Biggio remains active in helping children with cancer

Astros legend happy to lend hand to Sunshine Kids organization at holiday party

Biggio remains active in helping children with cancer

HOUSTON -- When it comes to Craig Biggio and the Sunshine Kids, little has changed since Biggio ended his Major League career seven years ago. Biggio's hit tally may have stopped, but the party never ends -- two parties, as a matter of fact, each of which celebrates the tireless work of the Sunshine Kids, a support group that has helped thousands of kids with cancer and their families.

One of those parties, the annual Sunshine Kids Christmas bash at the Children's Museum of Houston, has several constants from year to year -- photo ops with Santa, an abundance of Christmas cookies, games, face painters and general happiness among the kids, siblings and parents in attendance.

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Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Passion key part of Zinter's return trip to Majors

Astros' assistant hitting coach willing to start from scratch

Passion key part of Zinter's return trip to Majors

HOUSTON -- Few men in baseball have had to grind for as long as Alan Zinter, who played 14 seasons in the Minor Leagues before finally getting his first taste of life in the Major Leagues when he made his debut with the Astros in 2002 at 34 years old.

When his playing career was over and he decided he wanted to become a coach, Zinter went back to the rugged life in the Minors and worked his way back to the Majors once again. The Astros hired him in early November to be their assistant hitting coach, giving him his first big league job.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros name Minors rovers, medical and field staff

Astros name Minors rovers, medical and field staff

The Astros have outlined their Minor League rovers, medical staff and field staff for the 2015 season and will bring back 61 coaches, coordinators and medical staffers from the previous year.

The Minor League managers for the franchise affiliates in 2015 will be Tony DeFrancesco (Triple-A Fresno), Rodney Linares (Double-A Corpus Christi), Omar Lopez (Class-A Advanced Lancaster), Josh Bonifay (Class-A Quad Cities), Ed Romero (Class-A Short-Season Tri-City), Marty Malloy (Rookie Level Gulf Coast League), Johan Maya (Rookie Level Dominican Summer League) and Charlie Romero (Rookie Level Dominican Summer League).

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Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Biggio wants Hall call for the fans, not himself

HOF candidate on ballot for third time after just missing induction by 2 votes

Biggio wants Hall call for the fans, not himself

For Craig Biggio, his possible induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is not just about him.

It never has been.

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Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

New shortstop Lowrie re-introduces himself to Houston

Key addition happy to be back with Astros, optimistic for 2015 season

New shortstop Lowrie re-introduces himself to Houston

HOUSTON -- Jed Lowrie felt wanted in Houston. And the Astros definitely believe that the switch-hitting shortstop can improve the team in 2015 with his hitting, fielding and leadership.

Houston made pursuing a top-notch shortstop one of its priorities this offseason, and it landed the player it was targeting.

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Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hillman itching to contribute to Astros' rise

Hillman itching to contribute to Astros' rise

HOUSTON -- Considering he wasn't in uniform on a daily basis in 2014 like he had for so many years previously, Trey Hillman can't wait for the start of Spring Training. In fact, the new Astros bench coach has already gone over some schedules for the spring, and he would be in Kissimmee, Fla., tomorrow if he could.

The job as manager A.J. Hinch's right-hand man comes at a good time for Hillman, who has no desire to manage in the big leagues and is thrilled to be working in his home state of Texas. And Hillman is enthused about the direction the young Astros are headed.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros introduce upgrades to back end of bullpen

Gregerson, Neshek officially join club; Houston not ready to announce closer

Astros introduce upgrades to back end of bullpen

HOUSTON -- It only took two questions into Friday's news conference at Minute Maid Park to introduce new Astros relief pitchers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek for someone to ask manager A.J. Hinch who was going to be the closer in 2015.

The Astros aren't ready to anoint a closer just yet from among the new faces and incumbent Chad Qualls, but the signing of the veteran right-handers represent a significant upgrade in options at the back end of the bullpen and satisfy the club's biggest offseason need.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros sign first baseman Johnson to Minors deal

Veteran invited to big league camp this spring after spending most of 2014 at Triple-A

Astros sign first baseman Johnson to Minors deal

Veteran first baseman Dan Johnson, who played most of this past season with the Blue Jays' Triple-A club, has signed a Minor League deal with the Astros and will receive an invitation to their Major League camp this spring.

