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Friday, November 7, 2008
Astros' first order of business: Re-sign Wolf

By Phil Rogers
Special to ESPN.com

General manager Ed Wade looked like Don Quixote when he traded for Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins after Houston's disappointing first half of the season. But a late 14-1 run had Houston on the outskirts of the wild-card race before the interruption for Hurricane Ike sent the Astros reeling once again.
HOUSTON ASTROS
GM: Ed Wade
Manager: Cecil Cooper
'08 record: 86-75, 3rd in NL Central
Houston Astros '08 payroll: $88.9M, 14th MLB
Runs scored: 712, 11th NL
Runs allowed: 743, 9th NL
OPS: .737, 10th NL
ERA: 4.36, 8th NL
Fielding percentage: .986, 1st NL

Lance Berkman had a tremendous first half, and Jose Valverde delivered 44 saves after being acquired from Arizona. Roy Oswalt delivered his usual solid season, but an injury to Carlos Lee hurt.

Primary needs

Houston could use a couple of good on-base guys and some starting pitching. The catching spot is a question mark, with the organization finally deciding it's time to cut ties with Brad Ausmus.

Free agents

LHP Randy Wolf, C Brad Ausmus, INF Mark Loretta.

Re-signing Wolf is a huge priority. He established himself by going 6-2 in 12 starts after joining the Astros, and Wade would hate to lose him. Hawkins also provided a lift after being acquired and is in line for a possible extension.

Trade bait

Center fielder Michael Bourn, the key guy in the deal that sent Brad Lidge to Philadelphia, could be moved if the organization decides it can find a better replacement.

Farm aid

While patching things together at the big league level, owner Drayton McLane has allowed his organization to take its focus off player development, and seems certain to pay for it the next few years. There's not much in the current pipeline, as catcher J.R. Towles looked like a bust in 2008. Third baseman Chris Johnson is worth watching, but most of the organization's best prospects are years away from helping.

Outlook

Nothing would help more than adding a No. 2 starter between Oswalt and Wolf, and Oswalt is doing all he can to pressure Wade into finding a way to trade for Peavy or to sign right-hander Ben Sheets. The Astros also need to improve behind the plate and in center field. Expect Wade to study the list of arbitration-eligible players available from other organizations, especially Florida and Kansas City.

Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has its Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available in bookstores, through Amazon.com and by direct order from Triumph Books (800-222-4657).