Bagwell plans to report, though Astros say he's hurt

Updated: January 24, 2006, 7:17 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Jeff Bagwell's agent said the four-time All-Star is planning to show up at spring training, despite the Houston Astros' contention that he's too hurt to play.

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"He believes he's going to be ready for the start of the season," Barry Axelrod said Tuesday. "That's what we're counting on."

Bagwell did not immediately respond to an interview request from The Associated Press.

The 37-year-old Bagwell had surgery on his arthritic right throwing shoulder in June. Doctors who examined him told the Astros this month that the shoulder was still too damaged to expect Bagwell to be productive this season.

The Astros said Monday they intend to file an insurance claim by a Jan. 31 deadline to recoup $15.6 million of the $17 million they owe Bagwell this season. Team spokesman Jimmy Stanton said the claim had not been filed Tuesday.

For the Astros to collect, the insurance provider would have to deem Bagwell unable to play. Astros general manager Tim Purpura said Monday that Bagwell is "disabled at this time for playing professional baseball."

Bagwell told the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday that he's disappointed by how much it seems the Astros want him to quit.

"To me more than anything else, it's just amazing how bad they don't want me to play," Bagwell told the newspaper. "They just want to collect their money. It's an awkward situation."

Bagwell has spent all of his 15 major-league seasons in Houston and is one of the franchise's best and most popular all-time players. The dispute, he said, may have damaged his relationship with the team forever.

"It probably will never be fixed between me and the Astros," the first baseman told the newspaper.

But the bitterness won't keep Bagwell from reporting to the Astros' spring training center in Kissimmee, Fla., on Feb. 24, Axelrod said. Though he still doesn't have full range of motion in the shoulder, Axelrod said Bagwell believes he can be nearly 100 percent healthy by April.

"That's still his approach," Axelrod said. "When we were told that January 31st was when the determination had to be made, we were caught off guard by that. The fact is, a determination can't be made by then."

Bagwell missed 115 games in 2005 after the surgery to repair the shoulder that's bothered him since 2001. In the four previous seasons, Bagwell hit 136 home runs and had 417 RBI -- numbers Axelrod said should earn Bagwell one more season.

"No one is saying Jeff has functioned in those years like he did in his MVP year [1994] or the years around that, but it hasn't been half-bad," Axelrod said. "If he is irritated about anything, it because he feels that, 'I've battled through pain and discomfort before and I always get through spring and get stronger.' All of a sudden, someone is saying, 'Well, sorry, we've decided you're not able to perform."'

Purpura said the Astros will chart Bagwell's progress leading up to spring training and left open the possibility of Bagwell returning.

"We've got some time here," Purpura said. "We all feel bad. It's a difficult situation for everybody."

Axelrod said Bagwell could probably extend his career up to five seasons if he played in the American League as a designated hitter. But Axelrod said the possibility of a trade is remote, mainly because if Bagwell played somewhere else, he would disprove the Astros' contention that he's disabled.

Axelrod also said Bagwell doesn't want to play anywhere else.

"Jeff is a lifelong Houston Astro," Axelrod said. "That's something certain players think about and Jeff's part of that ilk. That's a badge of honor, an entire career with one organization. It means you've exhibited loyalty."

Both sides are still mulling how the insurance policy affects Bagwell's status with the team.

If Bagwell arrives at spring training and decides he can't play, then the Astros are likely to recoup their money. But no one's sure what happens if Bagwell decides he can play.

"That's one of the nebulous aspects, what can happen and can't happen," Axelrod said. "For a team to tell a guy with a questionable shoulder that he can't step on the field, I'm not sure how far that's going to go. I don't know what will happen. None of us do."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press