Johnson, 35, is a career .236/.337/.409 hitter with 57 home runs and 201 RBIs in 431 games. He played 15 games with Toronto in 2014, batting .211 (8-for-38) with a home run and seven RBIs. The rest of his year was spent with Triple-A Buffalo, where he hit .232 with a .381 on-base percentage and 19 doubles, 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 107 games.

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Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros reach settlement with Draft pick Nix

Astros reach settlement with Draft pick Nix

Jacob Nix, the Astros' fifth-round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, has come to a settlement with the club over a grievance filed after he wasn't signed by Houston.

Nix, a right-hander out of Los Alamitos High School in California, reached an unknown financial settlement in the agreement.

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Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hinch takes lessons learned in first stint as skipper to Houston

Hinch takes lessons learned in first stint as skipper to Houston

HOUSTON -- A.J. Hinch has been visible in the media circuit since he was hired to be the Astros' manager in September, and, as is the case with everyone who accepts a high-profile position, he's been asked to talk at length about himself -- past, present and future.

We're well-versed on the present, in that Hinch is taking over a team that improved greatly in the win column in 2014. Regarding the future, we've heard plenty about that, too -- the Astros, by all accounts, expect to contend sooner rather than later.

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Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros find necessary bullpen help at Meetings

Houston agrees to deals with relievers Gregerson, Neshek

Astros find necessary bullpen help at Meetings

SAN DIEGO -- When the Winter Meetings came to an end Thursday, the Astros had achieved their top objective by bolstering their bullpen by agreeing to terms with right-handed relief pitchers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, both of whom were flying to Houston on Thursday to take a physical.

The deals with Neshek and Gregerson are expected to be announced Friday, giving the Astros a pair of high quality bullpen arms to combine with Chad Qualls, Josh Fields and lefty Tony Sipp.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros lose DeShields, two others in Rule 5 Draft

Houston selects righty Garcia from Boston, then trades him to Orioles

Astros lose DeShields, two others in Rule 5 Draft

SAN DIEGO -- The improved depth of the Astros' farm system saw them lose three players in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, including former first-round Draft pick outfielder Delino DeShields Jr., who was taken by the Rangers with the No. 3 overall pick. They also lost right-handed pitcher Jandel Gustave (Red Sox) and left-handed pitcher David Rollins (Mariners).

All three players taken from the Astros must remain on the Major League roster of the teams that selected them for the entire season or be offered back to the Astros. It costs teams $50,000 to take a player in the Rule 5 Draft, and if he doesn't remain on the roster, he's offered back to his previous team for $25,000.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros sign Lowrie to 3-year deal

Shortstop returns to Houston after two seasons with A's

Astros sign Lowrie to 3-year deal

After two years in Oakland, veteran shortstop Jed Lowrie is returning to the Astros.

Lowrie, who spent the 2012 season in Houston before being traded to the A's, has signed a three-year contract to play shortstop for the Astros with an option for '18. He will make $23 million over three the years (through '17) and could make $28 million with an option for '18.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Orbit lifts kids' spirits at Ronald McDonald House

Orbit lifts kids' spirits at Ronald McDonald House

HOUSTON -- Orbit has always been a hit with children. And on Wednesday, the Astros' mascot brought joy to kids who have life-threatening medical issues, and their families.

The Astros, represented by Orbit and several front-office members, hosted a three-hour holiday party at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides a home away from home for families of children undergoing serious medical treatment.

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Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Swift set to play Minute Maid Park on Oct. 13

Seven-time Grammy Award winner Taylor Swift will play a show at Minute Maid Park on Oct. 13, 2015, the Astros announced Wednesday.

