Bill Gilbert's credentials on the Astros are near impeccable. He has closely followed the Astros since moving to Houston prior to the 1966 season and for the last 13 years, he has written on the Astros for John Benson's Baseball Annual and the Rotisserie Baseball Book. He is also a frequent contributor to www.CreativeSports.com and other publications and web sites. A member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), he has given presentations at the last 11 National Conventions and written numerous articles for SABR publications. He was the leader of the SABR Chapter in Houston for 15 years.
He also very kindly consented to an interview by email which, due to my computer problems earlier this week, is running late, but which we are also very proud to present:
TCB: . I think it's safe to say that the Astros are a team which by now has been exposed as one which is not going to win enough to matter. At the same time, Craig Biggio continues to climb the career lists as he caps a remarkable career--and one which he has spent with the same team, the whole way. Biggio is both moderately priced AND having perhaps the best season of any Astro regular. Do you think Tim Purpura should be looking to trade Craig Biggio for younger talent? Do you think he will? Do the broadly defined opinions of the fanbase enter into this decision at all?
BG: Biggio won't get traded unless he expresses a desire to go to a contender. I don't think this is likely. Biggio has frequently expressed a desire to spend his entire career in Houston. He has long been a favorite of owner Drayton McLane. Biggio is having a surprisingly strong year but he may have trouble maintaining it through the long season. The big question is what happens with Biggio next year. He has indicated a desire to continue playing and this is the final year of his contract. It would appear, he would not be a good fit to stay with the Astros since they need to get younger and Chris Burke appears to be an adequate replacement and clearly a defensive upgrade at this point in Biggio's career. I believe fans reactions would be mixed if Biggio leaves. He has always been popular but most fans realize he and team have reached the point where he doesn't fit in with the need to rebuild.
TCB: At least for the forseeable future, the fate of Chris Burke is going to be tied in with the fate of Biggio. While I believe that Burke's abbreviated trial in Houston was not an accurate gauge of his abilities due to no fault of his own, the fact remains that had he hit, he would still be in Houston. Is Burke perhaps the one to trade?
BG: I agree that Burke's short trial in Houston was not an accurate gauge of his abilities. He is a similar player to Biggio but I wouldn't expect him to have the career that Biggio has had because of his relatively late start in the majors. He needs to play regularly at the major league level next year and I would expect him to be successful. It doesn't make sense to trade him since the team clearly will need a second baseman.
TCB: The situation with Roger Clemens is only somewhat similar to the one with Craig Biggio. While Biggio's effect upon the gate is conjectural, there's almost no question that Roger's contribution is a real one. While I understand that the flaw in the "Clemens to Yankees" rumors is that the Yankees have nothing to give, should McLane perhaps be giving Purpura the green light to pursue options in re the exchange of Clemens for young talent, even though I for the life of me can't imagine what they might possibly be?
BG: Trade rumors involving Clemens will probably be an almost daily occurrence. He is clearly in control of the situation and won't go anywhere he doesn't want to go. He will probably keep mum on the subject until the trading deadline approaches. There is an implication that he would only consider the Yankees but those stories seem to be coming only out of New York. The only other team I think he would consider is the Texas Rangers if they stay in the race (and I think they will). There are pros and cons in all of these possibilities. The Yankees don't have much to offer except 3B Eric Duncan and 2B Robinson Cano and the Astros are pretty well set at those positions. The Rangers could have more to offer and Clemens would be able to stay in Texas. Splitting the season between the NL and AL would probably kill Clemens' chances of winning another Cy Young award. In addition to getting some prospects, the Astros could save a big chunk of Clemens' $18 million salary. This could be helpful since they face a big financial hit with 2 first round picks, 2 sandwich picks and 2 second round picks in the draft this year.
TCB: After a spring where it was determined that the fifth starter was going to start the year at Round Rock anyway, it turned out that the fifth starter job was won by Ezequiel Astacio. But now, three weeks later, two of his four starts can be termed nothing less than disastrous, and while he appears to have the skillsets required for the majors, you have to wonder whether he might be better served by some more time in the minors. Should the Astros recall Carlos Hernandez, and let Astacio pitch another year at Round Rock? Or is there another replacement you might tap?
BG: I believe lefty Wandy Rodriguez has a better chance of succeeding in the major leagues this year than Astacio. He has better command of his pitches. Astacio has better stuff and a higher ceiling if he can improve his command. Taylor Buchholz is still on the radar (barely) but can't seem to avoid arm problems. Carlos Hernandez still has not regained his arm strength after his 2003 surgery and continues to top out in the mid-80s. The Club has some decent pitching prospects at the lower levels but probably nothing that will help until at least 2007.
TCB: For a long time now, Jeff Bagwell had been pointing to the 2006 season as his last. But now, with the end perhaps much much nearer, when discussing the ultimate results of his shoulder surgery, he has not brought up the 2006 date at all. Obviously this may be hypothetical in the extreme, but: Do you think that if he is given the chance, given the fact that he's now basically lost 2005, Bagwell is now amenable to playing beyond 2006?
BG: Unless his shoulder surgery is spectacularly successful (unlikely), I don't see him playing beyond 2006. Unfortunately, a more likely case is that he won't ever play again or will try and conclude he just can't do it any more. The surgery is worth a try since he has concluded that it is the only way he has a chance to continue his career.
We'll have more to come from Mr. Gilbert, including the second half of this interview, and an intriguing comparion between this year's team and the 2000 edition. So stay tuned