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Astros Preview: December Winter Meetings

The Astros are in San Diego this week for the Winter Meetings. The place where deals get done. The groundwork could be laid for a major move this week by the Astros. Stand by.

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The baseball GM winter meeting, which begins this week in San Diego, will provide a plethora of rumors.  Some winter meetings are disappointing for their inaction.  Some winter meetings are full of mega-trades and the signing of big name free agents.  But in either case, the winter meetings will produce a ton of rumors. With all of the GMs and most player agents in one location, the conditions are conducive for both transactions and rumors.

Even if the winter meetings don't culminate in a bunch of transactions, the meetings will form the basis for transactions in the subsequent weeks.  If teams can't reach agreement on trades and free agent signings during the meetings, the discussions may form the basis for future transactions.

In addition to free agent signings and trades, the Rule 5 draft will also occur during the meetings.  Last year the Astros traded the top pick in the Rule 5 draft. With another high pick in the Rule 5 draft, but not much room on the 40 man roster, I wouldn't be surprised if the Astros again trade the pick. We will keep any eye on any players drafted by the Astros, as well as any Astros' minor leaguers who are drafted by other teams.

Now for a brief detour down memory lane. As I try to recall memorable Astros' stories from the winter meetings, the 2006 winter meeting comes to mind.   As the meeting was ending, Tal Smith was roaming the hotel talking on his cell phone.  Smith headed toward a room used for news conferences, where he told some news reporters that the Astros would be announcing a trade for starting pitcher very soon, and the transaction would clarify Andy Pettitte's future with the Astros.  The reporters waited, but the room was cleared for another function.  The Houston Chronicle carried a report that the Astros would soon announce a trade for White Sox starting pitcher Jon Garland.  Meanwhile reporters noticed that the White Sox entourage was checking out of the hotel, a strange move if the trade will be announce soon.  As reported in this New York Times article at the time:

The Astros were offering center fielder Willy Taveras and two young pitchers, Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz, for Garland, who went 18-7 last season. A reporter mentioned that package to White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams, who laughed and said, "The White Sox will not be attending that press conference."

This non-trade may have angered Pettitte's camp, given the hints that the Astros didn't need his services, pushing him toward accepting an offer from the New York Yankees.  It's unclear what kind of miscommunications derailed the proposed trade with the White Sox. But the sequence of events put the Astros into a position of being forced to make a trade for a starting pitcher.  Not long thereafter the Astros sent the same three players to the Rockies for starting pitcher Jason Jennings.  And that trade turned out to be a pretty bad trade.

In the days before cell phone and fax machines, trades were consummated in the bazaar-like atmosphere of the hotel lobby.  This article reminisces on some of the strange stories from that era. (Example: colorful GM Bill Veeck putting pressure on potential trading partners by constantly taking phone calls at his table in the lobby, openly discussing trade terms with unknown parties---except the calls were made by his media relations director at Veeck's direction.)

And, now, move on to this week's winter meeting and how it will affect the Astros. You can bet that the Astros will be mentioned in any number of relief pitcher rumors. Maybe reliever David Robertson will make a decision on contract offers at the winter meeting. We may hear rumors about teams interested in catcher Jason Castro, since many industry observers believe he will be traded.  The same may be true of Dexter Fowler rumors.

The Houston Chronicle had some pre-meeting comments from Luhnow:

"We're not going to San Diego with the intention of trading one of our catchers, but other clubs recognize we have three major league catchers and they're asking us about them and we're not going to shy away from those conversations," Luhnow said. "Our asking prices are high for any of those guys, and they have been all along because we like them and think they have value. Eventually, we'll figure out what to do"...The Astros want an upgrade on the left side of the infield, but Luhnow said he did not see a dearth of options.He also said he didn't feel a preference to one position or the other, shortstop or third base, although he has said someone who could play both corner infield positions would be a help.

TCB will keep you up to date with commentary on each day's transactions and rumors. And feel free to use the comment section of this article to discuss any rumors or news.