Analysis: Astros Focus Should Be Soriano And Willis

By Joe Booker
Updated: October 11, 2006

HOUSTON — The decisions the Houston Astros make during the off season are crucial if they expect to make a serious run deep into the playoffs next season. Even if pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettittee decide to return, they need a corner outfielder who can hit, run, field and throw if they are to compete against teams like the Mets and Dodgers.

Money should not be an issue. They will have money to spend since completing the Jeff Bagwell contract. Outfielder Alfonso Soriano and pitcher Dontrelle Willis should be team’s off season main focus. While Carlos Lee and others could help the Astros, but Soriano and Willis could help take the team to the next level.

Soriano could fit anywhere in the top four batting lineup position. He has the speed to lead off and the power to hit fourth. He seems to be satisfied with playing the outfield. What ever it takes — excluding Berkman and Roy Oswalt — the Astros should make strong efforts to try and sign Soriano.

Willis is one of the best young pitchers in baseball. He will be around when Roger and Andy retire.Willis and Roy would also give the Astros one of the best right-handed/left-handed starting combinations in the game. If Roger and Andy return, you’ve got a World Series team.

Must let unproductive players go

The Astros have some players that they stick with even though those players have not been productive. Championship teams fill a roster with players that are productive. Jason Lane should be traded. I know Phil Garner likes him, but he has been almost a bust.

Orlando Palmeiro should be paid off and sent packing. Palmeiro makes $950,000. You want your main pinch hitter to hit home runs and drive in runs. Former Astro Daryle Ward would be a good fit as a pinch hitter. He can hit home runs and drive in runs and it would cost less. Ward made only $700,000 last season.

Jason Lane should not be brought back. But Lane comes cheap ($450,000). I would take Aubrey Huff over Lane, because Huff is more versatile. They cannot afford to keep weak hitting Brad Ausmus and Adam Everett.

I think Ausmus would be easier to replace than Everett. Pay Ausmus and send him packing. Go after Toronto’s switch-hitting catcher Greg Zaun. Last season Zaun hit .272, 12 HR and had a .363 OBP.

Play the best players

Winning teams play their best players. Craig Biggio has been one of the best players in Astros history. He’s no longer the best second baseman on the team — that honor goes to Chris Burke.

Biggio deserves to be return and get his 3,000th hit as an Astro, but not at the expense of benching Burke, who is better. Biggio could get enough at bats to reach the 3,000-hit plateau as a backup.

Morgan Ensberg, if he is brought back, should compete with Mike Lamb for the third base position. If Aubrey Huff is brought back, it must be at a lower salary.

Willy Taveras (center) and Luke Scott (right) should be a fixture in two of the outfield spots. Soriano would look great at the other corner position. Even if the Astros sign Soriano, they will need a run producing number five hitter. They will need a hitter to protect their number four hitter.

I would like for the Astros to release outfielder Charlton Jimerson and give him a fresh start with a team that he would have a chance to play. It was evident that he does not fit into Phil Garner’s plans. Even though he is considered the best outfielder in the organization and hit well when he was brought up, Garner did not start him.

Starting Pitching

Forget about the future of Roger and Andy. A left-handed pitcher like Dontrelle Willis will make this a strong rotation of Roy Oswalt. Brandon Backe, because of his injuries, is not dependable. Youngsters Jason Hirsh and Matt Abers must step up along with Wandy Rodriquez. How about a rotation of Oswalt, Willis, Clemens and Pettitte?


Has Brad Lidge lost the ability to locate his 97-mile fast ball? Dan Wheeler looks like he can take over the closer role. They may want to look for another veteran who can close if Lidge is traded. Chad Qualls deserves another look.

Russ Springer will be 38 and gives up home runs and should not be brought back. Fernando Nieve has looked like he could fill the closer role. What do you do with Chris Sampson, Dave Borkowski and Trevor Miller?