Posted on: February 26, 2012 4:58 pm

New Astros owner Crane off to a good start

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- It takes time to judge a new owner, but the Jim Crane era with the Astros seems to be off to a good start.

I'm not talking about on the field. Crane's first Astros team figures to be every bit as terrible as Drayton McLane's last, and that team lost 106 games.

But Crane is doing things you want an owner to do, and suggesting that he won't do things you want owners not to do.

He showed up Sunday for the Astros' first full-squad workout, spoke to the team about turning the Astros back into a winner and turning the organization into a family. He shook hands with players. He posed for pictures with fans. He thanked the media for caring enough to cover the team.

He was pleasant, but he wasn't overbearing.

"We'll stay out of the way," he said. "And we'll help any way we can. . . . I'll fade more into the sunset as the season starts."

The suggestion from Crane and his people is that he's also prepared to spend money when it can make a difference. The Astros have a new television deal that will see their rights fee double starting next season, and new team president George Postolos talks about how Houston is the country's fourth-largest city, and about how the Astros' revenues (and thus spending) should eventually reflect that.

For now, the Astros are concentrating heavily on scouting and development, both here and internationally, and that's as it should be. One of the failures of the late McLane years was that an insistence on never going "above-slot" in the draft kept the farm system from producing. The new collective bargaining agreement limits draft spending, but as Astros people remind you, they'll be allowed to spend the most money of anyone, simply because they'll be drafting first.

Crane seems to understand that it will take a while, quite a change from McLane, who always wanted to irrationally declare that his team would be in the playoffs.

And Crane seems to understand that since the team is unlikely to win this year or next, he needs to do other things to show fans that he cares.

To make season ticket holders feel appreciated, Crane and his people are trying to meet with them. To make all the fans feel better, the Astros lowered some prices, and made a commitment to have $5 beer on sale at every concession stand.

They talk about things like changing the uniforms, and Crane reminded people Sunday that because the Astros are changing leagues at the end of this season, they're the only team in baseball that will host each of the other teams over the next two years.

Just as important, the Astros are open about what their plan is.

"We're not going to try to create wins in the short term at the expense of being able to compete in the mid- to long-term," new general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Crane seemed so prepared for this. He and his people have been trying for five years to buy a baseball team.

They tried for the Astros once before, and they tried for the Rangers, Cubs and Padres, as well. Crane even looked into becoming an investor in the Cardinals, although he wouldn't have had control, there.

The team he really wanted, though, was the Astros, which is why he called Sunday "a special day."

"It was really a life goal," said Bill Morgan, the principal investor in Crane's group.

The life goal includes winning, and we can't really judge Crane's ownership until he's had a chance to show if he can do it.

For now, all you can say is that he seems to be off to a good start.

Posted on: December 7, 2011 3:06 am

Astros could name new GM this week

DALLAS -- The Astros could name their new general manager by the end of the week, with Rockies executive Bill Geivett considered the favorite by some people in baseball.

The job has been open since new owner Jim Crane fired Ed Wade on Thanksgiving weekend, and the Astros have spent the last two weeks interviewing a group of candidates strong on scouting and player development credentials. After first trying for Rays GM Andrew Friedman, who turned the job down, the Astros have considered Dodgers exec Logan White, Royals exec J.J. Picollo and Cardinals exec Jeff Luhnow, as well as Geivett.

The 48-year-old Geivett is a former minor-league player who has spent the last 11 years working for the Rockies, first as the director of player personnel, then as farm director and eventually as senior vice president of scouting and player development. He's so popular with his bosses and colleagues that they're openly rooting for him to get the Houston job, even though replacing such a key front-office member at this late date will be difficult.

The Astros lost 106 games in 2011 and will need a complete rebuild, and Crane and new club president George Postolos are said to understand that the new GM will be facing a task that will require several years.

Posted on: December 6, 2011 3:01 am
Edited on: December 6, 2011 3:23 am

Latest on Jurrjens and Prado, and other notes

DALLAS -- More baseball talk from the first full day at the winter meetings:

-- The Braves' duo of Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado continue to be as sought after as any players on the slow-developing trade market. Sources say that 8-10 teams have shown real interest in Jurrjens, while "half the teams in baseball" have talked to the Braves about Prado, most with the idea of playing him at second base. The Braves continue to say that they don't need to move either player, and will only do so if the return helps make them more competitive in 2012 (as opposed to dealing for long-term prospects). The Braves have assured teams that Jurrjens is fully healthy, and that his velocity returned to the mid 90s when he resumed throwing in instructional league.

