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Astros interested in veteran Lieber

Astros interested in veteran Lieber

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ORLANDO -- The Astros are interested in free agent right-hander Jon Lieber, Houston general manager Ed Wade confirmed to MLB.com on Tuesday afternoon.

"I was excited about him when we signed him the last time [in 2004, when Wade, as GM of the Philadelphia Phillies, signed the then free agent to a three-year, $21 million contract]," Wade said during a break in the GMs meetings at the Grand Cypress Resort. "We have let his agent [Rex Gary] know we are interested, and if he's available, he's definitely someone we'd like at the very least to kick the tires on."

Lieber, 37, won 17 games for the Phillies in 2005, before falling to 9-11 in 2006. He finished 3-6 with a 4.73 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) for the National League East champions this year in a season that was cut short by a ruptured tendon in his right foot. Lieber also missed time early in the season due to an oblique strain.

"If he's healthy, he could help us," Wade said. "He's a ground-ball pitcher and doesn't give up a lot of walks."

Lieber's 1.29 walks per nine innings last season would have ranked No. 1 in the NL had he pitched enough innings to qualify. He led the league in that statistical category in 2004.

The Phillies have exclusive negotiating rights with Lieber through Nov. 12, but Philadelphia GM Pat Gillick has already indicated the club will not bring the pitcher back for a fourth season.

An All-Star in 2001 with the Cubs, Lieber is 129-121 in a 13-year career with the Pirates, Cubs, Yankees and Phillies.

Lieber is on a lengthening list of free agents Wade has contacted recently, joining center fielders Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand, second baseman Luis Castillo and reliever Scott Linebrink.

Hunter's agent, Larry Reynolds, was at the Grand Cypress Hotel on Tuesday, but Wade said he had not spoken with Reynolds on Tuesday.

The Astros are looking for pitching first and foremost, but would also like to add offense.

"If we get a center fielder, we'll move [Hunter] Pence over [to right field]. We'd like to do that," Wade said. "Everybody in the room is looking for starting pitching. If we can upgrade the bullpen and we can add some offense at another position, we'd like to do that.

"There's been some discussion about our second base situation and I've told people that [Chris] Burke's our heir apparent, but we've been in contact with some of the other guys who are out there because it's incumbent upon us to score more runs."

The Astros have eight arbitration-eligible players: pitchers Brandon Backe, Dave Borkowski, Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge; and infielders Eric Bruntlett, Adam Everett, Ty Wigginton and Burke.

The Astros must also decide on whether to offer arbitration to some of their free agents, including Jason Jennings, and Wade said those decisions were pending.

In other news Tuesday, the GMs voted, 25-5, to explore instant replay, and the Astros were among the teams voting against the measure.

"The umpires were more right than wrong 99.9 percent of the time," Wade said. "With the increased time of the game, at some point you'll get to a stage where managers are almost compelled to challenge, and that's why I voted against it."

Wade wasn't surprised the majority voted for instant replay.

"I thought the guys on the committee made some very good points. There's a lot of validity to what they had to say," Wade said. "I just think that if you're going to do something like that on a limited scope, it doesn't stay limited."

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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