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Astros to calibrate offseason plan after GM Meetings

Initial talks begin to shape free-agent market

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Keeping the Astros' roster intact as much as possible following last season's surprising run to the playoffs sounds like a good idea on the surface. After all, it was a team that won 86 games and was in first place for much of the season before faltering in September.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said he likes the team he had at the end of the season, but it certainly had flaws and needs that will be addressed this winter. Bringing back outfielder Colby Rasmus, who is weighing a $15.8 million qualifying offer, and free-agent lefty reliever Tony Sipp would be two big steps in maintaining some continuity.

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Rasmus, who hit a career-high 27 homers, has until Friday to accept the Astros' offer or become a free agent. If he declines, as expected, the Astros suddenly have a need for another outfielder. Sipp, who had a 1.99 ERA in 60 outings, was a great fit in Houston and has interest in returning. Free-agent starter Scott Kazmir is also on the market after pitching the final two months in Houston with mixed results.

"I like the team we had at the end of the season," Luhnow said Wednesday before departing the General Managers Meetings at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. "I think it's a team, if we could bring the whole group back together, we'd have a good chance to repeat and go further in the playoffs. Obviously, with a couple of free agents it's easier said than done, but we liked all the guys we had."

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Luhnow wouldn't say if the Astros have been having any negotiations with Rasmus, who hit four homers in the playoffs and was a great fit in Houston. Luhnow said Sipp's role will have to be filled by the left-hander or someone else.

"It's an important part of our offseason," Luhnow said.

Before they can do anything, the Astros must decide whether the current options they have elsewhere, such as third base and first base, are good enough. It's likely they'll test the market for upgrades at the corners, as well as search for a starting pitcher. They feel good about Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers at the top of the rotation, and Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman, who's coming off a shoulder injury, provide depth. Then there are youngsters like Mark Appel, Vincent Velasquez, Asher Wojciechowski and Dan Straily competing as well.

"We have some depth in terms of pitching options, and then we have younger guys that may not be ready for the beginning of the season but are coming along," Luhnow said. "At the same time, we have expectations to win a lot of ballgames next year, so having a proven veteran pitcher, whether it's a trade or free agent, that can plug into our rotation and upgrade, is something we're going to look at."

Luhnow said he had a lot of conversations with other clubs while in Boca Raton and knows where other teams stand as far as what they might be willing to do. Talks with teams and free agents figure to increase heading into next month's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

"That was the primary purpose for us. We touched base with some of the representatives with some of the free agents," Luhnow said. "It will probably take a little longer to develop. I do have a good feel for what avenues we may able to pursue at this point."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
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