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Wagner wonders about team's motive for deal

HOUSTON -- Former Houston Astros closer Billy Wagner thought
he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after last season as a
cost-cutting measure.

But since the Astros have signed pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, Wagner now thinks he was traded because he was an
outspoken critic of Astros owner Drayton McLane for not making a
big move last season, when Houston was battling for the NL Central
title.

"When I was traded it was my understanding it was financial and
then they get Clemens and Pettitte for double what I was making,"
Wagner told The Associated Press on Wednesday from his home in
Charlottesville, Va. "Instead, they got rid of me because they
don't like me."

Wagner will make $8 million next season. The Astros signed
Pettitte to a three-year, $31.5 million contract last month.
Clemens, who had announced his retirement after pitched for the New
York Yankees in the World Series, signed a one-year deal Monday
worth $5 million.

Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker denied Wagner's
assessment.

"I can appreciate how Billy feels, but what feelings we may or
may not have had regarding Billy didn't enter into the move to
trade him to Philadelphia," Hunsicker said. "The Pettitte and
Clemens signings were unusual and special circumstances and not
contemplated at the time of the Wagner trade."

After Houston's final game last season, Wagner accused McLane of
trying to keep the Astros competitive with "tape jobs" and not
pushing them toward the playoffs.

"Yeah, I'm outspoken," he said. "I just don't feel it's wrong
to state the obvious or the truth. I'll be the first to tell you if
I'm wrong."

Still, Wagner wishes he could be there when the Astros unveil
their potent rotation.

"I just wish he'd done this when we were a game out last
season," Wagner said. "I'm happy for the team, and wish I was a
part of it, but you trade Billy Wagner and get Roger Clemens and
Andy Pettitte. That's an easy decision."

Wagner, one of the most popular Astros throughout his major
league career, converted 44 of 47 saves last season. Astros
veterans Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were among those unhappy
when Wagner was traded.

"I'm happy Bagy and Bidge will get the help they need to win a
championship," Wagner said. "Maybe I should have said something
earlier last season. I think what I said might have changed some of
the outlook of everybody."

The Astros will have a rotation of Clemens and Pettitte to go
with young starters Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller and Tim Redding.

Jeriome Robertson, who won 15 games last season, and Carlos
Hernandez, recovering from shoulder surgery, also will compete for
a starting spot.

Hunsicker said the Astros may not be done making moves. He wants
to add a utility outfielder to complete the roster going into
spring training.

Although right fielder Richard Hidalgo will earn $12 million for
2004 and has a contract with a $15 million team option in 2005,
Hunsicker said there are no plans to trade him to cut salary.

"I'm disappointed that I continue hearing that we are trying to
dump Richard Hidalgo, that's unfair and untrue," Hunsicker said.
"Richard is a very important part of our offense, and I don't
anticipate a move regarding him at this time."