Astros Manager Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner was the featured guest for the December 20th edition of Astroline, normally held in the off-season at the Live Sports Cafe in downtown Houston until spring training.
One of the first questions Garner was asked about was what he thought about the Carlos Lee signing. Garner believes that Lee is perfect for the Astros as he is willing to be a cleanup hitter. He will help Lance Berkman by giving him much needed protection which will allow Berkman to take more walks and increase his already phenomenal on-base percentage.
Garner also talked about the decision to not re-sign Russ Springer. It was mainly due to the changing needs of the Astros bullpen. They need more guys out of the bullpen who can chew up 3 or 4 innings vs. one inning pitchers like Russ. Springer’s leadership in the bullpen is a huge loss but, Scraps hoped that Woody Williams can fill that leadership role in 2007.
When asked about the Jennings trade, Garner feels he will fit in well also because he is at a point in his career where he can be a potent force in the rotation. Experience counts for more, much more than potential. The Astros want to get to the playoffs again in 2007, not 3-4 years from now. He also said the team is close to being done with free agent signings and trades now unless something just falls in their lap.
On the still-fluid situation at 3rd base, Garner felt that Ensberg is most likely going to be starting with Lamb platooning when needed. However, Ensberg’s interview with 790 on the 21st might have the Astros thinking twice about him. He admitted that he was playing hurt and didn’t let the management know (again) because he felt an obligation to the team to play even if hurt–Ensberg had done the same thing in 2004 and late 2005, playing hurt in the World Series, dropping his performance dramatically.
I believe if Huff is still unsigned by the 2nd week of January, and his asking price has come down some, the Astros may look to sign him and trade Ensberg to a west coast or AL team for a left-handed starter who can be a #4 or #5 guy in the rotation.
The back end of the rotation, according to Garner at this point, is looking like it will be Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Sampson and Fernando Nieve fighting for those two spots. He did add that an unknown name like Gutierrez might just have a monster spring that would give him a spot too. Troy Patton is quite likely still a year away from competing for a starting spot.
On a question regarding Adam Everett being a pull hitter, Garner said he has been going to the middle and right field more often now as he has been working with Sean Berry, the Astros hitting coach. He also said Everett has more speed than Burke, but, Burke is such a competitor and a very savvy base runner that he will most likely have more steals than Everett.
On the subject of Everett bunting more, he said it is always a priority for Adam, but the league has figured him out and Willy Taveras is the only guy he has seen in a long time who can bunt even with the opposing teams knowing he’s going to bunt. Scrap Iron feels Ausmus needs to focus on his hitting and not just his defense–I read that as Ausmus is going to be made to work on his hitting more in spring training this year.
Brad Lidge is still Garner’s choice as closer and has made the needed adjustments from last year’s dismal performance. The Astros are set in their late inning guys with Qualls in the 7th, Wheeler in the 8th and Lidge in the 9th.
Chris Burke is the starting center fielder and will play there most of the time. He will relieve Biggio at 2nd some so he can keep up his skills there. The Astros still see Burke as their future 2nd baseman starting in 2008.
Garner concluded the interview with his belief that the pitching staff is strong and will do their job regardless of Clemens’ decision.