After two months of little news to report, the Astros expect to have a busy December. The Winter Meetings kick off December 9th in Orlando, FL for four days. General Manager Jeff Luhnow says he has been in contact with numerous free agents in hopes of luring some to Houston.
Castro: Negotiating a raise
(c) Associated Press
The final day of the meetings usually includes the Rule V draft, of which the Astros will have the first choice yet again. Last season, they took reliever Josh Fields who became the nearest thing they had to a closer by season's end. The year before, reliever Rhiner Cruz was selected. There's no consensus top pick but if the Astros choose one, expect him to be a relief pitcher or a utility infielder than can be stashed and evaluated over the entire season.
There's a chance a trade or two could materialize but the most likely development is a few more warm bodies signed, maybe even one that the casual fan has heard of. The current 40-man roster sits at 37 so there is flexibility to add some players without exposing others.
There were only two names eligible for arbitration. Jason Castro, the team's 2013 All-Star catcher, was tendered an offer and the two sides have until January 17th to work out a deal or they'll exchange numbers and face an arbiter's decision. The annual salary should fall somewhere between $2-$3 million in Castro's first arb-eligible year.
The other name is lefty reliever Raul Valdes who was a waiver claim a couple of months ago from Philadelphia. Perhaps the later claim of Darin Downs from Detroit reduced the need to offer him a contract but I could find no news on whether or not he was tendered as of this writing. Undoubtedly, such an offer would be at or slightly above the major league minimum.
Meanwhile, the Astros' legal team will be back in court this month with two items on their hands. The first is the bankruptcy hearing for Comcast Sports - Houston, one that has led to a federal judge giving Jim Crane until December 12th to come up with a plan to either find a new carrier for Astros television rights or reorganize with CSN.
The second suit alleges fraud against Drayton McLane, Comcast and NBC Universal by Crane regarding the fee structure of those television rights when the team was sold. Comcast has already asked that this suit be moved to federal court and merged with the bankruptcy case while the Astros would like it to remain in state court where it was initially filed.
Either way, the judge's decisions will have a lot to say about the Astros' future revenue streams which may also affect how much the Astros will be able to expand their team payroll going forward.
To date, the largest free agent contract Luhnow has signed was DH Carlos Pena at $2.9 million before he was released last July. To get a positive reaction from Astros fans, Luhnow will need to do better than that this winter.