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Astros Saving $3 Million but Losing Talent : Baseball: Houston’s four on-field losses are leaving gaps that will be hard to fill.

From Associated Press

Saving money is costing the Houston Astros talent.

In less than two weeks, the Astros have lost two of their top relievers, all-time save leader Dave Smith and Juan Agosto. They’ve also said goodby to Franklin Stubbs, their top RBI producer of 1990, and reserve outfielder Terry Puhl.

Deducting the four players’ combined 1990 salaries saved the Astros $3.2 million, but the on-field losses left holes that will be hard to fill.

Owner John McMullen is trying to sell the team and has installed a tight financial rein while their NL West rivals, especially San Francisco and the Dodgers, have opened their wallets for trades and free-agent signings.

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The revolving door away from the rebuilding Astros spun a little faster today when free-agent pitcher Danny Darwin signed a four-year contract with the Boston Red Sox.

“This is a players’ market right now, and we’re sticking with our philosophy,” General Manager Bill Wood said after Smith signed a two-year, $4.9-million deal with the Chicago Cubs on Monday.

Smith and Darwin became new-look free agents as the result of the collusion settlement between owners and the players’ union. Houston’s tight-money policies also could lead to problems in signing first baseman Glenn Davis, who can become a free agent after the 1991 season.

Houston’s rebuilding project--the Astros finished fourth in the NL West with a 75-87 record--started before the season ended. The Astros dealt veteran reliever Larry Andersen to Boston and sent longtime second baseman Bill Doran to Cincinnati at the trading deadline, receiving minor-league prospects in both deals.

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Smith was 6-6 with 23 saves last season and leads all active pitchers with a 2.53 ERA. He has 199 career saves, fourth among active pitchers.

Smith, 36, said he left the Astros, for whom he had played his entire big-league career, because he wants to play for a contender.

“If I thought they had a chance to contend, I would have signed with them for a lot less money,” Smith said. “But I don’t see that team contending for the next two or three years. . . . I understand that’s what you have to do when you rebuild.

“It just wasn’t a situation I was prepared to go through for the next two or three years.”

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