Astros make first free-agent splash

Aside from a trade that netted shortstop Jed Lowrie, the Houston Astros are having a relatively quiet offseason. The club recently made its first moves in the free agent market by signing slugger Jack Cust and catcher Chris Snyder to low-risk deals.

It took the hardly free-spending franchise 11 months, but the Astros are players in the free agent game.

The club made two moves in two days after an offseason of dormancy, grabbing players from the sale racks to touch up the roster in preparation for a 2012 season that's still about the homegrown talent.

The Astros signed outfielder Jack Cust and catcher Chris Snyder, each to a deal of one year plus an option year.

For Cust, the deal is not guaranteed. He will earn $600,000 should he make the club as a career-reclamation project after a down year in which he was released by Seattle.

Cust will play corner outfield, with the Astros not getting the designated hitter into the equation until moving to the American League during his option year, 2013.

If 2011, when he hit .217, was an aberration rather than a decline, then there could be some real value as a bench bat. He's a typical slugger with high strikeout totals but also the ability to walk and hit the ball out of the ballpark. The Astros have been missing that for several years.

Cust will compete for time in the corner outfield spots with Brian Bogusevic, J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez, J.B. Shuck and perhaps Carlos Lee, should Lee not settle in at first base.

As for Snyder, the University of Houston product adds to what had been a very unstable catching situation because of Jason Castro's string of injuries. Castro is not expected to be back for the start of the season after needing a sesamoid bone removed because of inflammation that came up in his rehab of a torn ACL.

That left Humberto Quintero as the only healthy catcher on the 40-man roster when Craig Tatum was designated for assignment to clear space for Cust.

In Snyder, the Astros added a 30-year-old veteran who batted .271 with a .376 on-base percentage for the Pirates last year in limited action. He had surgery on his lower back last June and was out the rest of the season.

Astros News & Notes

  • New Astros owner Jim Crane on Monday introduced the team's new plan to reduce ticket prices for some seats and allow fans to bring their own food and drinks to the game.

    Crane was asked about the possibility of changing the team's name and uniforms. He said team management has been investigating possible uniform changes and such a proposal would have to be submitted to Major League Baseball soon so it could be implemented in 2013. Crane said he has not dismissed the idea of changing the team's name but indicated nothing is imminent.

    Besides reducing seat prices at some locations by as much as $12, a number of packages will be offered, including one for $30, which includes a mezzanine game ticket and unlimited hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, nachos, soda and water throughout the game.

  • C Craig Tatum was designated for assignment to make room for the acquisition of free agent OF Jack Cust, making him the second Astros player to land on and leave the 40-man roster this offseason under the two management regimes. UTL Brian Bixler, who re-signed to a minor league deal, was the other. Tatum was claimed on waivers from Baltimore by Ed Wade's group before new ownership cleaned house.

  • LHP J.A. Happ signed a one-year deal worth $2.35 million, avoiding arbitration on the precipice of the deadline to exchange figures. Happ went 6-15 with a 5.35 ERA last year but showed promise after returning from a trip to the minors, compiling a 2.37 ERA in his final six starts.

  • SS Jed Lowrie and the Astros were unable to agree to a contract ahead of the deadline to exchange arbitration figures and exchanged numbers $600,000 apart. Lowrie asked for $1.5 million in his first year of eligibility, while the Astros offered $900,000. The sides may still settle ahead of a February hearing.

  • C Jason Castro probably will not be ready for the start of the regular season, so the Astros signed C Chris Snyder to complement C Humberto Quintero behind the plate. Castro, who missed last season because of an ACL tear, had surgery to remove a sesamoid bone in his foot on Dec. 9. While the three-month timeframe to get him back on the field would take him to March 9, they don't anticipate he'd have enough time to get game-ready.

  • 3B Chris Johnson took a peek across town and firmed up his goal after watching the Houston Texans make the playoffs for the first time in their 10-year history. "As a team, we would like to get to the playoffs," Johnson said in a chat with season ticket holders. "Obviously we're in a little bit of a rebuilding process. It's important to increase the win total from last year, by a lot. Now we have to live up to the Texans"

  • The Astros hired Craig Bjornson, a 13-year veteran of minor league coaching and a former Astros prospect, to be their bullpen coach. "He's a guy we did a lot of research on and why this whole process dragged a little bit," manager Brad Mills said of the six-week search. "Everyone had the pretty much the same things to say: that he's a quality individual and knows pitching."

  • Scout MLB Network Top Stories