-- Royals executive J.J. Picollo became the latest to interview with the Astros for their vacant general manager position. The Astros' interest in Picollo and in the Rockies' Bill Geivett would seem to indicate that they want to hire someone with a strong background in scouting and player development. Picollo is Kansas City's assistant GM for scouting and player development, and he previously ran the Braves' minor-league system.

-- The Angels spent Monday night talking to Bob Garber, who represents free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson. The Angels' interest in Wilson is serious, and has been since last month's general managers meetings in Milwaukee.

-- The Dodgers were considered to have a good day Monday, signing infielder Jerry Hairston and starter Aaron Harang to two-year deals. Rival executives suggest that Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti needs to do whatever he can to try to give his chance a team to play well early in 2012, in hopes of convincing whoever the new owner is that he should keep his job.

-- The A's continue to explore trading closer Andrew Bailey, and are expected to talk to the Red Sox on Tuesday. The Red Sox have not yet been aggressive in pursuit of Bailey.

-- The Tigers are not believed to have shown any significant interest in any of the big names on the free-agent market, and seem content to make smaller improvements to a team that won 95 games in 2011. If the Tigers make a big-money signing this winter, it seems a lot more likely to be Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes than Mark Buehrle, Aramis Ramirez, Coco Crisp or other big names that have been speculated about. It's still not clear how soon Cespedes will be declared a free agent, because of delays in paperwork needed to establish residency in the Dominican Republic. One possibility is that Cespedes could try to establish residency in Mexico, instead.

-- While the White Sox are open to listening to trade proposals for any of John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Carlos Quentin and Gordon Beckham, some club officials insist that they are not "rebuilding," even though general manager Ken Williams used that exact word last month. The Sox insist that they while they are trying to get younger, they would only trade their valuable chips if they get players who are ready to contribute at the big-league level immediately.

-- The Pirates continue to show no interest in trading center fielder Andrew McCutchen, even though early talks on a possible long-term contract showed that the two sides were "not even in the same ballpark," according to sources. McCutchen isn't eligible for free agency for another four years, so the Pirates aren't yet under time pressure to sign him or trade him.

-- The Giants have talked to the representatives for Tim Lincecum, but there doesn't appear to be much progress towards getting Lincecum signed to a long-term contract. Lincecum has two years to go before free agency.

-- A day after some Brewers people expressed a slight hint of optimism at their chances of retaining free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder, others insisted the chances remain very bleak. The Brewers do have real interest in Aramis Ramirez, and have been in contact with every free-agent shortstop.

-- The Rays are open to trading Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis in their quest to improve their offense, but have told teams that they would only listen to overwhelming offers for James Shields. The Rays would also like to trade Reid Brignac, would still like to upgrade their catching, and are once again willing to talk about dealing B.J. Upton.

Posted on: December 1, 2011 4:41 pm
Edited on: December 1, 2011 9:57 pm

Geivett to interview for Astros GM job

Rockies executive Bill Geivett will interview in the next few days for the Astros' vacant general manager position, and one baseball executive said it's believed he has a "real legitimate shot" at getting the job.

Others familiar with the Astros search weren't so sure, cautioning that the team is still early in the process and is in the process of seeking permission to talk to many candidates.

Rays general manager Andrew Friedman is the Astros' preferred candidate, but one source familiar with the search said it remains "doubtful" that Friedman would make the move. Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine was also considered a strong candidate, but he pulled out of the running on Wednesday.

Just as happened with the Orioles GM job last month, some people in baseball are questioning how desirable the Astros position is, particularly given the awkward timing of the process.

Because Jim Crane wasn't approved as the team's new owner until mid-November, the Astros didn't fire Ed Wade until this week, and now they're in the strange position of searching for a GM in the days leading up to next week's winter meetings (with a certainty that the search will stretch past the meetings). That makes it tough for candidates to leave prior jobs, and will make it next to impossible for whoever gets the Astros job to assemble a staff of assistants.

Geivett is interested in the job, has the Rockies' blessing -- even though it would be tough for them to lose him -- and is by all accounts a qualified candidate. The one question, one person familiar with the search said, was whether Geivett is aggressive enough for Crane's liking.

The 48-year-old Geivett is a former minor-league player who has been with the Rockies for 11 years, running the minor-league and scouting operations and most recently serving as assistant GM. His success in running both scouting and player development should be a benefit with the Astros, who will need to acquire and develop plenty of new talent.

"He's done everything," said one veteran scout who knows Geivett well. "He's ready."

And, at least for now, he's interested.

Other potential candidates may not be, and there were even rumblings Thursday that the Astros' treatment of ex-club president Tal Smith (fired by phone Sunday) had helped turn some people off.

