Results tagged ‘ Jason Michaels ’

On Carl Crawford, the 2011 infield, and our own Emmy winning TV star.

It’s never too early for a little Hot Stove chatter…

Let’s get this one out of the way now: Carl Crawford is from Houston, he’s only 29, and he can do a lot of things really well — hit for average, hit for power, play tremendous defense…plus, he’s fast (as kids, he and childhood buddy Michael Bourn were pretty much considered the fastest runners in Houston and used to go toe-to-toe, literally, for bragging rights.) In a nutshell, Crawford is that five-tool player worthy of a nice, fat contract and appears to be the most attractive free agent about to hit the market this winter.

A lot of you have asked what the odds are that the Astros will be the team to sign him to that nice, fat contract. I put the odds at slim to none.

The numbers I’m hearing bandied about from industry insiders is six years at $120 million or seven at $140 million. Yes, there will be a team out there goofy enough to shell out that kind of cash. I cannot envision it’ll be the Astros.

The payroll is not yet set, but it’s going to be somewhat lower than the $93 million it was when the season started, and higher than the $50-some million it was when the season ended. The Astros will be able to retain all of the arbitration-eligible players they want to bring back, and they’ll have some wiggle room to fill in gaps (fifth starter, utility infielder, bullpen, etc.). But to sign Crawford means allotting what could be as much as one-quarter of the entire payroll to one player. That’s a bad blueprint, regardless of how great of a player Crawford is.

Plus, you know how I feel about signing Type A free agents, which will cost the team its first-round draft pick. Losing first-rounders is part of what contributed to the dip in Minor League talent over the last decade, and while the farm system is slowly replenishing itself, the Astros are not yet to the point where they should be sacrificing those precious picks.

(Update 10/20: I had that wrong…totally forgot about the rule that protects teams that finish in bottom half of standings from losing their first-rounder. Sorry about that…that being said, it won’t have any bearing on the Astros not being in on the bidding for Crawford.)

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To-do list

So what are the priorities this offseason? The Astros will be looking for fifth starter candidates (Felipe Paulino and Jordan Lyles are two internal options), a utility infielder and possibly a left-handed hitting outfielder who could platoon with Jason Michaels in left field.

Left field might be open, should Carlos Lee move to first base. That could change if Brett Wallace wins the first base job outright during Spring Training, sending Carlos back to left. These are scenarios that will sort themselves out next spring, but look for the Astros to search for some backup outfield help (Brian Bogusevic is an internal candidate to fill that role).

The Astros will also look at second base and shortstop and decide if they want to stick with Jeff Keppinger and Tommy Manzella, respectively. Keppinger had a terrific year, producing the most consistent numbers of any position player on the roster. He’s also under club control for two more seasons, which makes him an attractive piece to keep around. Manzella, and Angel Sanchez, are less of a sure thing.

Manzella needs to hit a little more to really establish himself at this level, and Sanchez, as good as he was offensively, may not be the answer from a defensive standpoint. His range was decent, but his arm strength is somewhat of an issue.

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Applause, applause

Big congratulations to FS Houston’s Patti Smith, Max Mejia and Marshall Hooker, each of whom took home a Lone Star Emmy under the category of “Sports — One-time Special” for their “Spotlight” show about Miguel Tejada in 2009.

Our own Jim Deshaies also won an Emmy in the “On Camera Talent” for, well, be an outstanding on-air analyst.

The eighth annual Lone Star Emmys took place Sunday night in Dallas. Kudos to all of the winners…

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Terribly tragic news from out Latin American operation: Astros Venezuelan Scout Luimac Quero passed away in the early morning hours on Sunday from a heart attack at the age of 26. He is survived by his wife Klineidy Leon, who is three months pregnant, and his one year old daughter, Megan Quero. Deep condolences to his family.

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From the photo vault…

Here we have an image of one of the first photo shoots for the Astros pet calendar, probably taken about four years ago. My only question is, what were they feeding that cat?!?! (The kitty cat, not the Puma.)

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Aluminum bats, Minor League MVPs, and…Bagwell takes BP?

It’s never fun to be one of the many teams NOT headed for the playoffs the final weekend of the regular season, but still, those final moments of a 162-game grind when you know the season is coming to an end can be highly entertaining. While it’s still business as usual in terms of preparing for the game, it is also not uncommon for oddities to pop up here and there in the hours leading up to gametime.

Take “early BP” for example. Normally, early BP involves some of the younger hitters who might not be getting enough at-bats or veteran players who are struggling. On Saturday, a few folks took early BP, including…hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

Arnsberg had been out early with his son, Kyle, a sophomore at the Arizona State University. Kyle was hitting with the college-issued aluminum bat, and pretty soon, so was Pops. Bagwell took a few swings, too (but I think he might have used a wooden bat).

