added 10/9/2002 by Greg Lucas

Greg Lucas, longtime Astros and
Fox Sports broadcaster


As many of you know, I take e-mails from Astro fans from my field-level position at Minute Maid Park during Fox Sports Net telecasts. Actually, I receive letters every day and answer them all, which, as far as I know, makes Astros telecasts still unique in Major League Baseball. At the same time, I am pleased to add this feature by answering questions, and am ready to tackle the latest submissions...


Greg,

We all have our opinions as to how we'd try to improve this team. Now it's your turn. What would YOU like to see done to make this team better and, at the same time, stay within the $65 million payroll?

You do a wonderful job on the telecasts. Keep up the great work!

Erin

I want to see two main things from the everyday players. I want to have more speed in the lineup and more power. How can the Astros have both? The speed might come from a centerfielder. It would be ideal if that center fielder also could hit at least .270 with a .370+ OBP. Stealing upwards of 50 bases would be a nice addition as well.

Power improvement would have to come from whoever is the third outfielder. Richard Hidalgo or Daryle Ward MUST provide it. Or maybe Jason Lane gets a look.

A proven everyday type third baseman would be nice. But I can live with a Blum/Vizcaino/Ensberg spring training rotation. Morgan Ensberg would probably have to win the job outright to make the club. Unless dealt, Blum and Viz are locks to be on the team.

Some players won't be here next year because they would have to be part of any deal to bring in the additions.

On the pitching staff I would like at least one more lefty in the bullpen. I don't see a desperate need for an additional starting pitcher, but that requires a lot of faith in the young arms on the staff to either remain at the top (Miller, Oswalt) or continue to improve (Hernandez, Saarloos, Redding, Munro, Lidge). Still, A veteran starter would be nice to add to the mix if possible. Stone gives the rebuilding of middle relief a nice anchor.

All in all I am optimistic about 2003. It will take a much better start to the season and either the return to form of Richard Hidalgo or significant player moves in the outfield to make it happen, though. The club knows Jimy Williams. And Jimy knows the club. That is also a major plus. The Astros will contend again. What other clubs do and the health of all will be the major factor in whether they can win or make the post-season.


Greg:

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us.

Once you get past the obvious choices (Oswalt, Miller, Dotel), which of our young pitchers has particularly impressed you and why? What are your thumbnail opinions of Stone, Puffer, Mann, Saarloos, Munro, Redding, Lidge and Robertson? Who will help most in 2003 and beyond?

Bob Hulsey

As far as "stuff" is concerned, Tim Redding has the best. But his command and stamina have been lacking. Hopefully he will not be one of those pitchers who have great arms and all the pitches, but just never harness their stuff -- or fails to harness it -- until he has already moved on to another team.

Brad Lidge is another with a great arm and all the power pitches. His inconsistent and rather jerky delivery concerns me some, but since he has missed so much time with injuries I would hope all he needs is work to smooth things out.

Kirk Saarloos is perhaps the most intriguing because he has shown that when he has total command of his less-than-overpowering stuff he can be very good. At other times he can be awful. His style would be a good fit in a rotation of hard throwers if he can develop the consistency with major league hitters that he showed in the minors.

Ricky Stone had a great year until he appeared to tire. He is a ground ball pitcher that is a perfect follow-up to the hard throwers when he comes into the game in relief. Brandon Puffer is somewhat the same. Both have shown they can be used to get one or two hitters out or extend for a couple of innings if necessary. Every team needs pitchers like Stone and Puffer.

Pete Munro is in the Saarloos category as far as type of pitcher. The only thing that makes him somewhat of a question is the fact that he has been around pro ball for a while and has not pitched as well on the major league level ever before. Has he "found" it...or was his good work in 2002 a one-time thing? Spring training work (and any off-season Astro deals) will likely determine his position. But I would presume he would be pencilled in as of now as one of the starters.

Jeriome Robertson had a great season in New Orleans as a starter. If he makes the Astros next spring it would probably be as a lefty reliever.

