Astros find taker for Hidalgo in Mets

By Jim Callis
June 17, 2004

Almost since the time they signed Richard Hidalgo to a four-year, $32 million deal before the 2001 season, the Astros have regretted it and have looked to unload his contract. They accomplished that goal on Thursday, sending Hidalgo to the Mets for David Weathers and Triple-A righthander Jeremy Griffiths. As a side benefit for Houston, outfielder Jason Lane now can receive some long-overdue playing time.

The Astros reportedly included $4 million in the contract to offset the remaining cash due Hidalgo, who has a $12 million salary for 2004 and will get either $15 million in salary or a $2 million buyout for 2005. Houston also assumes the remainder of Weathers’ $3.9 million salary for 2004. Both Hidalgo and Weathers will become free agents after the season.

Hidalgo, 28, is loaded with tools but provided inconsistent production for the Astros. He hit .314 with 44 homers in 2000, then dipped to .258 with a total of 34 longballs over the next two seasons before rebounding to bat .309 with 28 homers a year ago. But he slumped again in 2004, batting .256/.309/.412 with four homers and 30 RBIs in 58 games. He’s at his best when he doesn’t try to muscle up and pull everything. He has one of the best right-field arms in the game, leading the majors with 22 outfield assists last year, though his instincts are a little shaky in the outfield. He’s an average baserunner. In 813 career games, Hidalgo has hit .278/.356/.501 with 134 homers and 465 RBIs.

Weathers, a 34-year-old righthander, has an onerous contract of his own, signing with the Mets as a free agent for three years and $9.4 millon after the 2001 season. He’s a durable reliever who relies on a sinker/slider combination and is best used in a setup role. In 32 games this year, he has gone 5-3, 4.28 with a 25-15 strikeout-walk ratio, five homers and a .304 opponent average in 34 innings. He has a career 50-58, 4.48 record and 14 saves in 580 lifetime appearances.

Griffiths, 26, signed out of the University of Toledo as a 1999 third-round pick. He struggled in his first shot at the big leagues in 2003, going 1-4, 7.02 in nine appearances. Griffiths has spent all of this year in Triple-A, going 5-2, 3.47 in 13 starts at Norfolk. He has a 31-29 strikeout-walk ratio in 70 innings, while opponents have batted .258 with six homers against him. Griffiths works with a low-90s fastball, a slider, changeup and curveball. He hasn’t missed nearly enough bats since moving to Triple-A last year, and his lack of a dominant pitch leaves him a future as a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever.