The list includes Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Aubrey Huff, Russ Springer and Jeff Bagwell. The Astros are extremely interested in negotiating contracts with Pettitte and Clemens, should they decide to pitch in '07, but they appear to be only moderately interested in Springer and Huff. Bagwell recently filed for free agency but is expected to retire in the very near future.
Pettitte, 34, expects to make a decision regarding his desire to continue his career by Christmas, while Clemens, 44, has no timetable.
Agent Randy Hendricks, who represents both Pettitte and Clemens, indicated that there were no hard feelings from their standpoint.
"I take it to mean that the Astros do not want to pay what they would be expected to pay under arbitration criteria," Hendricks said via e-mail. "Arbitration is a one-year contract. No one will take this personally. Both Andy and Roger are most appreciative of their relationships with the Astros and the Houston fans. Time will tell how all of this plays out for 2007."
"Basically, you look at your interest of being able to negotiate a contract versus turning it over to an arbitrator to decide for you," Purpura said. "If Andy decides to play, or anyone else decides to play, we can negotiate a contract as well as anyone else could."
Under the new rules of the Basic Agreement, teams can continue to negotiate with players not offered arbitration up until Opening Day. Under the old rules, teams had until Dec. 7 to determine whether to offer their own free agents arbitration, and if they didn't, they could no longer negotiate with them.
If a team did offer arbitration and the player declined, negotiations could continue until Jan. 8. After that date, the club couldn't discuss contract offers again until May 1, if the player was still available.
But under the new rules, the date of offering arbitration has been moved up a week and players have until Dec. 7 to accept. The Astros, having not offered arbitration to any of their five free agents, have no deadline to meet.
Had they offered Pettitte and Clemens arbitration, it's unlikely that either would have made a decision by Dec. 7 anyway, and both probably would have rejected the offers.
"In these cases, we don't have declaration of what's going to happen," Purpura said. "They've already said Christmas [for Pettitte] and they only have a week to make decision as to whether to accept or reject arbitration. It's nonsensical, really, given public announcements."
Huff appears to have priced himself out of the Astros' market with his desire to sign a three- to four-year contract worth more than the nearly $7 million per year he earned toward the end of his three-year contract that expired this year.
Springer, who has been with the Astros since the middle of the '04 season, also appears to be slipping off the Astros' radar screen, mainly because the club prefers its middle relievers to be able to pitch multiple innings.
"He's a one-inning guy," Purpura said. "His ERA in one inning is stellar. Go past one inning, it goes to 20."
The Astros are going to need relievers who can pitch multiple innings next season, considering the 40-year-old Woody Williams recently joined the rotation, and Clemens, who will turn 45 next August, could sign on next year, too.
"Woody's not going seven or eight innings," Purpura said. "He's a five- or six-inning guy. We have a need in our bullpen for guys who can go deeper, two- or three-inning stints. Maybe [Dave] Borkowski fits into that role, maybe [Chris] Sampson, or other guys can fill that role."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less