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Report: Dodgers pursuing Lowrie

The Dodgers are talking to the Astros about a trade that would send shortstop Jed Lowrie to Los Angeles in exchange for Minor League pitchers Zach Lee and Garrett Gould, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported. Olney wrote via Twitter the chances of a deal going through is about 50-50.

Lowrie, who began the season on the disabled list with a sprained right thumb, has been nothing short of spectacular for the Astros and has put himself into consideration to be chosen as a reserve for the National League in next month’s All-Star Game.

Lowrie leads the team and leads all Major League shortstops with 14 home runs, which is tied for the second-highest total by an Astros shortstop in team history. Through 68 games he was batting .262 with 33 RBIs. Unless he gets hurt or traded, he appears to be a shoo-in to break the single-season club record for homers by a shortstop (Dickie Thon hit 20 in 1983).

– Brian McTaggart

10 Astros players relish Opening Day assignments

HOUSTON — Friday was a little more special for the 10 Astros players who were making their first appearance on an Opening Day roster: second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielders J.D. Martinez and Brian Bogusevic, catcher Jason Castro and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez and pitchers David Carpenter, Rhiner Cruz, Fernando Rodriguez, Kyle Weiland and Lucas Harrell.

“Opening Day is a big day,” said Martinez, who was called up last July. “I used to go to Opening Day in Miami and it was a big, big game. That was the game to go to. I’m just excited to be part of it now and I’m the guy standing on the field now instead of being in the stands.”

Carpenter, who pitched in 34 games in his Major League debut last year, relished the chance to be on the Opening Day roster and get introduced before the fans.

“I’ve heard so much about it,” he said. “Guys talk about how great Opening Day is and to get to see it firsthand is going to be a lot of fun. I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be butterflies like there was the first time I got the chance to take the mound here. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Perhaps no one was more excited than Cruz, a hard-throwing pitcher taken in the Rule 5 Draft last December. He had never played above Double-A prior to the Astros plucking him away from the Mets.

“I felt so excited when they told me for the first time I had made the team,” he said. “I’m still working hard and trying to help the team all the time.”

– Brian McTaggart

Cust to the Astros

Jack Cust, who has hit 105 home runs in a 10-year Major League career that has spanned six teams, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Astros with an option for 2013, according to a baseball source.

The deal is pending a physical and could be announced as soon as Wednesday. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow declined to comment.

Cust, 33, appeared in 67 games for the Mariners last year, batting .213 with three homers and 23 RBIs. He spent the previous four seasons with the Oakland A’s, hitting 97 homers and driving in 281 runs in that span. He’s played primarily left field, right field and designated hitter in his career.

-- Brian McTaggart

Red Sox acquire Melancon from Astros in exchange for Lowrie, Weiland

The Astros have acquired infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland from the Red Sox in exchange for reliever Mark Melancon, according a Major League Baseball source.

The Astros wouldn’t confirm the deal.

The Astros acquired Melancon from the Yankees at the Trade Deadline in 2010 as part of the Lance Berkman deal.

Lowrie, a 27-year-old switch-hitter, would satisfy the Astros’ need for a shortstop following the departure of Clint Barmes in free agency. He’s a career .252 hitter with 19 homers and 117 RBIs in 256 games with the Red Sox since 2008, and he batted .252 with six homers and 36 RBIs last season.

Weiland, 25, is a right-hander who made his Major League debut last season and was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in seven games (five starts). A third-round pick of the 2008 Draft, he went 23-31 with a 3.51 ERA in 90 career games in the Minor Leagues, including 85 starts.

Melancon, 26, could fill the Red Sox’s need for a closer. He pitched in a career-high 71 games for the Astros last season and was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 games. He took over as closer in the first half of the season after Brandon Lyon went down with an arm injury.

– Brian McTaggart

Furcal returns to Cardinals

Rafael Furcal, a key player to the Cardinals down the stretch in their 2011 World Series championship run, has re-upped with St. Louis on a two-year deal on Saturday.

A baseball source confirmed to MLB.com that the deal is worth $14 million.

The 34-year-old Furcal was sent over to the Cards from the Dodgers in a Trade Deadline deal and hit .255 with a .316 on-base percentage in 50 regular-season games with his new club. Furcal had a rough time at the plate in the playoffs, hitting below .200 in both the National League Championship Series and World Series.

About to enter his 13th Major League season, Furcal is a lifetime .282 hitter with a .348 on-base percentage. He’s twice been an All-Star.

Astros willing to take back money on Myers, Lee

The Astros are shopping starting pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers and first baseman/outfielder Carlos Lee at the Winter Meetings and would be willing to eat some of the contracts of Myers and Lee, according to a Major League Baseball source. The Astros aren’t willing to take back money on any deal involving Rodriguez.

Lee is scheduled to make $18.5 million next year, the final year of his six-year, $100-million deal. He has a partial no-trade clause, meaning he has given the Astros a list of teams to which he could be traded. Rodriguez is due $10 million next year, $13 million in ’13 and would get $13 million in ’14 if he changes uniforms. Myers is due $11 million in ‘12 and $10 million in ’13, if his club option is picked up.

