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Astros sign reliever Crain

The Astros have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with free agent right-handed pitcher Jesse Crain, who played at the University of Houston.

Crain, an American League All-Star in 2013, posted an 0.74 ERA in 37 relief appearances for the White Sox with 11 walks and 46 strikeouts in 36 2/3innings pitched for an 11.29 strikeouts per nine innings ratio. Other highlights from 2013 included holding right-handed hitters to a .174 average (12-for-69), no home runs allowed and a  streak of 29 consecutive scoreless appearances from April 17 through June 22.

Crain’s season ended prematurely due to a right shoulder strain. The White Sox traded Crain to the Rays on July 29, but he did not appear in a game for the Rays.

– Brian McTaggart

Albers signs to return to Houston

The Astros have struck a one-year deal with an option for 2015 with veteran relief pitcher Matt Albers, who confirmed the deal for MLB.com.

Albers was drafted and developed by Houston before being traded to Baltimore after the 2007 season. Albers, who returns to Houston much in the same fashion as Chad Qualls did earlier this month, appeared in 56 games last season for Cleveland and was 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA. He’s pitched eight years in the Majors, including his first two with Houston (2006-07) and three with Baltimore (2008-10).

– Brian McTaggart

Astros pushing for Veras, acquire Bass

While the Astros are trying to sign veteran right-hander Jose Veras to a deal to return to Houston, the club on Wednesday added another arm to their bullpen mix by trading for right-handed pitcher Anthony Bass from the Padres.

The Astros acquired Bass and a player to be named later or cash considerations in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Bass, 26, made 24 appearances, pitching 42 innings in four stints out of the Padres bullpen in 2013. He also spent three months at Triple-A Tucson and made 15 starts for the Tucson Padres.

– Brian McTaggart

Astros show interest in Sizemore

Add outfielder Grady Sizemore to the list of players the Astros have contacted.

A source told MLB.com on Tuesday the Astros had talked to the representatives for Sizemore, who hasn’t played in the Major Leagues since 2011. He underwent back surgery and knee surgery in 2011 and sat out last year while he tried to get healthy.

An All-Star with the Indians from 2006-08 with the Indians, Sizemore hasn’t played more than half a season since appearing in 106 games with Cleveland in 2009, when he hit 18 homers, drove in 64 runs and batted .248.

– Brian McTaggart

Veras would like to return to Houston; Astros in on Morse

Free agent pitcher Jose Veras, who served as the Astros closer the first half of the season, said Tuesday his agent has been talking to Houston about a possible return to the Astros.

Veras, who lives in Miami, told MLB.com he would be thrilled to come back to the Astros, who signed him to a one-year deal a year ago and then traded him to Detroit in July. Veras saved 19 games for the Astros last year and posted a 2.93 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 14 walks in 43 innings.

“It feels like family there,” Veras said. “It’s a young team and they’re hungry to win. I feel part of the team. I doesn’t matter to me if we won or lose. When you play as a team and everybody cares, that’s the best part for me. I do my job to make the tam excited we won the game.

“It was my first time to get an opportunity to be a closer, and I appreciated that part. It felt like the best place I’ve been. I was talking to my agent and I feel excited the Astros are interested to bring me back to the team.”

The Astros have added Chad Qualls to their bullpen but would like to sign one more reliever. They’ve talked to the representatives of Jesse Crain, a Houston resident, and Chad Gaudin.

Meanwhile, a source told MLB.com the Astros have been talking with the agent for free agent outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse, who has a history with manager Bo Porter in Washington. Morse, 31, hit .215 with 23 homers and 27 RBIs in only 88 games split between the Mariners and Orioles last year and is two years removed from slugging 31 homers for Washington in 2011.

– Brian McTaggart

Astros bring back Qualls to bullpen

The Astros have signed free agent right-handed pitcher Chad Qualls to a two-year contract, which includes a club option for the 2016 season. The deal is worth a reported $6 million over two years with a $3.5-million option.

Qualls, 35, went 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA  in 66 relief appearances for Miami last season. He induced 11 double play balls, which ranked tied for third among National League relievers, and ranked fifth in the NL in ground ball percentage (77.7 percent). Qualls has now made 50 or more appearances in nine consecutive seasons (2005-13) and since his debut in 2004, ranks second among all Major League relievers with 663 career appearances.

“Improving our bullpen is a top priority this offseason,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “Bringing Chad back to Houston is a big step in that direction.”