Levine won't say why he didn't want the job, and didn't even mention the Astros by name in his statement Wednesday. He focused instead on how much he wanted to stay with the Rangers, where he is part of a management team that has had great success and also gets along extremely well.

Levine will remain in his current job with the Rangers, after some talk earlier that he would shift to overseeing the farm system. The Rangers have had an opening since Scott Servais left to work for new GM Jerry Dipoto with the Angels. Now, it's possible that job could go to ex-Astros GM Tim Purpura.

Posted on: November 28, 2011 1:44 am

After 35 years, Astros fire Smith by phone

Nobody uses fax machines anymore, so the Astros fired Tal Smith by phone.

I suppose they could have sent him a text, or tried to direct-message him on Twitter.

Look, it's hard to blame new owner Jim Crane for wanting a fresh start. As one long-time Astros person said to me Sunday night, Crane needs to look forward rather than back, and needs to start building something new.

Hiring George Postolos to replace Smith as club president and hiring a new general manager to replace the fired Ed Wade (Rangers assistant Thad Levine was a hot name Sunday night) are defensible moves, even inevitable moves.

But why do these firings have to be so messy?

When I heard from a source that Smith had been fired by phone, it brought back memories of August 1992, when Mike Ilitch officially took over the Tigers from Tom Monaghan.

Monaghan's last act, reportedly ordered by Ilitch as part of the same, was to fire club president Bo Schembechler and longtime club executive Jim Campbell.

Campbell, if I remember it right, was fired by phone. Schembechler (I'm sure of this) was fired by fax.

Campbell was 68 years old, and he had been with the Tigers for 43 of those years. Schembechler had been with the Tigers just 2 1/2 years, but he was a legend in the state.

Smith is 78. He just finished his 35th year with the Astros. He doesn't need to be club president anymore. But you'd think a new owner and new president might want to sit down and talk to him about the challenges ahead (who knows more about baseball in Houston?).

You'd even think that they wouldn't mind having him around in some capacity as the Astros celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2012.

Smith was there at the start, when they were the expansion Colt .45s. He was there when the Astrodome opened, and when the Astroturf went in, and he was there when Minute Maid Park opened.

He was there in 2005, when the Astros won the National League title for the only time in their history.

Now he's gone, and that's fine. Nobody deserves a job forever.

But anybody who did all that Tal Smith did deserves more than to be fired on a phone call.

Posted on: November 22, 2011 1:34 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 1:55 pm

Replay, realignment, draft highlight new CBA

The biggest changes in the new CBA, announced Tuesday by Major League Baseball and the players union:

1. A five-year contract, running through Dec. 1, 2016, means that baseball will go at least 20 years without a work stoppage.

2. As announced last week, the Astros move from the National League Central to the American League West in 2013, creating two leagues of 15 teams each.

3. A second wild-card team will be added in each league, beginning either next year or in 2013. The two wild cards will play a one-game playoff prior to the Division Series.

4. Instant replay use expanded to cover fair/foul calls and balls that may have been trapped, subject to negotiations with the umpires union.

5. Blood testing for HGH will begin in spring training 2012. Players will be tested each spring, will be subject to random tests during the winter and will be subject to tests "for reasonable cause" during the season.

6. "Participation in the All-Star Game will be required unless the player is unable to play due to injury or is otherwise excused by the Office of the Commissioner."

7. Major changes were made in an attempt to curb draft spending. Teams will be subject to a "signing bonus pool" that will relate to their spot in the draft. Teams that exceed their pool by up to five percent will pay a 75 percent tax, and teams that exceed by more than that will face a tax and a loss of future draft picks. The picks that are lost will be distributed by a lottery which will be weighted towards teams that lost the most games the previous year.

8. Small-market and low-revenue teams will be given extra draft picks after the first and second rounds, distributed by lottery.

9. Free-agent compensation is changed dramatically. Players will be subject to compensation only if the current team offers a salary equal to the average of the top 125-paid players in the game.

10. International signing bonuses will be limited dramatically, with each team given a "signing bonus pool" assigned based on reverse order of standings. Teams exceeding the pool will pay a tax, and teams exceeding by at least five percent will lose rights to sign high-money international players in future years.

11. The luxury-tax threshold will stay at $178 million for the next two years, then will rise to $189 million for the rest of the agreement.

12. Players cannot use smokeless tobacco during interviews or club appearances, and cannot carry tobacco tins in their uniforms.

13. The minimum salary rises from $414,000 in 2011 to $480,000 in 2012, $490,000 in 2013 and $500,000 in 2014. The rate for the final two years of the agreement will be subject to a cost-of-living increase.