Tickets for the Houston show will go on sale Dec. 19 at 10 a.m. CT. American Express card members and members of TaylorSwift.com can purchase tickets before the general public beginning at noon Friday through 10 p.m. Dec. 18. Tickets will be available online at www.Ticketmaster.com or charge-by-phone at 800-745-3000.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros agree to deals with Gregerson, Neshek

Contracts with two veteran setup men pending physicals

Astros agree to deals with Gregerson, Neshek

SAN DIEGO -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wouldn't allow himself to talk about the biggest news of Wednesday's Winter Meetings, the acquisitions of relief pitchers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, keeping with his policy of not commenting on specifics until the deals are official.

That should happen by Friday after both right-handed pitchers travel to Houston on Thursday to take a physical that should seal the deals. Gregerson agreed to a three-year deal with $18.5 million, and Neshek agreed to a two-year deal worth $12.5 million with an option.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Appel named to Fall League's Top Prospects Team

Most Valuable Player Greg Bird leads young stars following AFL season

Appel named to Fall League's Top Prospects Team

The Arizona Fall League on Wednesday announced its 2014 Top Prospects Team, highlighted by league Most Valuable Player Greg Bird and baseball's top prospect Byron Buxton.

The 22-man Top Prospects Team includes at least one player from 16 Major League organizations. The Fall League managers and coaches voted on the team, taking into consideration the players' performances during the fall and their projected future in the Major Leagues.

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Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Astros shore up biggest weakness

Houston adds Neshek, Gregerson to bullpen that struggled in 2014

Astros shore up biggest weakness

SAN DIEGO -- The Astros didn't just get better on Wednesday in ways that can be weighed and measured. They did, but that's only part of what happened. This was an important day on other levels, too, in the wake of reaching agreements with free-agent relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson.

When a team regularly lets leads slip away late in games, it gnaws at the confidence, tests the resilience and saps the energy. Those losses sometimes hit so hard that they have the potential to linger in the hearts and minds of players and coaches.

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Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Crane: Luhnow recently received contract extension

Crane: Luhnow recently received contract extension

SAN DIEGO -- Astros owner Jim Crane acknowledged Tuesday that general manager Jeff Luhnow received a contract extension recently, though Crane didn't divulge the length of the deal or when it was done. Luhnow was hired as general manager three years ago.

"I think it was done after last year," said Crane, who arrived Monday at the Winter Meetings. "We're not going to talk about length of terms or money, but I'm confident in what he's doing, and he's doing the right stuff, and we're making improvements."

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hinch eager to get back 'in the trenches' with Astros

Hinch eager to get back 'in the trenches' with Astros

SAN DIEGO -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch is older and wiser and admittedly better prepared to be a Major League manager this time around than he was five years ago.

Hinch was 34 years old when he was named manager of the D-backs early in the 2009 season, replacing Bob Melvin, who was dismissed just 29 games into the campaign. The move generated controversy due to the former big league catcher's lack of managing and coaching experience.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Sources: Astros interested in infielder Lowrie

Free agent was Houston's shortstop in 2012 before being traded to A's

Sources: Astros interested in infielder Lowrie

SAN DIEGO -- Could Jed Lowrie and the Astros be headed for a reunion?

The Astros have been pursuing the free-agent shortstop to bolster their infield, multiple sources told MLB.com. Lowrie was the Astros' starting shortstop in 2012 before being traded to the A's, where he spent the last two seasons.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Altuve meet and greet part of charity auction

Altuve meet and greet part of charity auction

HOUSTON -- A chance to meet Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve is up for grabs at the Winter Meetings charity auction that includes unprecedented baseball experiences and rare items to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

For the third consecutive year, Major League Baseball, MLB Advanced Media, MLB Network and the 30 teams are participating in the initiative that was inspired by the numerous employees, friends and fans of the game who have been directly affected by cancer.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Orbit earns MLB's first nod as top sports mascot

Orbit earns MLB's first nod as top sports mascot

HOUSTON -- Astros mascot Orbit has been named the 2014 Best Mascot by GameOps.com, which is considered the No. 1 resource website for the sports operations and entertainment industry. Orbit beat nominees from all sports and leagues, including the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, Minor League affiliates and the NCAA.

