Astros up in the air about Backe

Astros up in the air about Backe

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Astros have nine arbitration-eligible players this year, all of whom are in line for raises of varying degrees in 2007.

While it's safe to assume that the Astros are interested in retaining most of them, they must make a decision on right-hander Brandon Backe, who will miss all of 2007 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September.

Backe is arbitration-eligible for the first time and had he produced a healthy, productive year in '06, he would be up for a significant raise over the nearly $450,000 he made last year. But because of Backe's injury issues -- he made only eight starts in '06 -- he has little, if any, leverage, especially since he won't be pitching next year.

So the Astros have to make a decision -- sign Backe to a one-year relatively inexpensive deal and hope he'll make a full recovery in '08, or not tender him a contract by the Dec. 12 deadline, at which time Backe would become a free agent and could sign with any of the other 29 teams.

General manager Tim Purpura is undecided on what he wants to do.

"We're thinking through the process," he said. "Here's a player who's likely to miss the majority of the season, but [Tommy John is also] a surgery players have typically been able to come back from, not easily, but more successfully than in most recent years. We're going through that process now. We've had conversations with his agent about a contract."

The other arbitration-eligible players include Dan Wheeler, Brad Lidge, Adam Everett, Morgan Ensberg, Mike Lamb, Jason Lane, Eric Bruntlett and Dave Borkowski.

Severing ties: Five years ago, Carlos Hernandez was considered the next up-and-coming future star of the Astros' rotation. But rotator cuff surgery in 2003 turned into several unsuccessful comeback attempts, and the Astros have decided to sever ties with their former left-handed phenom.

Assistant general manager Ricky Bennett informed Hernandez's agent that, because of their starting pitching depth at the Triple-A level, Hernandez is no longer a fit for the organization.

Hernandez was on the fast track to the big leagues in 2001, until he tore his rotator cuff in August of that season while diving back to second base on a pickoff play. He missed the rest of that season and part of 2002 before having surgery in February of 2003. He made nine starts for the Astros in '04, but he did not appear in the Majors after that season.

Late arrivals: Most of the Astros' front-office contingent arrived to Orlando, Fla., on Monday afternoon minus Al Pedrique, special assistant to the GM for Latin American operations, who is managing the Magallanes club in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Pedrique had planned to attend the Winter Meetings, but several disturbances in Venezuela after the result of Sunday's presidential election was announced created a certain degree of disarray, and Pedrique's chances to leave the country were slim.

"Things got a little crazy in Caracas and Valencia, some disturbances and things were cancelled," Purpura said. "It's unlikely Al will join us."

Lane was scheduled to head to Venezuela this week to play in the Winter League, but he has not left Houston yet.

"One of the things I had talked to Jason about last week was just to monitor what's going on down there, and just make sure he's got all assuranaces he's going to be safe," Purpura said.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.