Ausmus uncertain what future will hold

Ausmus uncertain what future will hold

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Perhaps it's because he's turning 38 in April, or because he hit .230 last year, or because the Astros appear to be transitioning quickly to a new generation of players.

It's been widely assumed that three things will happen at the end of the 2007 season: Brad Ausmus' contract will run out, he'll retire, and the Astros will find a new starting catcher.

As of right now, only the first option is set in stone. Ausmus' two-year contract is up after '07, but what he plans to do next year and beyond is still up for discussion.

Retirement? Perhaps. But it's more likely that if Ausmus has a decent year and teams are interested, he'll keep going.

"I've talked to people who are done playing, and with the exception of Billy Spiers, every single one of them has told me to play as long as I can," Ausmus said. "It's nice to get a summer to spend with your family and go on vacations and trips, but generally, they say you get bored rather quickly without something to occupy your time."

A couple of factors could stand in the way of Ausmus continuing his playing career. First, his list of teams that he would play for is short -- only two deep. He could change his mind, but it's likely the only clubs he would be interested in are the Astros, his team for nine of his last 11 seasons, and the Padres, located in his year-round home of San Diego.

The Astros will likely seek a more offensively sound frontline catcher after this season, so if Ausmus were to return, he would have to take a backup role. The Astros may not be interested in that, either. That's one of the decisions they'll have to make during their on-going evaluations this season.

"Much like we were making a transition from the [Jeff] Bagwell and [Craig] Biggio era to the [Lance] Berkman, [Roy] Oswalt era, there's going to come a time when we have to make a transition behind the plate," general manager Tim Purpura said. "Brad has been incredibly durable, amazingly durable. He's really one of the toughest players I've ever seen in the game.

"With that said, for several years now, we have been working toward, via the draft, a successor to Brad. That time will come. He has to decide what he wants to do, too. We don't have that heir apparent right now, but I think we will in the future. We'll have to at some point go out and find a catcher either for a long-term basis or short-term basis, depending on how some of our younger players develop."

The team's top catching prospects are still in the lower levels. Houston's No. 1 draft pick in 2006, Max Sapp, is still several years away from the big leagues, and another prospect the Astros are high on, Lou Santangelo, will not start the season any higher than Double-A this year. So he's still a year or two away, too.

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Unless the Astros decide Hector Gimenez or Humberto Quintero are cut out to be the frontline catcher, the club may have to look outside of the organization.

Even if Ausmus plays another couple of years, he's clearly nearing the end of his career. He's widely considered to be a future manager, if that's the route he chooses to take. But it's unlikely he'll be interested in starting at the bottom and working his way up. He wouldn't have a problem with reverting back to the long bus rides that define a Minor League season, but he has other people to consider, too -- his wife, Liz, and his daughters, Sophie and Abby.

Throughout his Major League career, Ausmus' family has flown in and out of several cities where the team was traveling, and spent the summers where his Major League team was based. Those conveniences would not exist if he lived in and traveled to remote small towns, and he's not prepared to be away from his family for any long stretch of time.

"I personally would not have a problem traveling on busses or on a Minor League schedule," Ausmus said. "But it's easier to travel with a family to major cities than it is to go from small town to small city in the Minor Leagues. I just would not do that to my wife and kids."

Ausmus mentioned other jobs that would not involve as much travel -- roving instructors, for example, leave for two weeks and are home for a spell, too, and don't require full-time Minor League travel. Purpura thinks Ausmus would make a great advance scout.

Or, Ausmus could go the Larry Dierker route and just skip the Minors all together and head straight for the Major League manager's office.

Ausmus doesn't know what he wants to do post-career, but he admits he likes the strategic side of baseball.

"I do enjoy the X's and O's, the cerebral part of the game," he said. "I have fun calling games, trying to think with the pitcher and out-think the hitter and know the situation. There are a dozen variables that run through your mind on every pitch. A lot of them have become reflex at this point. I enjoy that part. I don't know about managing, but coaching or some type capacity, other than player, I would enjoy."

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