Hous­ton gains three younger play­ers for ace pitcher

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE -

Af­ter a year in de­nial, the Hous­ton Astros fi­nally de­cided it is time to re­build, trad­ing staff ace Roy Oswalt to the Philadel­phia Phillies for three younger play­ers.

The other face of the fran­chise, Lance Berk­man, could be next, if the Astros fetch a suit­able pack­age of prospects for the slug­ging first base­man by Satur­day’s non­waiver trade dead­line.

Oswalt, a three-time All-Star, was sent, along with a huge chunk of change, to the two-time de­fend­ing Na­tional League cham­pi­ons for promis­ing left-handed starter J.A. Happ and two speedy prospects, out­fielder An­thony Gose and short­stop Jonathan Vil­lar.

Hous­ton then traded Gose to Toronto for Triple-A first base­man Brett Wal­lace — a 23year-old who hit .301 with 24 dou­bles, 18 home runs and 61 RBIs at Las Ve­gas.

Wal­lace was Base­ball Amer­ica’s 27th-best prospect com­ing into the sea­son. He im­me­di­ately be­comes Hous­ton’s No. 1 prospect and its first base­man of the fu­ture. Wal­lace was as­signed to Triple-A Round Rock, al­though his stay with the Ex­press could be a short one if Berk­man is traded in the next 24 hours.

Un­til this trade, Hous­ton owner Dray­ton McLane had stead­fastly re­fused to re­build by trad­ing older stars for prospects. He wanted to be com­pet­i­tive each year, but it be­came clear the Astros — fifth place last year at 74-88 and even worse this year at 42-59 — were go­ing nowhere with a vet­eran team and a poor farm sys­tem at the up­per lev­els.

In Philadel­phia, Oswalt, a pop­u­lar player in Cen­tral Texas from his Ex­press days, won’t even be the biggest Roy in the ro­ta­tion. He joins Roy Hal­la­day, acquired from Toronto in the off-

sea­son, and Cole Hamels, the 2008 World Se­ries MVP. Oswalt is sched­uled to make his Phillies de­but tonight, start­ing at Washington.

“It’s ex­cit­ing get­ting into the mid­dle of a pen­nant race,’’ Oswalt, 32, said. “I en­joyed my ca­reer in Hous­ton, but you want to have a chance to play in the post­sea­son.’’

The hard-charg­ing Phillies are 31⁄2 games be­hind At­lanta in the NL East.

St. Louis also had been bar­gain­ing hard for Oswalt, who had to waive a no-trade clause in his con­tract.

Oswalt pitched ex­tremely well this year with a 3.24 ERA and 120 strike­outs in 129 in­nings, but was sad­dled with a 6-12 record be­cause of non­sup­port. The Astros were shut out in five of his games.

“We salute what Roy did for the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the con­tri­bu­tions that he made here over the course of his ca­reer in an Astros uni­form, and his pro­file here is sig­nif­i­cant,” Astros gen­eral man­ager Ed Wade said.

“At the end of the day, we have to do what’s best for the Hous­ton Astros. You can’t make a deal like this as a fa­vor to a player. In this case I think we served ev­ery­body’s pur­poses.”

Oswalt is 143-82 with a 3.24 ERA in 10 sea­sons with the Astros. He is 4-0 in the post­sea­son.

He is due about $5.33 mil­lion the rest of this sea­son from his $15 mil­lion salary and is owed $16 mil­lion in 2011.

The Astros re­port­edly will send about $11 mil­lion to the Phillies as part of the pack­age.

“I talked to Roy,’’ Phillies re­liever and for­mer Astro Brad Lidge said, “and he wanted to play for a win­ner real badly. This is the place to be.’’

Happ, 27, has made one start af­ter missing three months with an el­bow in­jury. He went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA and fin­ished run­ner-up for the NL Rookie of the Year award last sea­son.

Wal­lace is a stocky, thick­legged player with a great bat. He won the Pac-10 Triple Crown in 2007 at Ari­zona State, hit­ting .423 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs.

He is a for­mer first-round draft choice who’s made sev­eral all-prospect teams.

“We had a chance to go out and get a guy who’s a re­ally solid hit­ter,’’ Wade said.

Gose, 19, the player the Astros traded for Wal­lace, led all of the mi­nor leagues with 76 stolen bases last year.

He had 36 steals this year, hit­ting .263 for Sin­gle-A Clear­wa­ter.

Vil­lar, also 19, stole 38 bases and bat­ted .272 for Sin­gle-A Lake­wood.

Pat Sul­li­van

Roy Oswalt is ex­pected to start for Philadel­phia to­day at Washington af­ter be­ing traded by Hous­ton.

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