Alyson Footer covers the Astros for MLB.com. I once was able to have dinner with The Great Milo Hamilton and I asked him who he thought did the best job covering the Astros. His reponse? Alyson Footer. So Astros County sent along some questions, and she took time out of her holiday to answer. Here they are - and thanks again, Alyson - Honorary Citizen of Astros County.
Have you always been - or are you currently - an Astros fan?
There’s a fine line between being a reporter and being a fan. I’m a fan of baseball and having been around the Astros for 12 years (four as a front office employee and eight as a reporter for MLB.com), I am always hoping for the best for the team. But my job is to report objectively on the goings-on of all things Astros, and there’s no fandom involved there. The best way I can describe it is, when they do well, I’m happy for them, and when the season is over, I’m happy for me.
What's the organizational focus of the Astros this off-season?
The Astros will have a $100 million payroll but had to shed some of the larger contracts in order to stay under the umbrella. Ed Wade is attempting to keep the team competitive while adhering to budget guidelines. That’s why they have Boone instead of Wigginton and Hampton instead of Wolf. Whether this works remains to be seen. They’re building the farm system and the organization should be in a good place in the next couple of years, but 2009 could be thin at the big league level. The roster is pretty much intact at this point.
What can Astros fans make of some of the lower-profile moves Wade has made?
It’s not been a happy offseason for the fans, but all I can say is, it is what it is. Teams cannot build farm systems overnight. Better times are ahead but these things take time. I like the Hampton signing – if he’s healthy, he has better stuff than Wolf. The only thing is, obviously, we don’t know if he can stay healthy and clearly, he has struggled in that department for many, many years. I like the Boone signing. He’s a professional hitter, a veteran, a good right-handed hitting complement to Geoff Blum at third. I’m not that impressed with the Jason Michaels signing but he’s a bench player, a pinch-hitter and certainly he’s not going to make or break the team. I give this offseason a C.
Who is the heart of the '09 team?
Berkman. Oswalt. Lee. Valverde.
What is the league-wide perception of the Astros organization?
The general feeling is they have a good nucleus of players with very little waiting in the wings down on the farm. They were once the toast of baseball in terms of organizational talent; now, they’re at the bottom. They’ve made some bad decisions and had some bad luck in the last few years. But they’re never a team other teams take for granted. They always find a way to be there right at the end of the season, even if they weren’t good for four months. As long as they have an ace, two superstar sluggers and an All-Star closer, they’ll continue to garner respect around the league, even if they’re not regarded as elite, as they used to be.
Who is your favorite Astro to talk to?
Past players include Billy Wagner, who we all know isn’t afraid to voice his opinions. Jeff Bagwell always gave you good insight and never relied on clichés. He also understands the job we have to do and respects us. Brad Ausmus is the most professional player I’ve ever been around. Always accessible, returns phone calls during the offseason, understands that in a lot of ways, we’ll all co-workers. Current players: Lance Berkman, Wesley Wright, Doug Brocail, Roy Oswalt. The list really goes on and on. Lots of great ones along the way. Mark Loretta is another one, as is Blum.
Give us one reason to think that '09 won't be a complete disaster...
Because they have good players – Berkman, Lee, Oswalt, Pence, Valverde. Guys like Tejada do wonders for a clubhouse chemistry. They may not win the division, but they’ll be competitive. They’re not the Pirates. They have plenty of talent at the big league level, and they’re always fun to watch.