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Villarreal gets security with Astros

Villarreal gets two-year deal

HOUSTON -- When the Astros traded for Oscar Villarreal in November, the right-hander's agent, Oscar Suarez, approached the club about exploring a long-term deal. Suarez expressed to general manager Ed Wade his client's desire for job security and to know where he's going to be for the next couple of years.

On Friday, Villarreal got his wish. The Astros signed the reliever to a two-year contract worth $2.85 million through 2009, with a club option for 2010.

Villarreal, who would have been a free agent after the '08 season, will earn $1 million in '08 and $1.6 million in '09, and the option year is worth another $2 million. He also received a $250,000 signing bonus.

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"If the deal makes sense from an economic viewpoint from both sides, then it lessens the risk on both sides," Wade said. "The player gets job security, and he knows where he's going to be. And with the uncertainty in the free-agent market from year to year, you don't know what the value's going to become."

Villarreal, 26, was acquired from Atlanta in November in exchange for outfielder Josh Anderson after going 2-2 with one save and a 4.24 ERA over 51 games for the Braves last season. In his career, he's appeared in 223 games, has made five starts, and owns a 23-12 record with one save and a 3.71 ERA.

"When we made the trade with Atlanta for Oscar, we knew we were getting a very versatile pitcher," Wade said. "He's been a quality reliever and also has some starting experience. It made a lot of sense for us to lock him up beyond 2008."

Wade is likely done working the trade market, but he's still actively scouring the free-agent lists for available starting pitchers. At this point, the club's interest in veterans such as Livan Hernandez and Bartolo Colon appears to be low because the price tags may be too high.

But Wade isn't counting out anything as the offseason reaches its final stages.

"We've had conversations with almost all remaining free-agent starting pitchers out there," Wade said. "Whether the conversations lead anywhere or not, I can't say at this point. Chances are probably remote, but as time goes by and we get closer to Spring Training, we might have an opportunity to get a deal done that makes sense for everybody."

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Wade has expressed strong interest in Jon Lieber, but the veteran right-hander also looks like a long shot to join the Astros.

"We had some conversations and it [doesn't] look like we were going to get anything done there," Wade said. "If, at some point, they were to come back our way, we could have more serious discussions. Right now, it's a dead issue for us. I have a lot of respect for Jon and I think he could help us, but we didn't meet expectations at this point."

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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