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Saturday, July 28, 2007
Reliever Wheeler dealt to D-Rays for Wigginton

Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Hoping for more offensive production from their infield, the Houston Astros acquired Ty Wigginton from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Saturday for relief pitcher Dan Wheeler.

Wigginton was hitting .275 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs in 98 games this season. Last year, he had a career-high 24 homers and 79 RBIs.

This gives us a player in Wigginton that can play third base for us for the next several seasons. He is the kind of player that we like to have on this club. He is a gamer.

-- Houston general manager Tim Purpura

Since Wigginton isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2009 season, the trade could signal the end of Morgan Ensberg's career in Houston. Ensberg, who's started 52 games at third, is hitting .232 with eight home runs. He's spent his entire seven-year career with Houston and was an All-Star in 2005.

The Astros have also used Mike Lamb and Mark Loretta at third this season. Lamb is a left-handed hitter and Loretta is a utility infielder who's made more starts at shortstop in 2007.

"We are looking forward to refilling some of our position player needs and this gives us a player in Wigginton that can play third base for us for the next several seasons," Houston general manager Tim Purpura said. "He is the kind of player that we like to have on this club. He is a gamer. And he is guy that has power and is a run producer. He can play a couple of positions, although we will use him primarily at third base."

Wigginton batted .321 in June. He's started 30 games at third base, 38 at second, 15 at first and 15 as the Rays' designated hitter.

"You're always surprised when a trade happens," he said. "But at the same time it's a positive because then you know teams are interested in you, and I look forward to being part of the Astros' family."

The acquisition of the 29-year-old Wigginton comes less than a week after Craig Biggio announced he will retire at the end of this season. Wigginton said the Astros haven't told him if he'd succeed Biggio at second base.

"I don't even want to think about it that way," Wigginton said. "I don't think anyone ever replaces Biggio. I don't think I'm the guy to replace him. I'm just a part of their organization now."

Wheeler (1-4, 5.07 ERA) leads the Astros with 11 saves, but has blown four this season. He gave up an RBI double in Tuesday's 7-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first run he had allowed in nine innings over his last seven appearances.

The 29-year-old Wheeler should give a boost to one of the worst bullpens in baseball. Over its last 30 innings, the Rays' bullpen has given up 44 runs.

"Upgrading our bullpen has been a priority for a long time," Tampa Bay executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "Wigginton has been a tremendous value to this organization on the field and in the clubhouse and obviously, it's bittersweet to lose to Wiggy. But we got a relief pitcher that we feel can pitch important high leverage innings and the back part of the game, where it's especially important with our young starting pitchers."

Since coming to the Astros from the New York Mets in August 2004, Wheeler had developed into the Astros' dependable set-up man for closer Brad Lidge. He moved into the closer's role in April, when Lidge was demoted.

Wheeler had a 2.41 ERA with 146 strikeouts in 159 innings over the previous three seasons.

"All trades hurt in one way or another," Purpura said. "Certainly losing Wheeler, who has been a big piece of our bullpen for a long time, hurts."

The deal was announced minutes after the Astros beat San Diego 3-1.

"Wheeler has been great for us for the last three years," said Roy Oswalt, who earned the win on Sunday. "Since the day he walked in, he has been a good seventh- and eighth-inning guy for us. We are going to miss him for sure."

Wheeler played for Tampa Bay from 1999-2001. He just bought a house in Florida, about 30 minutes from the ballpark. He'll also reunite with former Astros pitching coach Jim Hickey.

"You hear everything flying around. I guess you can't be too surprised," he said. "It's an opportunity to make this team better."

The acquisition of Wheeler is the latest by the Devil Rays as they try to fix a bullpen that has only 19 saves and a 6.68 ERA.

Earlier Saturday, Tampa Bay traded for minor league reliever Brian Shackelford from Cincinnati, and sent down struggling reliever Shawn Camp. On Friday they added reliever Grant Balfour in a trade with the Brewers.

On Monday, they placed Jay Witasick on the 15-day disabled list, sent J.P. Howell to Triple-A Durham and called up Jason Hammel and Juan Salas from Durham.