’s OK, Lee’s on his way

It was good to see Mike Hampton walk into the clubhouse today, but it was somewhat chilling to hear how scared he was while going through the ordeal. Even though he knew he was probably going to be fine, he was pretty on edge until he, and his heart, got that clean bill of health. Hampton threw an abbreviated bullpen Wednesday and shouldn’t be held back from anything down the road, which is good.

It was nice to hear Ed Wade be so definitive about Pudge Rodriguez. He’s been up front with the club’s disinterest in the free agent catcher, but every time I heard another rumor about the Astros being one of the teams Pudge was considering, I had to wonder. The news of Toby Hall having an MRI on his shoulder prompted me to say to Wade, jokingly, “So maybe now you’re going to make that offer to Pudge?” To which Wade responded, “We are not signing Pudge. Let’s put that to rest right now.”

So, consider the topic officially resting. Until Pudge says he’ll play for the league minimum.

Leftover news and notes:
Every player on the 40-man roster submitted urine samples for scheduled drug testing. This is different from random testing, of course. But the rules are the same, and, might I add, somewhat unpleasant, considering players have to be watched when they submit their samples. I remember having a conversation with Lance Berkman last year about his support of blood testing, and I reminded him that his very own union argued that blood testing was an invasion of privacy. He said something along the lines of, “You want to talk invasion of privacy? Ever had any watch you [use the bathroom?"]

My answer, thankfully, was no.

Carlos Lee is due to arrive to camp Thursday morning. It’ll be interesting to hear how he explains not reporting on time. I want to believe that he truly just had the date wrong, but I’m struggling.

Chris Sampson, fully recovered from offseason elbow surgery, is still a few days behind his teammates activity-wise, but he’s expected the throw off the mound Monday or Tuesday of next week. Also, Jose Valverde is experiencing no ill effects from the skin irritation on his right arm.

Alyson

What a strange day.

Usually it’s a very good thing that you never really know what’s going to happen on any given day of Spring Training. That’s one of the interesting parts of this job — you think it’s going to be a normal, ho-hum day, and something strange and unusual happens and all of a sudden, there’s plenty to write about.

But this Mike Hampton thing came out of left field, so to speak. I know it’s probably nothing. But anytime you hear “irregular” in the same sentence as “heart,” it’s scary. Especially when you’re talking about a seemingly healthy 36-year-old man.

So, we’ll hope for the best. Supposedly we’ll hear the results of his appointment with Dr. Muntz on Tuesday, and like the Astros are telling us, it’s probably nothing. But I’ll feel better when I actually see Hampton back in camp this week.

Tuesday is going to be a busy day at Osceola County Stadium. Not only is it the first day the full squad works out together, but Miguel Tejada is due to arrive sometime in the morning. With his sentencing date pending (March 26), it’s highly unlikely he’s going to say much about his involvement in the PED mess that has taken over this sport in the last year. The only saving grace for Tejada is Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to face the media at the very same time Tejada is due to report to Astos camp, so it’s more likely Tejada will have only a handful of reporters waiting for him, as opposed to the circus that awaits A-Rod.

I don’t know what to do with this Pudge Rodriguez thing anymore. This is the most bizarre non-story I’ve covered in a while. We keep reading stories about Pudge considering signing with the Astros, but the interest appears to be one-sided. Ed Wade last talked to Rodriguez’s representatives 23 days ago and he has never made a formal offer to Pudge. But this story won’t go away. I wonder what would happen if Pudge’s asking price dropped to, say, $1 million.

If you’re ever in Kissimmee, you must stop for dinner at La Forchetta, the best Italian restaurant this side of the Mississippi, as they say. Had the veal marsala tonight. If you’re planning a trip to spring training, let me know and I’ll tell you how to get there. You won’t regret it. It’s the Astros home away from home, for good reason.

Alyson 

Day one in the books. Glad I remembered the sunblock.

Random news, tidbits and thoughts after my first day of Spring Training…

Roy Oswalt’s arm in better shape than it usually is this time of year, because of the World Baseball Classic. Oswalt, the likely ace of Team U.S.A., will leave Astros camp on March 2 to train in Clearwater, which means he’ll probably make only one start with the Astros before he takes off. Oswalt has been throwing to the baseball team at his old school, Holmes Community College, and reached 60 pitches the last time out. He should be fine, both for Team U.S.A. and for the Astros.

J.R. Towles didn’t have such a great experience at Winter Ball this year. Not only did he receive only 17 at-bats in five weeks with the Aguilas club in the Dominican League, he was the victim of theft after his hotel room was broken into while he took some time off to go home for Christmas. The manager at his hotel in Santiago, according to Towles, told him his belongings would be safe in his room while he was gone, but apparently, that wasn’t that case. Luggage and his wife’s clothes were among the many items missing when he returned. The experience left Towles with a bitter taste in his mouth, but he did walk away with a new appreciation for the Latin players who come to the United States to play. “I don’t know Spanish, and even ordering food took me sometimes 30 minutes,” Towles said. “I didn’t know how to tell them what I wanted and they didn’t know how to tell me what it was. I definitely gained an appreciation for what players have to go through here.”

What is it with the Astros and unsubstantiated rumors? First, it was Andy Pettitte “considering a lesser offer from the Astros” [not true]. Then it was the Astros making a move for Adam Dunn [also not true]. Now, the Astros have supposedly made an offer of around $2.5 million for Pudge Rodriguez, which, according to Ed Wade, has no validity whatsoever.

You wouldn’t believe how much information you can get from Wade in a three-minute conversation. You’d think more people would at least try it.

That said, after hearing Wade talk about the “11th hour” offers he made to Braden Looper and Randy Wolf, you have to wonder if the GM would at least be interested if Pudge’s asking price came down to, say, $1 million. Still, Wade really sounded like he wasn’t going to sign anyone else, and with the last two really quality free agent pitchers now off the table, I would have to believe that to be true.

Performance-enhancing drugs (let’s call them PED’s for short) are undoubtedly a hot topic in some Spring Training camps, but I can assure you the media covering the Astros would be more than happy if the subject was avoided all together. One local reporter brought it up in Cecil Cooper’s office this morning and you could practically hear the collective whisper — “here we go again.” Of course, there’s no chance we’re going to be able to put it off much longer, seeing Miguel Tejada is expected to be here on Tuesday. Should be interesting. He was smart not to take any questions the day of his court appearance last week (remember this is a legal issue) but eventually he’s going to have to talk. His sentencing is March 26, and afterward he might not be able to avoid the lingering questions that will follow him until he just stands up and gives some answers.

Brandon Backe will someday have a lot to say about his altercation with the Galveston Police last fall. He just can’t do it yet. But rest assured, he will.

On a completely unrelated note, this is what I love about Spring Training — all of the cynicism from the previous year is gone. Backe could not have had a worse ending to his season in ’08, yet after talking to him Saturday, I’m convinced he’s going to do what it takes this spring to make the rotation. He’s in great shape, feels strong and has a tremendous attitude. We’ll see how that translates.

Speaking of new beginnings, Cooper was completely at ease today — relaxed, comfortable, friendly.

Since my last trip to Kissimmee, a Pei Wei has opened in a shopping area I pass on my way to and from work. Things are definitely looking up.

Alyson

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