As if things weren’t going badly enough for the Houston Astros by being the National League’s worst team and having the major league’s worst offense, last week they were hit by a bombshell when word got out that Bob Garber, the agent for Astros’ star pitcher Roy Oswalt, phoned team owner Drayton McLane Jr. requesting the team trade the three-time All-Star.

Oswalt, who was drafted by Houston in 1996 and broke into the major leagues in 2001, currently ranks third among all pitchers in wins (139) and earned run average (3.21) since 2001. His .647 winning percentage ranks first in Astros’ franchise history. Despite throwing nine consecutive quality starts and a 2.66 ERA so far this season, Oswalt is 2-6.

The 32-year-old right-hander is under contract through 2011 with a $16 million club option for 2012. His contract includes a no-trade clause, meaning he can veto any attempt the team makes to trade him. Oswalt said a couple of weeks ago he is willing to waive his no-trade clause.

He needs only six wins to surpass Joe Niekro as the Astros’ winningest pitcher of all time. However, in the past two years, those wins have been few and far between despite Oswalt’s miniscule ERA. Succinctly put, Oswalt simply doesn’t get enough offensive support to continue being a 20-game winner like he was a few years ago.

Oswalt had no comment about the situation until Saturday when he broke his silence by having a news conference in the Astros’ clubhouse. “I’m not going to a team that’s not in contention of playing in the playoffs,” he pointed out.

“I’ve got two years left. In those two years I’m trying to get back to the playoffs. I haven’t been there since 2005,” he continued. “I’ve been here 10 years and given everything I’ve got for 10 years, done everything, staying on the field to win. Hopefully maybe there are some options for both of us out there.

“I’m not looking for an out for me. I’m thinking from the standpoint of a franchise player that it could be a good thing for both of us,” Oswalt concluded.
It was pointed out that the team’s horrendous start this spring (15-29) is similar to when Houston began the 2005 season at 15-30 and overcame that poor start to reach the World Series for the only time in franchise history.

“In ’05, when we were 15-30, there was a little bit of a different stance, I guess you would say with the organization,” Oswalt recalled. “Now we’re close to that record, I think, and the stance isn’t the same as it was in ’05.”

What Roy O. was trying to say but is too nice of a guy to evaluate his teammates is that his present 2010 team has nowhere near the talent that was on the 2005 club.

And that can be directly attributed to the strict budget guidelines set by McLane to cut the payroll 17 per cent from what it was in 2009 when the Astros limped home in fifth place in the mediocre NL Central Division.

It was the job of General Manager Ed Wade to persuade top-notch major leaguers to sign with the Astros. But when a team’s payroll is set at 17 per cent below last year’s budget, the only players available are the bargain-basement ones. The end product is what you see today—the NL’s worst team and the major league’s lowest team batting average and run production.

Last weekend when the Astros dropped two of three games to Tampa Bay, the Rays’ senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker ironically was on hand in Houston for the series. Hunsicker, whose Rays have the major league’s best record at 32-12, was the Astros’ general manager from Nov. 10, 1995 until Nov. 1, 2004.
He resigned because McLane kept looking over his shoulder meddling in his business. It would be like Hunsicker, who knows nothing about the grocery supply business, advising McLane on how to run his gigantic enterprise.

It must be noted that Hunsicker was the architect of five playoff teams and acquired nearly all of the players for the 2005 team that won the National League pennant in 2005. Last weekend he saw first-hand how an organization can deteriorate in 51/2 years.

Oswalt is smart enough to see that too and that’s why he wants out. McLane has always been fond of Roy O. and will probably do his best to authorize a trade that will be to Oswalt’s liking.

Oswalt should command some of the major league’s top talent in a trade. The Astros certainly could use a good-hitting shortstop, second baseman and even a third baseman. And don’t forget they haven’t had a solid catcher since Craig Biggio broke into the starting lineup in the late 1980’s.

However, this Korner looks for McLane to instruct Wade to use Oswalt to obtain some top minor league prospects who are just about ready for the big show. The big question—is there a team who has minor leaguers to part with and a need for starting pitching and the financial capacity of adding a big salary?
If the Astros go that route, they might as well dump the big salaries of slump-ridden Carlos Lee and even Lance Berkman, if that duo is even tradeable. McLane has been procrastinating about the obvious reconstruction of the organization that must be done for the Astros to become competitive once again.
Perhaps Oswalt is forcing McLane’s hand to either trade off the big-money players or nip the entire problem in the bud by getting rid of the cause of the Houston Astros’ plunge from first to worst—General Manager Ed Wade.

Whatever happens in this Roy Oswalt scenario, Houston Astros fans can be certain of one thing—their favorite team will be firmly entrenched in the NL Central cellar for a long, long time.

KWICKIES…The Cleveland Cavaliers fired head coach Mike Brown Monday despite the fact he was the winningest coach in the NBA over the last two seasons. Perhaps the front office wasn’t too happy with the way the Boston Celtics manhandled them in the Eastern Conference semifinals earlier this month.

Five Southeast Texas high schools teams are still alive in the state baseball tournament after last week’s action. Orangefield won two-of-three from West Orange-Stark to advance to the Regional semifinals and will meet Waco Robinson, which defeated Mexia. Bridge City took two-out-of-three from Huffman and will meet Jasper which defeated Lufkin Hudson 13-7 and 10-0. Port Neches-Groves beat Magnolia and will meet Friendswood, which beat Paris 12-0 and Evadale defeated Douglass and will take over Overton in Class 1A.

And while we are on the subject of baseball tournaments, Lamar salvaged the final game of the three-game series with Stephen F. Austin with a 9-4 win Saturday to qualify as the No. 7 seed in this weekend’s Southland Conference Tournament at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Cards (16-17 in SLC and 31-24 overall) will meet second-seeded Northwestern State Wednesday at noon.
Former Houston Astros’ All-Star pitcher Jose Lima died Sunday at the tender age of 37 of a massive heart attack. The happy-go-lucky right-hander was kind of flaky but a real fan favorite with the six different major league teams he played on during his 13-year career. His best year came with the Astros in 1999 when he went 21-10 with a 3.58 ERA and helped Houston to a third consecutive National League Central Division title.

JUST BETWEEN US…It’s not very often that a high school star will put the team ahead of personal achievements, but Orangefield’s senior left-handed pitcher Chase Angelle did exactly that Saturday afternoon. Angelle had a no-hitter through five innings against the West Orange-Stark Mustangs and asked Bobcat head coach Jeff Bennett to take him out so he could start the decisive third game later that day after Orangefield tied the series at 1-1 with an 11-0 victory. Angelle hurled four more shutout innings in that rubber game that the Bobcats won 12-0 and moved on to the Regional quarterfinals to face Waco Robinson later this week. The Mustangs had given Orangefield quite a wake-up call Friday by upsetting them in the opener 4-2.