14. An increase in the number of the "super 2's" for salary arbitration. What that means is that for players with between two and three years' service time, the top 22 percent will now be arbitration-eligible, up from 17 percent previously.
Category: MLB
Posted on: November 17, 2011 1:30 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 1:35 pm

With 15 teams per league, schedule will work

MILWAUKEE -- It's going to work.

The details are still a little sketchy, still a little up in the air. But 15 teams in each league, with interleague play, is going to work.

"I don't think any schedule is perfect," commissioner Bud Selig said on baseball's historic Thursday. "This will be very good."

Selig offered few details, in part because not everything has been decided yet, and in part because some things are dependent on the completion of the new collective bargaining agreement with the players (which will be done soon).

But here's what you can expect beginning with the 2013 season, now that it's official that the Astros are moving from the National League Central to the American League West:

-- There will be interleague play every day of the season. That means an increase in interleague play, probably from the current 15 games per American League team to 30 games for each team.

-- Each division will have five teams, which is the main reason for the move. Having the same number of teams in each division simplifies the schedule, and also means that each team within a division can play the exact same schedule (which doesn't happen under the current format).

-- It's likely but not certain that there will continue to be an unbalanced schedule within each league. It's possible that each team will continue to play 18 games against each team in its own division, as is the case now.

-- The designated hitter rule will almost certainly remain as is, with the DH used in all games in American League parks, and with pitchers hitting in all games in National League parks.

-- There will be two wild-card teams per league, possibly as soon as next year but definitely by 2013. Most likely, the two wild cards will play a one-game playoff, with the winner facing the team with the league's best record.

Now are you convinced it will work? If not, maybe reading my column from June will help.
Category: MLB
Posted on: August 24, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: August 24, 2011 8:18 pm

A few names on waivers, and what it means

The Red Sox put Carl Crawford on trade waivers Wednesday, which means nothing.

The Reds put Ramon Hernandez on the wire, which could be more interesting.

The White Sox put John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Paul Konerko and Matt Thornton on, which may or may not mean anything.

The waiver process is theoretically secret and absolutely prone to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Dozens of players are placed on waivers every day during August. Quite a few are claimed. Very few are traded.

Does it mean anything that the Rockies were awarded a claim on Wandy Rodriguez, or that the Giants were reportedly awarded a claim on Heath Bell?

Possibly. Or it could turn out meaning absolutely nothing.

Here's an attempt to explain to make a strange and complicated process a little simpler:

1. After 4 p.m. ET on July 31, players can't be traded without waivers until after the end of the season.

2. During August, teams routinely place nearly every player on waivers. Some they'd love to trade. Some they wouldn't trade under any circumstances. Sometimes they want to gauge interest. Sometimes they put players they're obviously not going to trade (Crawford, for example) on the wire to disguise which players they don't want to see get claimed. Sometimes they want a player to clear, sometimes they'd rather he get claimed.

3. If no team claims a player, he is said to have cleared waivers and then can be traded without restriction.

4. If one team claims a player, the team that put the players on waivers has three options. It can work out a deal with the claiming team, or simply allow the claim to go through, or pull the player back off waivers. If he is pulled back, he is basically untradeable for the rest of the season. Teams sometimes allow claims to go through because they want to be rid of the contract, as happened when the White Sox got Alex Rios from the White Sox.

5. If multiple teams put in a claim, the claim is awarded to the team that was lowest in the standings on the day the player went on waivers. If the teams have the same record, then the tie-breaker is which team finished lower in the standings last year. Then the process is the same as above, with the team having three options.

6. Teams sometimes put in claims in an effort to "block" players from going to teams ahead of them in the standings. The risk is that the claim can go through and the team ends up with the player. But sometimes that even works out, as it did when the Giants "blocked" Cody Ross from going to the Padres last year.

7. The process is theoretically secret, with massive fines threatened for revealing any information. That's why no one is ever quoted on the record until a deal is done, and also why information leaks out in bits and pieces, if at all.

According to sources, the Rockies were awarded the claim on Rodriguez, and the teams have until 1 p.m. Thursday to work out a deal. But as of Wednesday night, it appeared those talks were basically dead, because the Astros put a considerably higher value on Rodriguez than the Rockies do (and weren't simply interested in dumping his large contract).

Also, according to sources, the Giants were awarded the claim on Bell. Those teams have until 1 p.m. Friday to work out a deal, and just as with Rodriguez, sources were suggesting that a deal is unlikely.

Jon Heyman of SI.com reported that the Yankees were awarded a claim on Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena. Those teams also have until 1 p.m. Friday to work out a deal.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com