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Veras sets sights on return; slugger Morse on radar

Veras sets sights on return; slugger Morse on radar

Veras sets sights on return; slugger Morse on radar play video for Veras sets sights on return; slugger Morse on radar

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Several names emerged Tuesday as potential free-agent targets for the Astros, including one that should still ring familiar to fans in Houston.

Veteran pitcher Jose Veras, who served as the Astros' closer the first half of the 2013 season, told MLB.com he would love to come back to the club and said his agent has been talking to Houston about a possible return.

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The Astros didn't make any moves during the second day of baseball's Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, but they've clearly been busy behind the scenes. A source told MLB.com the team has had conversations about signing slugger Michael Morse, as well as pitchers Jesse Crain and Chad Gaudin.

The Astros have also reached out to representatives for free-agent outfielder Grady Sizemore, a source told MLB.com. Sizemore, who hasn't played in the Major Leagues since 2011, underwent back surgery and knee surgery in '11 and sat out last year while he tried to get healthy. An All-Star from 2006-08 with the Indians, Sizemore hasn't played more than half a season since appearing in 106 games with Cleveland in '09, when he hit 18 homers, drove in 64 runs and batted .248.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wouldn't confirm interest in any the players, but it's clear the club will add another reliever and a first baseman/designated hitter at some point.

"I feel good that we're making progress on the fronts that we need to make progress," Luhnow said. "It doesn't matter if it happens Wednesday or Friday or next week. We do feel we're starting to come into focus on what is it that we have a possibility to do to continue to improve this team for next year."

Astros manager Bo Porter, who's scheduled to meet with the media Wednesday afternoon, arrived Tuesday and quickly caught up with Luhnow to find out where his team stands.

"Those conversations have been ongoing from the middle of the season to the end of the season and into free agency," Porter said. "We've talked constantly about our team, about our players that may be available via the free-agent market, via the trade market, and we're looking for ways to improve our ballclub."

Veras, who lives in Miami, signed a one-year deal a year ago with the Astros and was traded to Detroit in July. He saved 19 games for the Astros last season and posted a 2.93 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 14 walks in 43 innings.

"It feels like family there," Veras told MLB.com. "It's a young team, and they're hungry to win. I feel part of the team. It doesn't matter to me if we win or lose. When you play as a team and everybody cares, that's the best part for me. I do my job to make the team excited we won the game. 

"It was my first time to get an opportunity to be a closer, and I appreciated that part. It felt like the best place I've been. I was talking to my agent and I feel excited the Astros are interested to bring me back to the team."

Veras, 33, said talks with the Astros were still in the early stages. The Astros blew 10 saves in August following Veras' departure while using a rotation of young pitchers to fill the closer role.

"We haven't talked about money or an offer yet," he said. "My agent just told me to wait for his call."

The Astros have added Chad Qualls to their bullpen, but they would like to sign one more reliever to bolster the back end.

Crain, who played at the University of Houston, has a 3.05 ERA and 45 wins in 532 career games. Last year with the White Sox, he went 2-3 with a 0.74 ERA in 36 2/3 innings and struck out 46 while walking only 11. He also didn't allow a homer. He was traded to the Rays in July, but a shoulder injury kept him on the shelf.

"There's been a lot of teams that have called and shown interest, but now it's just a waiting game," Crain said. "It would be fun to be able to play here, living here and going to UH. I'm doing my own thing and getting ready and see how things play out."  

Meanwhile, a source told MLB.com the Astros have been talking with the agent for Morse, an outfielder/first baseman who has a history with Porter. When Morse played with the Nationals, Porter was the third base-coach. Morse, 31, hit .215 with 23 homers and 27 RBIs in 88 games split between the Mariners and Orioles last year and is two years removed from slugging 31 homers for Washington in 2011.   

Morse, who underwent wrist surgery in October, would fill the Astros' need for a first baseman if healthy.

Luhnow said he won't be shy about taking a calculated risk to sign players who are coming off injuries.

"Oftentimes those don't work out, too, so you have to be careful," he said. "Our goal is to improve the team, so we're not looking to get any bargains. We're looking to get players that are going to help us win ballgames next year."

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.

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