Qualls returns to Houston, the organization that drafted him in the second round of the 2000 draft. He worked his way up the minors and pitched parts of four seasons for the Astros (2004-07). Over his first two campaigns (2004-05), he was an integral part of the Astros bullpen that carried the club to a National League Championship series in 2004 and a World Series appearance in 2005. Qualls made three appearances in the 2005 World Series, allowing just one run in 5.1 innings pitched (1.69 ERA). Overall as an Astro, he made 262 appearances and owns a 23-12 record with six saves and a 3.39 ERA.

Qualls has pitched for eight different organizations in his career, including time with Houston (2004-07), Arizona (2008-10), Tampa Bay (2010), San Diego (2011), Philadelphia (2012), New York-AL (2012), Pittsburgh (2012) and Miami (2013). In his 663 career appearances, Qualls has gone 45-37 with 51 saves and a 3.79 ERA.

– Brian McTaggart

Feldman to sign with the Astros

The Astros landed the veteran starting pitcher they’ve been coveting by agreeing to sign right-hander Scott Feldman, a source confirmed to MLB.com. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports the deal is three years and $30 million.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wouldn’t confirm the report.

Feldman is a nine-year veteran who split 2013 between the Cubs and the Orioles, going 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA in 30 starts. He gives the Astros a proven arm to plug into their young rotation with Jarred Cosart, Dallas Keuchel, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock.

Feldman, 30, spent his first eight seasons with the Rangers, going 39-44 with a 4.81 ERA in 204 games, including 101 starts. He came up as a reliever but was moved to the rotation in 2008.

– Brian McTaggart

 

Fowler headed to Houston for Barnes, Lyles

The Astros on Tuesday acquired outfielder Dexter Fowler and a player to be named later from the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Brandon Barnes and right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles.

Fowler, 27, hit .263 with 18 doubles, 12 home runs, 42 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, 65 walks and a .369 on-base percentage in 119 games with Colorado last season. The switch-hitting outfielder started 106 games in center field for the Rockies in 2013 and has been Colorado’s primary center fielder for the last five seasons (2009-13).

Barnes, 27, hit .240 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 136 games in what was his rookie season in 2013. He appeared in 179 Major League games over the last two seasons (2012-13) with the Astros. Barnes was originally a sixth-round pick by Houston in the 2005 draft.

Lyles, 23, went 7-9 with one save and a 5.59 ERA in 27 games (25 starts) with the Astros last season. He appeared in 72 games (65 starts) for the Astros since his MLB debut in 2011. Lyles was originally a supplemental first-round draft pick by Houston in the 2008 draft.

– Brian McTaggart

Young interested in hometown Astros

Free agent outfielder Chris Young, who hit 12 homers and drove in 40 runs with the A’s in 107 games last season, said he would like to play in his hometown of Houston, but he said he didn’t know if his agent had been in contact with the Astros.

“Every team is an option,” said Young, who went to Houston baseball power Bellaire High School. “I love Houston. I’m from Houston and play well in Houston and always have. Something about being home that’s refreshing to me. I love everything about the city and the team. They’re growing, and I feel they’re going to make some moves here soon. They have a good future. I’m open to all the possibilities.”

Young, 30, is a career .235 hitter with 144 homers and 448 RBIs in eight years, including seven with the D-backs, where he was coached by current Astros manager Bo Porter. In 52 games against the Astros, he’s a career .325 hitter with 12 homers and 47 RBIs, including .392 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 23 games at Minute Maid Park.

“There’s quite a few teams I’m in conversations with right now,” Young said. “It’s an exciting time for me. It’s the first time I’ve been able to have more of an input on where I played and where I end up at, and now it’s prime time for me to be able to go somewhere I want to go and help the team win.”

Brian McTaggart

Teams reportedly interested in Astros’ catcher Castro

The Astros are receiving “significant” interest in All-Star catcher Jason Castro, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. Castro is coming off an All-Star season in which he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player and is eligible for arbitration for the first time.

While it’s true the Astros like catching prospect Max Stassi, whose Major League debut was hampered by a concussion suffered in his second career game last season, they remain relatively thin at the position. Plus, the Astros, coming off three consecutive 100-loss seasons, are at the point they need to start moving forward, which would mean hanging onto their young talent.

Castro, the former first-round pick, hit .276 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs before missing the final month of the season with a knee injury.

Brian McTaggart

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