Astros face decision on whether to retain Miller
Righthander's shoulder injury has team mulling options carefully
By BRIAN MCTAGGART
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
As the Monday deadline approaches to tender contracts to major-league players under a team's control, the Astros are weighing the pros and cons of bringing back righthanded pitcher Wade Miller for next season.
Miller, who went 7-7 with a 3.35 ERA last season but didn't pitch after June 25 because of a frayed rotator cuff, is eligible for arbitration but isn't expected to begin throwing off a mound until next month.
The Astros don't want to go to arbitration with Miller, who doesn't want to be non-tendered considering he's trying to come back from a shoulder injury.
Miller avoided arbitration last year by agreeing to a one-year, $3.4 million deal for 2004, a $2,875,000 raise over the $525,000 he made in 2003.
Monday's 11 p.m. deadline will affect other arbitration-eligible players such as Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Tim Redding, Brandon Duckworth and Mike Lamb.
If those players aren't tendered contracts through which the parties at least hope to exchange arbitration figures, they will become free agents.
"You're always trying to look at who to keep on the roster and who to take off the roster," Purpura said. "Those are important decisions."
Players such as Berkman and Oswalt are no-brainers to be tendered contracts, but Miller's injury puts the Astros in a difficult spot.
Miller, 28, has been a workhorse for the Astros, winning at least 14 games in three consecutive seasons from 2001-03. But he began experiencing pain in his shoulder June 15 of this year in a start against the Chicago Cubs and made just two more starts before shutting it down for the season.
Although he didn't have surgery, the Astros have received promising news from team doctors regarding Miller's prognosis. Because he won't begin throwing until January, the Astros will have to make a decision on him by relying on MRIs and physical exams.
"It's tough, just because you don't have enough information, particularly in Wade's case," Purpura said. "All the information so far is good. What we've heard from doctors is pretty good, but he's not throwing. If he was throwing and able to get on the mound, you'd have a whole lot more confidence going into it."
Miller's agent, Robert Garber, didn't return phone calls Friday.
If healthy, Miller would be a key figure in a formidable Astros rotation that includes Andy Pettitte, Oswalt, Brandon Backe and possibly Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who hasn't decided if he'll return.
But Miller could get more than $3 million in arbitration, which might be too big of a risk for the Astros. Purpura said he has had discussions about a new contract for Miller for next year.
"We're in a situation where we've got to be careful what we do," Purpura said. "Number 1, we want to have a pitcher that will help us.
"Number 2, financially we're don't need to get in situations of paying somebody to sit on the DL all year.
"He makes a significant amount of money, and that would be difficult for us to be in that situation where we would have all the risk of him not pitching."
Meanwhile, Purpura doesn't expect to have any dialogue with Scott Boras, the agent for free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran, until next week. The two sides haven't spoken since Tuesday, on the heels of the winter meetings.