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Bagwell, 37, has an arthritic right shoulder that makes it difficult for him to throw. He underwent capsular release surgery in June and returned to hit .250 in 100 at-bats last season. Just days after the Astros lost to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series, Bagwell began rehabilitating the shoulder in hopes of reclaiming his starting first-base job in 2006.
Bagwell is a fan favorite in Houston and the Astros' career leader in home runs, RBI, walks and extra-base hits, but the dispute over his playing status has caused a strain with Astros management. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle last week, Bagwell said the Astros would prefer that he simply retire, and added that his relationship with the club "probably will never be fixed."
Astros officials have countered that they're not trying to push Bagwell out the door, but simply want to preserve their right to collect on the insurance if his injury prohibits him from playing.
Purpura said a recent examination by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., and a subsequent review by Dr. David Lintner, the Astros' team medical director, confirmed that Bagwell is a "disabled player." But Bagwell has said he needs more time to rehab the shoulder, and he plans to be at spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., when the Astros hold their first full-squad workout on Feb. 24.
"It's Jeff's position that he's going to report," Purpura said, "and there's little if anything a team can do to keep a player from reporting. It's a tough situation all around. It's tough and complex.
"You don't collect on the claim until he's actually missed time, so he would have to miss time throughout the season for that to actually go through. The big issue right now is the interpretation of whether we lose our rights after spring training starts. I don't know of any club that's had to deal with this kind of situation in this manner, so it's very murky."