Houston must lead the league in Tostitos this winter. You picture Astros executives sitting around their offices, surrounded by bowls of chips, pretzels and trail mix, nibbling and waiting ... and waiting ...
|Roger Clemens will wind up leaving the Astros in the lurch if he decides not to return. (Getty Images)|
Deep into the offseason, no other club in baseball has been as hamstrung as the Astros.
They've been waiting to see whether free-agent center fielder Carlos Beltran will sign with them.
They've been waiting to see whether Cy Young-winning pitcher Roger Clemens will pitch for them.
Each is a huge piece of Houston's 2005 plans. Yet as backup options A, B, C, D, E, F and so on have fallen off the boards this winter as free agents have signed and trades have been made, the Astros simply have been biding their time, hoping they haven't seen the last of Beltran and Clemens.
"That's what coming from player development teaches you," says Purpura, who spent seven seasons as the club's director of player development before ascending to his current position. "If you don't have patience, you don't exist. I learned that lesson in my years in player development.
"It's been a challenge. But there's a big prize at the end. We'll just have to wait and see."
Truth be told, if the Astros are devouring the munchies, it's because they're working such late hours. Each night -- especially lately -- has seemed to last longer than the previous one as they study proposals, weigh options and walk a risky tightrope that could result in the 2005 club being every bit as good as the '04 National League wild-card winners ... or a colossal failure.
The Beltran negotiations are in their final hours -- at least, from Houston's side of the equation. The Astros said Thursday they had made their final offer to Beltran. If they can't sign the center fielder by Saturday's midnight ET deadline, they effectively lose him because they lose any negotiation rights with him until May 1. By then, Beltran long since will have been a New York Met -- or whatever he's going to be if he severs ties with the Astros.
The Mets, who already have bagged Pedro Martinez, reportedly are offering $100 million over six years. The Chicago Cubs have made an offer. The New York Yankees were sending mixed signals about what they will do while hammering out final details of Randy Johnson's two-year, $32 million extension this week.
The Astros? They remain aggressive, they've made an offer -- believed to be five years at $15 million per -- and their heart rate is increasing as the deadline approaches. The last thing they want this weekend is to be humming the old Sam Cooke song: "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody."
"We certainly consider ourselves still in the mix," Purpura says. "It's impossible to know where we stand vis-à-vis the other clubs. We have a fair offer out there, a market-value offer.