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Hot Stove Daily: Houston Astros

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

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Smoltz

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series continues with the Houston Astros.

2007 record: 73-89

Finish: Fourth place in the National League Central

2007 Opening-day payroll: $88 million

Free agents: Jason Jennings RHP; Mike Lamb 3B; Mark Loretta 2B; Trever Miller LHP; Brian Moehler RHP; Orlando Palmeiro OF.

WISH LIST

The Astros responded quickly under new general manager Ed Wade, filling an outfield hole with Michael Bourn in a trade with Philadelphia that also brought setup man Geoff Geary and minor-league third baseman Mike Costanzo and cleared some payroll room. Bourn, at 24, is no sure thing, but for now he's their center fielder and leadoff hitter. And they still have issues at second base and in the starting rotation and the bullpen.

At second base – Craig Biggio's full-time position for all but two seasons since 1992 – Wade is kicking around the idea of bringing in Luis Castillo, Kazuo Matsui or Tad Iguchi, or bringing back Geoff Blum, or going with the previous regime's idea and lending the job to Chris Burke. The Astros might also trade Burke, or package him and trade him, for second base or pitching help.

As for pitching, they really need more consistency out of Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Sampson and Matt Albers, along with full health from Brandon Backe and a splashy arrival from lefty Troy Patton. They'll almost certainly dabble in the thin class of free-agent starters that features Carlos Silva, Livan Hernandez and Kyle Lohse, but don't expect the Astros to overpay for mediocrity. One year for Kenny Rogers or Randy Wolf might make more sense.

The Astros also should be in on closer Francisco Cordero, considering their bullpen blew 25 saves last season, and they also have interest in veteran Scott Linebrink.

REALITY CHECK

Jones

Cooper

The Astros go to 2008 with a new general manager in Wade and a reasonably new manager in Cecil Cooper, along with the new experience of finishing somewhere other than second in the NL Central, which they'd achieved for five consecutive seasons before landing in fourth in 2007.

That was it for GM Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner, who two seasons before had pushed the Astros into their first World Series, but in the end could not overcome the perhaps unavoidable departures of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, or the entirely avoidable departures of Jason Hirsh, Willy Taveras and Taylor Buchholz. New additions Jennings and Woody Williams were 10-24 between them, Brad Lidge contracted a nasty case of ninth-inning-phobia, and a wonderful season by free agent Carlos Lee didn't come close to covering the missteps.

The bullpen was particularly bad, so Wade dumped Lidge on the Phillies in the larger deal that brought Geary. Geary, however, doesn't have the arm Lidge has. Even if Lidge makes the trade look sound by being swallowed up in the undersized Citizens Bank Park, the Astros would have been better off with Lidge.

There are reasons for optimism. First, the division is just average. Second, the Astros' rotation is still led by Roy Oswalt. Third, the Lee-Lance Berkman-Hunter Pence part of the batting order is solid.

MONDAY: Kansas City Royals analysis