That’s the big question on everyone’s mind in Houston. What is up with the Astros and Roger Clemens?
Many people were surprised at the announcement that the team would not offer arbitration to the Rocket, myself included. But after thinking about it for a while, I believe the Rocket will return, just not right now.
This team is not ready to let Clemens go, and I don’t think Rocket is ready to walk away. I think the extra time will be just what Roger needs to heal his tired body and catch his breath, before leading the Astros into the hunt for post-season play, and another World Series run.
At a recent Aeros hockey game, I had the chance to sit down with Houston Astros coach Phil Garner. Garner, and his wife Carol, who were there to drop the ceremonial puck.
We talked about last year’s season, the outlook for spring training and the Winter Meetings. This all took place before the Astros decided not to offer Clemens arbitration, but I think we all see the writing on the wall. It’s not over yet.
Here’s what Phil had to say.
MM: Do you think Jeff Bagwell will have a limited season next year?
PG: The good news is that Jeff right now is training and he is starting to lift weights which is something he hasn’t been able to do in the past three to four years. He looks in great shape and he’s getting some more strength and you can see that he’s able to do some things that he has not been able to do so my guess is that he’s going to be able to play and that he’s going to be able to play well for a full season. I expect him to have a good spring and I’m very optimistic he’s going to be ok.
MM: What about Clemens? Do you think he will play next year?
PG: That’s the big question isn’t it. From what I understand he’s going to let us know in the middle of this week. We’ll be in winter meetings and I go up there tomorrow and I’ve not spoken to him .We’ve played a little bit of phone tag but I think whatever Rocket decides to do will be good.
MM: Let’s assume he comes back and you have Clemens, Oswalt and Pettitte in the starting rotation. Who would be the other two starters?
PG: Well certainly Backe (Brandon) would be in the mix, and if we had to say today, you have got to take a look at Wandy Rodriguez. I think he pitched well the last couple of months last year, and of course Ezekiel Estascio would fit into the mix, but Spring Training would go a long way in determining who that fifth guy would be.
MM: Out of the players you have in the current lineup, would you change anything if you could?
PG: Well, I think the combination of what we have, like Adam Everett, could be a little more productive offensively, and that will be something in spring training that we will have to work on. Morgan Ensberg is fantastic, Biggio is back at second base and Bagwell back at first base which puts Berkman out in left field, and of course you’ve got Willie Taveras, who was runner up Rookie of the Year. You’ve got to put him back out there and Jason Lane had a really good year and we’re negotiating with Brad Ausmus. If you just take a look at the basic ball club, we went to the World Series . We did something right, you know, and obviously our pitching was fantastic, but our offense did well enough to get to the World Series. I don’t see us making any trades now for offensive players of any impact nature because I think given the fact, well let’s just way that Rocket comes back; we’re gonna have to stay within a payroll structure that is going to prohibit us from spending 10 million on an impact player.
MM: What about Ausmus?
PG: Well, we’ve made him an offer and he’s counterd the offer and I think we are in the middle of those negotiations. I think that Rocket will have some influence on him if Rocket comes back. That’s probably a plus for Brad, as he’s kind of his personal catcher.
MM: Are you going after any other free agents?
PG: We’ll probably look at free agents in the sense of how the guy will fit on the ball club in maybe a utility role. We’ll take a look at some of that. I don’t expect that we’re going to be looking at any big time free agents for now. If Rocket doesn’t come back, that may change.