That wasn’t the end of the aluminum bat cameo. It reappeared a few minutes later when the veteran hitters took BP, and while we all know why Major League players don’t use aluminum bats, Saturday’s session provided a nice reminder.

Hunter Pence hit the light fixture that extends a couple hundred feet above the facade in left center. Carlos Lee came thiiiiiiiiiis close to hitting Drayton McLane’s office window on the fifth floor of Union Station. A couple of balls left the ballpark completely.

It’s been a long year, and while everyone’s experiencing some level of fatigue, it was nice to see the players having a little fun as the season winds down.

We captured images of a lot of laughs, and who can’t use a few chuckles after 160 games (194, if you count Spring Training)?

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Geoff Blum.

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Jason Michaels was the first to hit with the aluminum bat.

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This is Michaels pointing to Union Station and making sure Carlos realized how close he was to actually hitting Drayton’s window. JMike swears he saw Drayton watching from his office.

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Pence takes some aluminum hacks…

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And tips his cap to…well, no one, since it was before gates open. But he was proud of hitting the light fixture.

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Humberto Quintero wasn’t part of the aluminum hitting group, but he’s always good for a pregame laugh or too anyway. 

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The pregame ceremony on Saturday was dedicated to the best and brightest of the Astros’ Minor League system: Pitcher of the Year Jordan Lyles, Player of the Year J.D. Martinez and Player Development Man of the Year, Gulf Coast League manager Omar Lopez. The three also enjoyed an up-close view of batting practice, although they looked slightly out of place being so well-dressed among a bunch of polyester-clad ballplayers. Enjoy the sights.

Lyles and Martinez are greeted at the cage by Bagwell and Co.  

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Astros visit firefighters, ValleyCats advance, and an old fave from the photo vault.

It’s a tradition that is only in its second year, but the Astros have started a good thing by dedicating two full days to honoring our local heroes.

On Friday, Astros players visited local fire stations to thank firefighters for their service to the Houston community. The players “adopted” the firehouse that corresponds with their uniform numbers — Jeff Keppinger visited Fire Station No. 8 downtown, while Bud Norris visited No. 20, Brad Mills No. 2 and Jason Michaels No. 4.

The firehouse was presented with an autographed, framed jersey and an autograph and photo session with the Astros figure that visited. In two years, the Astros Adopt-A-Firehouse program has had 13 players visit local firehouses.

Images from all four firehouses:

Jeff Keppinger
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Brad Mills

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Bud Norris

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Jason Michaels

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On Saturday, the Astros will remember the ninth anniversary of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 by honoring firefighters, police, first responders and military personnel during a pregame ceremony titled “Heroes Take The Field.”

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Congratulations to the Tri-City ValleyCats, who shut out Batavia, 1-0 on Thursday to advance to the New York Penn League Championship game for the third time in seven seasons. Jake Buchanan threw seven shutout innings to pick up the win, while closer Mike Ness earned the two-inning save.

Tri-City will host the Brooklyn Cyclones on Saturday in the first of a three-game series.
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Interesting quotes from Dodgers manager Joe Torre before Friday’s game. Talking with KRIV’s Mark Berman, Torre noted the Astros’ sweeping roster changes and commended the team for taking the risk in retooling right in the middle of the season:

“I think it’s taken a lot of courage for them to do this. I admire what they’re doing. It’s sort of like that kid in class. You’re always admiring that kid who asked the question that you were afraid to ask. It’s something I think has to be done.”

“The mortal sin is the fact that you don’t try. You’re gonna make mistakes because the only way you are going to find out if what you’re doing is working is to get them out there in between the lines and work it.”

“You have to exercise some patience in hoping you can be a part of watching them grow and I’m talking about the fans here, and the fans that were here (Thursday) seem very enthusiastic with the club they are watching on the field.”

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From the photo vault…

In honor of our old friend and current Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus being in town this weekend, I present to you one of my favorite pictures from a Fan Fest many moons ago.

Players were paired up for the photo booth session, and I always felt a little sorry for the poor chap who was stuck with Ausmus, because, well, his services weren’t really needed. Invariably, a large portion of the female fan base would point to Ausmus and politely say to the other player, “Thanks, but I want the picture with just him.”

Eric Bruntlett, as you can see here, didn’t take it personally and spent most of his hour in the photo booth leaning out of the shot.

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Dealing with a losing streak, then celebrating a win.

It started with Geoff Blum sprinkling little white pills in the bat bags of his teammates.

“Advil,” he said.

That’s what happens when your team adds another loss to the win column, making it eight straight. You go into the clubhouse, remove your uniform, retreat into the training room and grab a Jumbo-sized bottle of ibuprofen.

A few pills here, another couple there. Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but so was this season-opening team-wide tumble. What cures a headache could very well do the same for a collective .223 batting average, no?

The clubhouse scene the next morning was pretty standard — players milling around, players hitting in the cages, players eating breakfast.

