Astros say Bagwell is too hurt to play this season

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros intend to file a health insurance claim on Jeff Bagwell's contract, arguing that the ailing four-time All-Star is too hurt to play this season.

Bagwell is guaranteed about $17 million in 2006 regardless of whether he plays. But if he retires or deems himself unable to play, the Astros can file the claim by Jan. 31 and collect $15.6 million.

The 37-year-old Bagwell missed 115 games last season after undergoing surgery on his right throwing shoulder. Doctors who examined him this month told the Astros he's still not ready and the team decided to move forward with the claim.

"From a technical point of view, he is a disabled player. He can't play professional baseball," Astros general manager Tim Purpura said Monday.

Bagwell's agent, Barry Axelrod, did not immediately return a phone message, but earlier this month he said his client intends to train with the Astros this spring and begin his 16th major league season.

Purpura said Monday the Astros and their lawyers are mulling what the insurance claim means. Bagwell is scheduled to report to spring training Feb. 24, but the claim might preclude him from going.

"Those are things we are working through right now with our legal people, with our insurance people," Purpura said. "With any insurance policy, they're complicated. You can read them two or three different ways and get two or three different understandings."

Bagwell, meanwhile, has been undergoing intense rehab since the NL champions lost to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. Axelrod said Jan. 13 that Bagwell intends to play a 16th season.

But Purpura said the Astros had no choice but to file the claim.

"The thing about an insurance claim is it's basically a formality; it's filing paperwork," Purpura said. "It's the start of a process, not the end of a process. It's like me checking a box -- OK, file an insurance claim."

Bagwell returned from the surgery in September but couldn't throw and was limited to pinch-hitting duty in the playoffs, going 2-for-11.

Although not the All-Star he once was, Bagwell remains a fan favorite in Houston, where he has played his entire career. Purpura said the Astros understand the sentiment connected to their decision.

"There is nothing we want more than having the Jeff Bagwell of old out there doing what he can do," Purpura said. "But we're in kind of a difficult situation that involves the ability of the player, the rights of the club and also what he means to this franchise and this city.

"We all feel bad," Purpura said. "It's a difficult situation for everybody."