Jim Mann likely will have to really show something in the spring to make the club and perhaps show the club that he can be effective for a least a couple of innings to make the bullpen. He obviously won't be a one-inning closer or setup man on this roster. But there could be some openings for all the above-mentioned to make the club.

Personally I would hope number one that Carlos Hernandez' shoulder is OK and Saarloos and Munro are the real thing. I sure would like Redding to be fit and improved as well. Lidge is a wild card that could prove to be very important.


Can you tell how the veteran players like Biggio and Bagwell feel about Jimy as the manager? Do they have confidence in him and like his style of managing? He is really hands-on and makes a great deal of moves whereas Larry just kind of sat back, let things develop and let his players work themselves out of situations.

Thanks
Scott in Bmt

From all indications both respect Jimy for his knowledge of the game and the respect he gives veteran players. There were times early in the year when Biggio was being rested that he wasn't inwardly happy, but he respected the manager's right to do it and understood WHY he was doing it. As the season went into its crucial stage Biggio was in the lineup every day.

With the exception of games in which players are out of the lineup simply for rest, Jimy is fond of saying, "I don't make out the lineup, the players make it out." That is his way of saying the players who get the job done will get to play. Jose Vizcaino and Orlando Merced got a lot of time after being mostly bench players the past several years. But you will note both either hit .300 or close to it. That is why they kept finding their names in the lineup. It wasn't just because Jimy likes to play everyone. Gregg Zaun, for instance, never got the bat going and as the season progessed played less and less.


When do you think that Hunsicker will learn that you can't do more with less, and finally go after some marquee talent?

Jason
Houston, TX

Gerry already knows it would be easier to maintain a contending team if he had more money to work with. But he doesn't, so he has to use the minor league system, make trades with an eye on the bottom line and try to find those players who can fit in.

As we have seen in the post-season this year having the most expensive "marquee" players or roster doesn't automatically make a winner. It makes it easier to be a contender every year, but that is all. The Yankees have not won the World Series for two years.

Yes, Houston has never won or even been IN the World Series. But the point is the Astros do not generate enough revenue to be able to raise the budget by 20 or 30 million on the hope that the ensuing club will win the World Series, make baseball a "must see" sport in Texas and assure 3-million fans every year just off that one World Series win. That is too big a gamble. So Gerry has to keep within a budget.

I am glad you asked this question because it is a point I like to emphasize: if baseball is going to continue to be strong then maybe stronger teams must work within budgets. We can't have billionaire owners who start pulling money out of their own bank accounts or other businesses to buy players for their baseball team. If there is going to be balance in baseball over the long haul, teams must make it or not on their own. But because all markets are not the same that is why the owners wanted some form of revenue sharing.

George Steinbrenner, for instance, doesn't use his own money or money from his ship building company to buy free agents. The Yankees make enough on their own. The Disney-owned Angels have a budget. The AOL-owned Braves have a budget. The Fox-owned Dodgers have a budget. All are based on baseball revenue. Some markets simply have more than others.

Occasionally a team will go over budget if the right person is available. It could be someone who will sell tickets by his presence and hopefully win games. The Astros did that once with Randy Johnson, and it worked as planned. Every start was a sellout, or nearly so, and the Astros had the best team in baseball heading into the playoffs. We know what happened, though. Nothing is ever guaranteed.


Greg,

Who do you think will advance to the World Series this year, and who do you think will win?

Thanks,

Darrell Pittman

I have a warm spot in my heart for the Twins and Angels for many of the reasons noted in the previous question. They have gotten a long way on a limited budget without "marquee" players. But, I think the Cardinals will ultimately win it all. They do have more talent than either the Twins or Angels... and better pitching even with all their injuries than the Giants in my opinion. But I thought the Braves would beat the Giants, too, and that didn't happen. So let's just enjoy the games and find out.


See you next time. In the meantime, the Fox Sports website -- FoxSports.com with the keyword phrase "Astros Booth" gets you in touch anytime.

Greg Lucas

You can submit your own questions for this column by email to astrosdaily@yahoo.com.

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