Notes: Purpura, Lidge refute rumors
Reliever denies trade talk amid bullpen uncertainty
CHICAGO -- Brad Lidge didn't actually hear or see the rumors floating around the Boston area regarding his desire to bolt out of Houston, but after multitudes of friends and family asked him about it, he was moved to address the situation with general manager Tim Purpura.
Purpura and Lidge were both informed by various sources that a national baseball show reported that Lidge wants to be traded. Both the GM and closer were emphatic while denying any truth to the rumor.
"I didn't watch it, but I heard about it," Lidge said. "My mom asked me about it.
"I've never said that and there's no reason for me to give it a whole lot more than that. To me, it's just another one of those trade rumors that people try to start. I don't know. I don't put a whole lot of stock in them anyway but obviously, you don't like when people say things for you that you haven't said."
As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline nears, Lidge has been mentioned dozens of times as the target for several teams who covet the Astros closer. Purpura has little desire to trade Lidge, who has one more year of arbitration eligibility after 2007 and is not only the club's best option to close next year, but quite frankly, the only option.
Dan Wheeler had a nice run as the closer in April and May but struggled as both a setup man and closer in June, posting a 10.43 ERA over 13 outings. Chad Qualls, for now, is not viewed as a closing candidate, and the Astros don't have anyone in the Minor Leagues they feel can step into that role immediately should Lidge be traded.
"A closer is one of those very rare commodities," Purpura said. "The guy who can work the ninth is a rare creature. Brad had his struggles earlier this year and we're anxious to get him back into his role. Not having him in the bullpen this last month is a significant factor in how we've done. He's a very important member of the ballclub."
Lidge, who was activated from the disabled list on Thursday, expressed his desire to remain an Astro.
"I want to stay in Houston," he said. "I want to close in Houston and that's what I'm doing. So I'm real happy right now."
More trade talk: While the Astros may not be looking to move Lidge on July 31, they are on the prowl for a catcher who can move into the No. 1 spot that will likely be vacated by Brad Ausmus at the end of the season.
The catcher position is the top priority for the Astros heading toward the trade deadline. If they don't acquire a catcher by July 31, it'll be No. 1 on their list this offseason.
"We'll try to find a guy that has given us what Brad has given us," Purpura said. "You don't want Brad to think he's getting pushed out the door but at some point reality sets in.
"Looking at the trade deadline, if we can do something to help our club now, that also helps us in the future, that's the No. 1 priority. We want to get better this year, but set ourselves up for being better in future years."
J.R. Towles appears to be the club's top catching prospect, but Purpura thinks it's unrealistic to assume he could move into a starting role next year. The 23-year-old catcher began the season with Class A Salem, where he hit .200 over 26 games. He was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi in May when Lou Santangelo was suspended 50 games for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
In 40 games for the Hooks, Towles thrived, hitting .326 with eight homers and 27 RBIs. His performance earned him an invitation to the All-Star Futures Game.
"We move him up, and he goes off," Purpura said. "He's been great. He's moving up the ladder. He's helping himself in Double-A. But to think he'd be an everyday catcher in the big leagues next year, I just can't see that."
Rotation order: When manager Phil Garner reset his rotation for the second half, he slotted Chris Sampson as the No. 5 starter, even though Sampson has had more overall success this year than No. 4 Woody Williams.
Garner said he wanted to give Sampson more time to rest, considering he's entering "unchartered territory" in terms of innings pitched. Occasionally, the No. 5 pitcher will be skipped in the rotation when the team has an offday.
Garner estimated Sampson had never pitched more than 110-120 innings during a season, and because Sampson's already at 101 2/3 this year, he doesn't want to push him.
Actually, Sampson threw 153 2/3 innings in the Minor Leagues in 2004, 150 in Double-A in '05 and a combined 159 2/3 in Triple-A and the Majors last year.
Still, Major League innings are presumed to be more strenuous than those in the Minor Leagues, so Garner's going to be careful with how he handles Sampson.
"He's very quickly going to be in unchartered territory," Garner said. "Giving him a break here and there would be good for him."
Coming up: The Astros and Cubs will meet again at Wrigley Field on Saturday for a 2:55 p.m. CT game that will be telecast regionally on FOX. Right-hander Roy Oswalt (8-5, 3.53) will face left-hander Ted Lilly (8-4, 3.67).
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.