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Astros sign Cassel with eyes on Prior

Astros sign Cassel with eyes on Prior

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HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Ed Wade is probably done trading players, but that doesn't mean he's done shaping the 2008 roster. Scouring the free-agent market, Wade continues to be on the lookout for starting pitching.

Wade recently made an offer to former Cubs right-hander Mark Prior, who is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and probably won't be ready to pitch until sometime in May. That hasn't slowed the steady line of suitors for the 27-year-old, and count the Astros as one of nearly a dozen teams who have expressed interest.

"The feedback we're getting from [agent] John Boggs is there are multiple teams involved [in the bidding]," Wade said. "He's outlined the framework for what it would take. I don't know that it's going to move at any pace at this point.

"He's not even throwing at this stage. We get some sense he'll be ready sometime late in May. Any kind of proposal would reflect that level of uncertainty. Hopefully, we'll have five starters hitting on all cylinders, but it's always good to have other options you can turn to."

Wade also has scouts in Phoenix to watch Kris Benson throw. Benson is working out in front of several teams with hopes of making a comeback after missing the 2007 season due to shoulder surgery. Last month, the Orioles paid Benson a $500,000 buyout rather than exercise a $7.5 million option.

"We have somebody seeing him," Wade said. "We talked about it, and we're going to get one of our guys out there to watch."

Wade also signed 27-year-old right-hander Jack Cassel to a Major League contract worth $400,000 and added him to the 40-man roster. The former Padres farmhand made 27 appearances for Triple-A Portland this year, including 24 starts and three complete games, and finished 7-14 with a 3.91 ERA.

Cassel was called up to the Padres in September and compiled a 1-1 record and a 3.97 ERA over six games, including four starts.

"He's a sinkerball guy, he pounds the strike zone," Wade said. "He had an opportunity in September and pitched well for them. He has an opportunity to come into a setting where we're inviting competition, and we'll see where his skills go. We had a couple of clubs interested in signing him, and he viewed our opportunity as favorable."

Wade has also had conversations with Jon Lieber, but Wade said he doesn't know if it will go anywhere.

As for the blockbuster deals that have dominated the Astros' offseason, Wade is probably done dealing.

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"I don't see us doing anything major," he said. "The pieces that we felt were available to be traded, we're finished with. I don't see us doing anything significant on the trade front, but there's still some free-agent pitching there. We also still have a couple of open issues on the bench. We're moving slower in that respect."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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