The update artcile form Kenny Rosenthal.
The defending National League champion Astros plan a major push to add an impact hitter before Monday's non-waiver deadline.
The club intends to be "super-aggressive," one major-league official says, pursuing trades for big names such as Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano and Brewers left fielder Carlos Lee and making virtually everyone on their roster available.
Astros owner Drayton McLane surely doesn't want to take the team's $106 million payroll much higher, but now that he has gone this far, there's no turning back.
The addition of Soriano, Lee or Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada would appear a longshot. But just two years ago, the Astros stunned the baseball world by acquiring center fielder Carlos Beltran in a three-team trade. If general manager Tim Purpura dangles struggling closer Brad Lidge — as he did last off-season in a deal for Tejada — the possibilities could get interesting.
The Astros spent big bucks to bring back Roger Clemens, who is not likely to return next season. (Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)
The Astros already have made two significant additions, spending $12.6 million to bring back right-hander Roger Clemens for little more than half a season and trading two prospects to the Devil Rays for infielder/outfielder Aubrey Huff. But they've gone 5-7 since the All-Star break, falling 101/2 games behind the Cardinals in the N.L. Central and five behind the Reds in the wild-card race.
The team's front office has spent the last two days in meetings trying to figure out how to fix the team's sagging offense. Only the Cubs have scored fewer runs in the N.L.; the Astros' center fielders rank 10th in the N.L. in on-base/slugging percentage, their catchers 13th and their shortstops 14th. Catcher Brad Ausmus and shortstop Adam Everett are defensive stalwarts, but offensive burdens.
The problem for the Astros in any trade pursuit is that they are unwilling to trade their top position prospect, Class AA outfielder Hunter Pence, and reluctant to move their top pitching prospect, Class AAA right-hander Jason Hirsh. Both Clemens and left-hander Andy Pettitte are unlikely to return next season, making Hirsh an important part of the team's future.
The Astros, however, could take on future payroll; their financial flexibility will improve next season if Clemens, Pettite and injured first baseman Jeff Bagwell — three players earning nearly $50 million — no longer are with the club.
Royals' Moore jumps right in
No general manager wins Executive of the Year for stockpiling pitching prospects, but what else is new Royals GM Dayton Moore supposed to do?
Moore obtained five young pitchers this week in deals for right-handed reliever Mike MacDougal, infielder Tony Graffanino and right-hander Elmer Dessens.
He also acquired veteran left-hander Odalis Perez, but the Dodgers are paying Perez's 2007 salary while the Royals pay Dessens', so even that move was worth a shot.
Odalis Perez is just one of the new arms pitching for the Royals. (Michael Zagaris/MLB Photos / Getty Images)
Of the five youngsters, Class AA left-hander Tyler Lumsden, 23, seems the most likely to succeed; rival scouts project him as a potential No. 3 starter.
Moore views the others — left-hander Jorge de la Rosa, 25, Class A right-handers Blake Johnson, 21, Julio Pimentel, 20, and Daniel Cortes, 19 — as the equivalent of extra draft picks.
And the Royals aren't finished yet.
Left-hander Mark Redman seems almost certain to go to a contender. Outfielder Matt Stairs, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz are among the other candidates to be traded.
If it turns out that the Royals land one or two solid contributors in their flurry of deals — they acquired center fielder Joey Gathright from the Devil Rays in an earlier trade — then Moore's initial moves will be considered a success.
The high rate of attrition for pitching prospects is well-documented, but low-revenue teams such as the Royals face little choice but to collect as many young arms as possible to increase their odds of success.
For Moore, who spent the previous 13 years in the Braves' organization, the experience was a little surreal.
"I felt very uncomfortable," Moore says. "I've always been on the other side of it — trading minor leaguers for major leaguers. This side of it, trading major leaguers for minor leaguers, it's unnatural. And risky."
The Yankees would raise a number of questions if they traded reliever Scott Proctor for Braves infielder Wilson Betemit, a possibility first reported by the New York Post and confirmed Wednesday by FOXSports.com.
The trade of Proctor would make more sense if right-hander Octavio Dotel already had made his expected return from elbow surgery; if the Yankees moved Proctor now, they almost certainly would need to add another late-inning reliever in a separate deal.
The addition of Betemit, whose best positions are third base and shortstop, also would be something of a head-scratcher.
Betemit could fill in at second while Robinson Cano recovers from his hamstring injury, but probably isn't a long-term solution at that position. His future playing time, then, likely would be minimal unless the Yankees traded Cano or — ahem — third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
The return of third baseman Chipper Jones from an oblique strain Wednesday night could make the Braves more willing to trade Betemit, but even then they might be reluctant to part with their emerging talent.
Betemit, 25, could develop into a 25-homer, 40-double man, and the Braves control him through 2010. Trading such a player for a reliever, even one as good as Proctor or the Padres' Scott Linebrink, would be a decidedly risky move. The Braves might want another player added to such a deal.
This 'n' that
Executives from several clubs believe that the high asking prices of GM David Littlefield will result in the Pirates failing to trade several of their veterans — an outcome that would be inexcusable for a club that likely has no intention of re-signing potential free agents such as outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, third baseman Joe Randa, right-hander Kip Wells and outfielder Craig Wilson. ...
The Diamondbacks have decided that they will not trade left fielder Luis Gonzalez, who is batting .397 in July with a .468 on-base percentage. The Rangers have shown interest in Gonzalez, but it's doubtful that any team could make an offer to satisfy the D-Backs. Trading the popular Gonzalez for prospects in the middle of a pennant race would be a public-relations nightmare.
If the Diamondbacks move right fielder Shawn Green, it's more likely to happen in August — Green, who is guaranteed $9.5 million in 2007 plus a $2 million buyout in '08, almost certainly would clear waivers — or in the off-season. It's possible, however, that one of the losers of the Lee/Soriano/Bobby Abreu sweepstakes could take a run at Green before Monday.
The Indians asked the Angels for Class AAA shortstop Erick Aybar before settling on Mariners Class AAA outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and a minor leaguer to be named for first baseman Ben Broussard. Choo, 23, figures to be a significant upgrade over Todd Hollandsworth as the team's fourth outfielder next season; his addition also gives the Indians the flexibility to move right fielder Casey Blake to first base. ...
For teams looking for starting pitching, Philadelphia is the place to be. The three AL East contenders — the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays — all sent scouts to watch right-hander Jon Lieber, who pitched Wednesday night, and right-hander Cory Lidle, who pitches Thursday. The Cardinals and Reds were among the other clubs represented.
Ken Rosenthal is a senior baseball