A Dinger

Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker talks about second baseman Jeff Kent and a budget like the New York Yankees'.

texasmonthly.com: When did it occur to you that you wanted to sign a second baseman?

Gerry Hunsicker: Well, really, that was one of the more amazing stories I've ever been associated with. We were no more looking to sign Jeff Kent or an impact player like Kent than the man on the moon. When we went to Nashville for the winter meetings in December, I had a message to call his agent. In the next 72 hours we went from Jeff Kent not even being on our radar screen to announcing him as our latest acquisition.

texasmonthly.com: It must have been exciting but a bit tortuous, given you had Craig Biggio at second.

GH: Well, yes. It's exciting from the standpoint that this franchise doesn't have many opportunities to acquire impact players, primarily for economic reasons. So whether it was adding Randy Johnson for a couple of months or signing Moises Alou, they just don't come along very often. Fans get excited with celebrity-type talent.

So we knew it was going to be exciting for the fans, and certainly it was an opportunity to make our team significantly better. The flip side was that we had a pretty good second baseman that's been here for a while, and that didn't make it easy. I think the timing of it was more problematic than anything, because we didn't have the time that we would have liked to have had to sit down with Craig and talk about a transition and get his input and so forth. It just happened so quickly.

And then to compound it, Craig was down in South Texas hunting and difficult to reach. So we all got ourselves backed into a corner and had to make some assumptions. Craig had always been a team player. He had talked about wanting to win a World Series, and win it here in Houston. He'd also begun to talk casually about possibly wanting to move to the outfield to possibly prolong his career, because it's not as much wear and tear on the body as second base.

texasmonthly.com: Can you quantify the importance of the saying, "He's been there before," as far as Kent having played in the World Series?

GH: It's hard to quantify it, only to say, having been fortunate enough to go to the playoffs four times in the past six years, experience is the best teacher. I don't think there's any substitute for experience. You can get lucky in a given year, but the pressure—the excitement, the different atmosphere of playing, going to the postseason—is something that takes some time to get comfortable with, so when you can add somebody that has been on that stage, not only been there but also played successfully, I think it really adds a dimension to your team that is necessary if you're gonna be able to win.

texasmonthly.com: Do you ever lay awake dreaming of a budget like the New York Yankees'?

GH: I'd be less than honest if I didn't say yes to that, but you can't dwell on it because it does not serve any productive purpose. I try to take the fact that we might not have as much money to spend as some of our competitors as a challenge, and try to turn a negative into a positive and think about the satisfaction you receive when you can defeat the teams that are spending more money than you.

texasmonthly.com: Can having players like Bagwell and Biggio for as long as the Astros did ever happen again?

GH: Well, it's tough. Longevity is difficult in this sport, number one because of injuries, especially with pitchers—most pitchers get hurt sooner or later. Because of injuries and also because of economics, it's difficult to keep a unit together for a long period of time. The tougher part of that money equation is not always, "Gee, I can't go out and sign this free agent or that free agent." The tougher part is when you have been successful in developing quality players like Oswalt and Miller and Berkman; you know that it's only a matter of time before you cannot keep them all. So it's a never-ending cycle of not only producing quality players that can help you win at the major league level but also continuing to produce them, because you know you're going to have to replace them sooner or later.

texasmonthly.com: Is there room for sentiment anymore?

GH: Sure, that's part of the equation. Fans identify with players, fans create heroes, fans create stars. From a management standpoint, you try hard not to make too many changes so that the fans get into a situation of constantly having to create new relationships. It's difficult for fans to watch their favorite players move on; so you certainly put that into the equation. But the practical part of the equation—in part because of economics, in part because of free agency, in part because sometimes you gotta make a trade to get a piece that you don't have and you have to give up a pretty good player to get it—all those factors really make it difficult to keep a unit together for a long time.

texasmonthly.com: I know you want to win no matter what, but do you personally feel a sense of, "Well, I'm gonna give Biggio and Bagwell the best possible chance to win in these last years of their career"?

GH: Sure, you always do that. We're all here to win, that's why we're all in this business, and when you're fortunate enough to have two players as special as Craig and Jeff, you hope that there's a sense of family, a sense of loyalty on both sides—that we're all in this thing together. You know that they've given you everything that they have every day that they put the uniform on, and you certainly want to reciprocate.

texasmonthly.com: What put Jimy Williams over the top when you hired him?

GH: A couple of things.

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