Players grooving out to the musical stylings of boy bands NSYNC and Backstreet Boys.

For the first minute or so, there was a station-to-station denial that anyone dared to like the music or know the lyrics — “Who the heck has Justin Timberlake on their iPod?” Jason Michaels: “Me, dude. Greatest hits. If you’re going to do it, go all out.” But before long, heads were bobbing, toes were tapping and Blum was doing that “running man” dance move that was so popular in the early early ’90s.

“How can you not feel it?” he asked, all the while keeping rhythm during “I Want it That Way.”

Minutes later, Cory Sullivan laid his bat on a towel in the middle of the clubhouse, covered it with another towel and said, “The bats need to rest. They’ll be ready by gametime.” Soon, Sullivan’s bats had company — Blum’s bat, Michaels’ bat, Chris Johnson’s, and on and on. I heard later that Humberto Quintero brought all five of his over to join the slumber party.

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No one will ever know if wacky clubhouse hijinks played a role in their reversal of fortune, but the Astros won handily that afternoon, beating the Cardinals 5-1. This win was important, obviously, seeing it was the team’s first win of 2010 and Brad Mills’ first win as a big league manager.

Chris Sampson, who contribute two scoreless innings, walked into Mills’ office, offered congratulations and gestured dramatically as he simulated knocking that proverbial gorilla off Mills’ back.

Yesterday, I blogged that the demeanor in the clubhouse is pretty much the same, win or lose, night after night. This is true, but there are exceptions. Thursday was an exception. Mills was hugely relieved, as were the players. The 1983 record is safe, and the burden of a winless season has been lifted.

The music in the clubhouse postgame? “Bye bye bye.”

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The press box at Busch Stadium is way, way up there. It’s ideal if you’re not trying to cover a game or take pictures. But I did want to capture some images of the big win, even if they’re grainy. Enjoy.

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Random spring notes: Paulino, Wright and Ensberg. Yes, that Ensberg.

Somewhere along the way, we sort of lost track of Wesley Wright, who has been quietly going about his spring business out of the spotlight. That might be simply because reporters haven’t gotten around to writing about him yet — after all, there are about 45 days of spring features to write and still just under a month until Opening Day.

But Sunday morning before batting practice, manager Brad Mills talked a little about Wright. So let’s talk a little bit about him here, now.

Wright spent the last two seasons as a left-handed specialist but might be tested as a starter this spring. Mills said Wright will likely start a game coming up, possibly on one of the split-squad days that requires two starting pitchers instead of one. The Astros have split-squads scheduled for March 13, 16 and 21, so don’t be surprised to see Wright start one of those games.

“I’ll hold off making a lot of comments until we see how it goes,” Mills said. “But he’s definitely going to get his innings.”

At this point, I’m not considering Wright as a true contender for one of the five rotation spots coming out of Spring Training, but the Astros are definitely keeping their minds open while trying to figure out where Wright is best suited.

When the team got him from the Rule 5 draft a couple of years ago, I received many questions as to whether Wright could eventually be converted to a starter. I was told he was staying in the ‘pen because that’s where the club had the biggest need. But now, I think we can all agree the starting depth is thin, and there’s nothing wrong with at least considering Wright to fill the club’s needs there too. Wright had a nice showing as a starter during Winter Ball, so there’s probably no harm in testing him out this month.

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Meanwhile, Felipe Paulino, a sure-fire candidate for the starting rotation, will be getting his innings this spring, but not necessarily at the beginning of games. One standard practice during Spring training is for teams to “piggyback” two starting pitchers in the same game. You’ll see this quite often, because most teams have more than five candidates trying to make their rotation. Piggybacking allows for everyone to still pitch on regular rest.

Paulino and Wandy Rodriguez will both pitch Wednesday, and each is slated to go three innings. Rodriguez will go first, followed by Paulino, and a handful of relievers will absorb the final three innings.

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As a reporter, there were times that I enjoyed covering Morgan Ensberg and times that he made me want to pull my hair out.

Don’t get me wrong — Ensberg was everything a reporter would want in a player: talkative, intelligent, insightful, reflective. But there was one topic that would make Morgan clam up, and at times, it was simply infuriating.

I tried my best to write about things the fans wanted to know about, and from 2006 through ’07, fans wanted to know about Ensberg’s ever-changing batting stance. It was becoming increasingly obvious to just about the entire viewing public that the third baseman was struggling with looking, and feeling, comfortable at the plate.

So I asked. And asked. And asked again. Either he changed the subject, talked around it or was so vague that by the end of the conversation, I was more confused than when I first approached him. After a while, I gave up. It didn’t take a genius (thankfully) to figure out the guy simply didn’t want to talk about it.

