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

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.

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

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

"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."