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Astros offer arbitration to Loretta, Miller

Astros offer arbitration to Loretta, Miller

HOUSTON -- The Astros offered arbitration to infielder Mark Loretta and left-handed reliever Trever Miller on Saturday but declined to offer arbitration to its five other free agents: infielders Mike Lamb and Craig Biggio, outfielder Orlando Palmeiro and pitchers Jason Jennings and Brian Moehler.

Biggio previously announced his retirement. Both Loretta and Miller have until Dec. 7 to accept or reject the Astros' offer of salary arbitration. If a player accepts, he is considered a signed player, and the parties can either negotiate a new contract or ultimately allow an arbitration panel to determine the salary.

If a player rejects arbitration, the Astros can continue to negotiate with him, and there is no longer a deadline in which both parties have to reach an agreement. If either Loretta or Miller declines the salary arbitration offer and subsequently signs with another club, the Astros would receive a compensatory Draft selection between the first and second rounds of June's First-Year Player Draft for each player.

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"[Loretta and Miller] carry that consideration as Type B free agents," general manager Ed Wade said.

There is no compensatory Draft pick awarded for any of the five players (Biggio, Jennings, Lamb, Moehler, Palmeiro) who were not offered salary arbitration by the Astros if they sign with another club since none were ranked players by the Elias Sports Bureau free-agent system.

Until the most recent Labor Agreement, declining to offer arbitration would have meant the club was essentially cutting ties with such free agents. Under the new agreement, the Astros can still negotiate with Lamb, for example, or any of the others.

"That change allows us to continue to negotiate [with players not offered arbitration]," Wade said.

Two areas the Astros would like to strengthen are the bench and the bullpen, which has limited left-handed options. Retaining Loretta could help the former, while Miller is a workhorse lefty.

Loretta, 36, hit .287 with four home runs and 41 RBIs in 133 games last season. The two-time All-Star appeared at all four infield positions in 2007, receiving the majority of his playing time at shortstop (72 games). Loretta, a 13-year veteran, has posted a batting average of .280 or better in 11 consecutive seasons since 1997. In two seasons with the Astros (2002 and 2007), Loretta has hit .304 with six home runs and 49 RBIs.

Miller, 34, posted a 4.86 ERA with one save and no decisions in 76 games for the Astros in 2007. His 76 games with no wins or losses set the Major League record for the most appearances in a season without recording a decision. The left-hander has spent the last two years with Houston, recording a 2-3 record with two saves and a 3.90 ERA in 146 appearances. Miller also pitched for the club from 1998-99, and ranks fifth among Houston left-handers with 230 career appearances for the Astros.

Hot Stove

Lamb's potent bat is highly regarded by the Astros. The 32-year-old hit .289 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs in 124 games for the Astros in 2007. Last season, he became the only left-handed hitter in franchise history to record double-digit home runs in four consecutive seasons. A career .281 hitter, Lamb has been with the Astros since 2004.

Jennings, 29, finished 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) during his first year with Houston in 2007. The right-hander missed the final month of the season after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right elbow on Aug. 30.

Moehler, 35, spent the entire 2007 season with the Astros and finished 1-4 with one save and a 4.07 ERA. Palmeiro appeared in 101 games for the Astros in 2007, hitting .233 with 15 pinch-hits, the second most in the Major Leagues.

The Astros have until Dec. 12 to offer contracts to unsigned players still under club control (ineligible for free agency), and Houston has seven such players on its roster, including Brandon Backe, Dave Borkowski, Chris Burke, Adam Everett, Geoff Geary, Chad Qualls and Ty Wigginton.

Salary arbitration figures are to be filed Jan. 5-15, 2008, with the exchange of figures between the MLB Labor Relations Committee and the MLB Players Assocation taking place on Jan. 18. Arbitration hearings will be held Feb. 1-21.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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