But now, as a retired player, Ensberg is no longer avoiding the topic. He has started a blog — morganensberg.wordpress.com — and he’s touching on many interesting topics, many of which he didn’t want to discuss during his playing career. The blog is titled “Morgan Ensberg’s Baseball IQ,” which he hopes gives “solid fundamentally based strategy and teaching” insight into the game. “Each week I will teach you something about the game,” Ensberg writes. “Either at the professional or amateur level.”

I’m already fascinated by his insight. In explaining why communication is the key to success in baseball, he first quotes former Houston bench coach Jackie Moore: “Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.” Ensberg then goes on to say this:

“Trust me on this one. I changed my batting stance more times than I can remember and it was because I didn’t know what I was doing.

“In order to be great you have to be willing to fail. If you are afraid to fail then you won’t learn and you will have regrets.  The military says that if you don’t know what to do then take action.

“I didn’t take action. I was afraid to fail. I learned though and will be better next time.”

Ensberg has been retired from the game for about a year and he’s hoping to begin a career in broadcasting. When he was with the Astros, I always felt he would be successful with whatever he decided to do in his post-playing career, whether it was politics or coaching or broadcasting. As much as I liked him as a player, I had 100 times more respect for him as a person. That’s why I was delighted to see he started a blog.

In his most recent entry, he talks about how it ripped his heart in half to be booed by the Houston fans: “As a result, I no longer concentrated on the game and instead concentrated on not getting booed.”

Check it out. Interesting stuff.

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From batting practice at Disney Sunday:

Puma and Pence chat with MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

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Pence works in the cage.

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First base coach Bobby Meacham and third baseman Pedro Feliz.

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Hanging in the dugout before BP…Berkman, Michaels.

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Congratulations, Pudge.

Congratulations to Pudge Rodriguez, the proud owner of the all-time games caught record, which he set when Wednesday’s game in Texas became official in the middle of the fifth inning.

A few of the Astros veterans bought Pudge a bottle of Cristal champagne on behalf of the entire team, and a subdued but appropriate celebration took place following the game. Even though the Astros lost — and it was one of those bad losses — the players had enough class to realize a momentous occasion should not be pushed aside because of one bad night.

All of the players autographed the bottle of Cristal, and in turn, each player received his own bottle of Korbel champagne. Pudge signed every bottle, “Ivan Rodriguez, No. 12, 2,227th game.” Very nice touch, and a big night for one very classy 19-year veteran.

The moment that the record was set kind of came and went without much hooplah. Let’s face it, when you’re setting a record that first requires 4 1/2 innings to be played, and you’re on the road, and you’re not Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995, it’s difficult to get hyped up about the exact moment it happens, because it comes and goes with the blink of an eye.

Still, the Rangers and their fans were classy from beginning to end. Pudge received a standing ovation as he made his first plate appearance, and the Rangers ran a video tribute during the third inning to commemorate both his career and his record-setting day. They showed pictures of the catchers he has passed, including Hall of Famer Gary Carter (fourth place), Bob Boone (third) and Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk (second).

I snuck down to the photo well by the Astros’ dugout to capture the very moment that Pudge became the record holder. Here are a few:

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To be honest, the pregame hooplah was much more fun to document than the record-setting moment. I asked Pudge ahead of time if he minded me following him around as he prepared for the game; fortunately, he had no issues with it, so here we go…

Pudge signed a couple dozen autographs for teammates and coaches who wanted to obtain their own piece of history. Here he is signing a lineup card for bench coach Ed Romero.

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You can see the “2,227 games” at the bottom, commemorating the occasion.

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This is the lineup card from the night before, when Pudge tied Carlton Fisk.

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Pudge has a quiet moment at his locker, prior to the clubhouse opening to the media at 3:35 p.m. The quiet moments soon would end.

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Another quiet moment (with the exception of me standing there pointing a camera at him every time he turned around. Fortunately he was a good sport about it).

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This would normally be just another ordinary picture of the media crush surrounding a player, if not for the big dude in the back taping the interview — that’s none other than closer Jose Valverde, complete with tape recorder and scowl a lot of reporters wear when interviewing players.

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Pudge hadn’t realized Valverde was part of the “media” until he finished the interviews.

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He was still laughing about it as he finished an interview with FS Houston’s Greg Lucas.

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Pudge came out to sign autographs for fans and discovered a line of a few hundred people waiting for him.

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Here’s Hunter Pence having some fun with the man of the hour.

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<p>And the non-Pudge version of Wednesday’s fun: </p>
<p>Lots of autograph signing…Jim Deshaies</p>
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Jason Michaels

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Kaz Matsui takes in the scene before BP.

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Keppinger and Pence chat at the cage.

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Wednesday’s starter, Russ Ortiz.

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Pence was saying something funny to me but I can’t remember what it was.

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Kids, signs and baseball…a terrific combination, every time.

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Puma looks very puma-like as he stretches before taking BP.

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