Brian McTaggart

Barmes longshot to return to Houston

Veteran infielder Clint Barmes, who filled a void at shortstop for the Astros last season, is unlikely to return to Houston. The Astros would like to have him back and Barmes isn’t averse to returning, but Houston is rebuilding and isn’t prepared to take on a larger salary as it awaits a transfer of ownership.

“I talked to his agent a couple of weeks ago and told him we would really like to have him here, but I just don’t know if it’s going to work in our situation,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said.

Barry Meister, who represents Barmes, understands the Astros will have to wait until the ownership issues gets resolved before making a run at free agents.

“I had talked to the Astros before free agency started and they indicated, as we all know, they have some issues they have to deal,” Meister said. “Ed and I have a good relationship, but there are issues of ownership.”

The Astros have until Nov. 23 to decide if they’re going to offer salary arbitration to Barmes, who’s a Type B free agent. He would have to sign with another team before Nov. 23 or reject the Astros’ offer of arbitration in order for the Astros to get a compensatory pick in next year’s First-Year Player Draft. He has until Dec. 7 to accept or reject arbitration.

Barmes, who was traded to the Astros a year ago and made $3.92 million this year, will have no shortage of suitors, Meister said.

“I think there’s going to be a significant market for him,” he said. “He’s not averse to coming back to Houston, but when they’re ready to talk about that, we’re ready to so the same.”

Barmes hit .244 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs last season with the Astros after missing the first few weeks with a broken hand suffered in Spring Training.

Brian McTaggart

Efforts to trade Bourn increasing

The Astros’ efforts to trade outfielder Michael Bourn are picking steam, according to multiple reports. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported Saturday it’s growing more likely Bourn will be dealt before Sunday’s deadline.

Bourn, who’s tied for the National League lead in hits since June 1, told MLB.com on Saturday he’d prefer to stay in Houston, but understands it’s out of his control. Bourn, a Houston native, was traded to the Astros in 2007 from the Phillies in the Brad Lidge deal.

Brian McTaggart

 

Astros have a deal for Pence

The Astros reached a deal to send All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence to the Phillies in exchange for four players, including Philadelphia’s top two Minor League prospects, a person close to the negotiations told MLB.com.

The deal, which is subject to the approval Major League Baseball, is expected to be finalized on Friday.

Pence was pulled from the field in the middle of the fifth inning of the Astros’ game against the Brewers on Friday night at Miller Park.

The Astros are receiving right-handed pitcher Jarred Cosart and left-handed outfielder Jonathan Singleton, along with two more players. At least one of the players will be a player to be named later. Cosart is ranked by MLB.com as the Phillies’ top prospect, and Singleton is No. 2.

Pence, 28, entered Friday’s game .309 with 11 homers and 62 RBIs for the Astros and made the National League All-Star team for the second time. He’s making $6.9 million this season and still has two years of arbitration remaining, so any team acquiring him would have him under control for at least two more seasons.

Cosart, 21, grew up in League City, just south of Houston, and was drafted in the 38th round in 2008. He’s got an 18-13 career record with a 3.67 ERA in his career, including 9-8 with a 3.92 ERA this year at Class A Clearwater.

Cosart has electric stuff, with one of the better fastballs in the Minors and a very good curve. He’s lean and projectable and he’s got good command of his stuff.

Singleton, 20, was taken in the eighth round in 2009 and is a career .287 hitter with 25 homers and 136 RBIs in 227 games, including .282 with nine homers and 47 RBIs in 92 games this year.

A high school draftee had an extremely productive first full season, being named the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Major League prospect. He should hit for average and power and has a good approach at the plate.

Although he was a top first base prospect, the Phillies have moved Singleton to the outfield to avoid the Ryan Howard roadblock. He’s taken to it better than expected. He’s manning left field in Clearwater this season.

Pence  burst onto the scene in 2007, hitting .322 with 17 homers and 69 RBIs in his first year with the Astros, who drafted him in the second round in 2004 out of the University of Texas-Arlington. He hit 25 homers in each of the next three seasons, and in 2009 became the 12th Astros outfielder to make the All-Star team.

Brian McTaggart

 

 

Astros remain in Pence talks

The Astros remain in intense trade talks regarding All-Star right fielder Hunter Pence on Friday afternoon, specifically with the Philadelphia Phillies.

MLB.com has confirmed Pence was briefly removed from the lineup prior to Thursday’s game in St. Louis because of potential trade, but wound up staying in the order and going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles in the Astros’ win. Pence was in the lineup on Friday night for Houston’s series opener against the Brewers, batting fourth.

Although there are reports the Astros and Phillies have discussed a three-team deal, a person close to the situation told MLB.com Friday that a two-team swap remains Houston’s focus. The Astros are coveting several prospects for Pence, who’s the top name on the trade market in the wake of the Carlos Beltran trade.

The Atlanta Braves are also reportedly in the mix for Pence’s services, along with the Reds and a handful of other teams.

Astros general manager Ed Wade had no comment.

The Astros are also getting heavy interest about Gold Glove center fielder Michael Bourn, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez and, to a lesser extent, right-hander Brett Myers. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is 3 p.m. CT on Sunday.

Brian McTaggart

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