GameOps.com has been handing out its Best Mascot Award for 14 years, and Orbit is the first MLB mascot to win the award. Previous winners include Benny the Bull from the Chicago Bulls (2012-13), Rocky from the Denver Nuggets (2001-02, 2011) and Clutch from the Houston Rockets (2003).

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros poised to be bigger players at Winter Meetings

Astros poised to be bigger players at Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO -- This year's Winter Meetings have taken on a different tone than the previous two years for Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, whose pitch to lure free agents to Houston is partially convincing them the club is being built to win in the near term rather than focusing on the future.

Luhnow, hired at the end of the Winter Meetings three years ago, has restocked the farm system through trades and was encouraged that the Astros improved by 19 wins last season. Now, they're hoping to add to the bullpen and beef up the lineup so they can be even more competitive in 2015 under new manager A.J. Hinch.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Altuve wins GIBBY for Breakout Everyday Player of the Year

Altuve wins GIBBY for Breakout Everyday Player of the Year

HOUSTON -- The recognition keeps piling up for Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.

Altuve, who won the American League batting crown and Silver Slugger Award at second base, has added MLB.com's Greatness in Baseball Yearly Award to his resume. The 5-foot-6 dynamo won the award for Breakout Everyday Player of the Year after leading the Majors with a .341 batting average and setting a club record with 225 hits.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Source: Astros were finalist for lefty reliever Miller

Source: Astros were finalist for lefty reliever Miller

HOUSTON -- The Astros were willing to give free-agent relief pitcher Andrew Miller $40 million over four years before he signed with the Yankees, a source told MLB.com on Friday, the source also saying that the Astros and the Yankees were finalists to land Miller.

For the Astros, that would have been a significant investment and a sign they're serious about opening up the pocket book this winter. The Astros offered more money than the Yankees, who gave Miller a four-year, $36 million deal, but he chose New York "for a number of reasons," said a person familiar with the negotiations.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Luhnow 'confident' Astros will make moves to help team

Luhnow 'confident' Astros will make moves to help team

HOUSTON -- As the Astros prepare to head to San Diego next week for the Winter Meetings, general manager Jeff Luhnow still has a lot of work to do to improve the club. He's been working the phone for weeks trying to acquire relief pitching and beef up the offense on the infield, and things tend to heat up when GMs and agents are under the same roof for a few days.

Luhnow said leaving San Diego with a deal in place isn't a must considering Spring Training is still more than two months away, but it won't be from a lack of effort. Luhnow took some time Thursday to answer from questions from MLB.com about where the club stands heading to San Diego in terms of what it's trying to accomplish, as well as a look at the future of some players currently on the roster.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Prep shortstop Rodgers leads 2015 Draft class

Duke's Matuella, 2014 top pick Aiken follow Florida high school infielder on Top 50 list

Prep shortstop Rodgers leads 2015 Draft class

For the second time in their history, the Arizona Diamondbacks own the top pick in the First-Year Player Draft. The first time that happened, in 2005, they took a high school shortstop with a potent bat.

Ten years after grabbing Justin Upton, the D-backs could follow a similar path. Lake Mary (Fla.) High School shortstop Brendan Rodgers sits atop MLBPipeline.com's initial Draft Top 50 rankings, thanks to his three plus tools (bat, power, arm) complemented by two solid ones (speed, defense). Unlike Upton, who immediately moved to the outfield as a professional, Rodgers should remain at shortstop.

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Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros' coaching staff excited about coming season

Astros' coaching staff excited about coming season

HOUSTON -- A few of the new Astros coaches who have assembled along with the rest of the staff this week at Minute Maid Park talked Wednesday about the contagious energy and attention to detail that have been brought about by new manager A.J. Hinch.

Hinch, who's not one to take shortcuts, worked methodically and diligently to put together the field staff, which got together for the first time as a group this week for meetings and team building. The coaching staff had dinner with owner Jim Crane on Tuesday night and took in the Rockets' game Wednesday against Memphis.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.