According to ESPN and the Astros Official Website, Mark Loretta and the Houston Astros have agreed to a one year, $2.5 million dollar contract plus incentives worth up to another million dollars pending a physical. Apparently, Roy Oswalt asked Drayton McLane to talk to his and Loretta’s agent, Bob Garber, about Loretta. Brad Ausmus’ role is a bit murkier, but one presumes that he talked Loretta into coming back to Houston. Ausmus must have been pretty convincing for Loretta to take less guaranteed money than the Texas Rangers were offering. I can’t get any official confirmation, but, Loretta was quoted as telling the Rangers "he wanted to go to a team where he would get significantly more playing time." T.R. Sullivan, the Rangers’ beat writer does state that the team was told Loretta would sign elsewhere.
I have two main questions–what did the Astros promise Loretta? Obviously, 2nd base will continue to be manned by Craig Biggio, at least until he gets his 3000 hits. Berkman is entrenched at 1st base and Everett at short stop. Those are no brainers. So what constitutes "significantly more playing time"? The only questionable infield spot happens to be 3rd base, currently and tentatively manned by Morgan Ensberg. That leads me to my second major question…
Where does this leave Morgan Ensberg? Right after the end of the regular season, this same question arose with Aubrey Huff being a free agent and clearly having made overtures to the Astros. He finally took the offer from the Orioles, when it became clear the Astros weren’t looking for another left-handed 3rd baseman, and with the Right Field job looking to be Luke Scott’s to lose.
At that juncture, it looked like the Astros had decided they were confident that Ensberg would rebound from his dismal 2006 season, maybe closer to his 2005 season where he was 4th in MVP voting and earned a Silver Slugger award. Now, with the Loretta signing (pending that pesky physical), it looks like Ensberg’s position with the club is precarious once again.
Did the Astros really sign Mark Loretta to be the ultimate utility player they are claiming publicly, when they already have uber-utility man Eric Bruntlett already signed to a one year contract for a measly $525,000? Or, is this a way to try to trade away an "on again, off again", by his own admission, injury-prone player in Morgan Ensberg?
The Astros still have a hole in their starting rotation–anyone who thinks Woody Williams is really a #3 starter and Wandy Rodriguez is really a #4 starter is smoking something not sold at the local gas station…
With Pettitte’s departure, the Astros need a solid southpaw in the starting rotation. Trading for one is about the only thing the Astros can do now with Lilly and Wolf gone to greener pastures–Mulder and Redman, the remaining lefty free agents have too many question marks.
Again, what is going to happen with Ensberg? Will the Astros trade him for a legitimate lefty starter, one who can fill the #3 or #4 slot for them? Time will tell, but I, for one, believe time in an Astros uniform is running out for Morgan Ensberg.
Update 6:59 PM CST, 4 Jan 07, Mark Loretta is officially an Astro again!!! Welcome back Mark!!!!