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Pettitte's status impacts Astros' moves

Pettitte's status impacts Astros' decisions

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Astros are mildly interested in free-agent pitcher Jason Schmidt, but general manager Tim Purpura hasn't been aggressively pursuing the right-hander mainly because of the Andy Pettitte factor.

If Pettitte returns to the Astros, he won't come cheaply, and assuming that he would make more than $10.5 million -- which is what he averaged over three years with the club -- Houston would not have the funds to sign both Pettitte and a starting pitcher of Schmidt's caliber.

"Our early intent is to see where we stand with Andy Pettitte," Purpura said. "Certainly, we would not be in a position to [sign] both of those guys."

Instead, the Astros will spend the week in central Florida exploring the trade front as they look for a young, affordable starting pitcher who can slide into the No. 2 spot behind Roy Oswalt and, if he replies "Yes" around his target date of Dec. 25, the No. 3 spot behind Pettitte.

Day 1 of the Winter Meetings ended without any major fireworks from the Astros' suite in the Dolphin Hotel at the Disney World complex. Purpura and his staff mostly spent the afternoon laying the groundwork for the week ahead, although Purpura did meet with three or four general managers as he explores the trade market.

The Astros have their ace, Oswalt, and a couple of youngsters -- Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz, Matt Albers, to name a few -- who figure to factor in somewhere in the rotation. Now it's a matter of finding that one arm who can slide in behind Oswalt and veteran newcomer Woody Williams.

"We feel like we've got a number of options in our young starting pitchers, and we're trying to build some support around them and fill in that middle of the rotation a little more," Purpura said.

The Pettitte factor, like it or not, looms large. The veteran southpaw may have a decision regarding his future in three weeks, but the Astros would like to make a trade this week. The 21-day differential could mean the difference between pouncing on a productive deal or missing out on deal and then losing Pettitte to retirement.

Pettitte's decision is a mystery to all, including the left-hander himself.

"Right now, it's impossible to figure out," Purpura said. "You just don't have the information, because I truly believe Andy's trying to make up his mind as to what he wants to do."

Purpura and Pettitte's agent, Randy Hendricks, will likely meet in the next day or two. Hendricks also represents Roger Clemens and Russ Springer, and those three pitchers -- all of whom were not offered arbitration by the Astros last week -- could be topics of conversation. Of the three, Pettitte will probably be in the forefront.

Pettitte has started working out, as a test of sorts on the condition of his body, especially in that delicate elbow area that has given him problems since he signed with Houston in 2003.

Pettitte had elbow problems toward the end of the 2006 season, and how much those aches and pains have lingered is unclear.

"At the end of the season, it certainly was bothering him," Purpura said. "He had a couple starts he had to push back, and he had at least one cortisone injection. I've read some reports that said his elbow bothered him a lot last year.

"Does he want to continue to go through this? That's a big part of his decision-making process, how much does he want to deal with the pain of his elbow issues? I've also heard him say he doesn't want to have another surgery. A lot of those pieces are weighing into it for him."

When Pettitte finally does make a decision, Purpura is confident the left-hander will be at peace with his choice.

"Getting to know Andy over the last several years, I don't think he does anything without thinking through all of the ramifications," Purpura said. "He's a very thoughtful person. When he was injured the first year, he truly felt bad for letting the club down. He went up to our owner [Drayton McLane] and apologized. His wife called our owner's wife to apologize. They're very sincere people.

"That's what part of the process is here, trying to decide what he wants to do. He's obviously had a great career. He's done a lot. Obviously, he and his family are secure. Being a dad is a real compelling piece of this."

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

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