HOUSTON — Despite being linked to the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees in recent rumors, veteran free-agent utilityman Bill Hall and the Houston Astros reached an agreement Friday afternoon on a one-year contract worth slightly over $3 million, with a mutual option for 2012.
Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com first reported the agreement, pending a physical, via Twitter.
Hall, who turns 31 on Dec. 28, hit .247 with 18 homers and 46 RBI for the Boston Red Sox last season while playing all three outfield positions, as well as the middle infield and third base.
General manager Ed Wade confirmed during the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., of the Astros interest in pursuing Hall to be the club’s starting second baseman for 2011.
However, it appeared Houston was a long shot to sign the slugger after Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Thursday that Los Angeles and New York were the “most aggressive” suitors interested in adding Hall’s services, especially with the Dodgers allegedly offering him the starting job in left field.
In the end, Hall chose the Astros.
With the agreement in place, Wade will likely turn his attention toward trading utility infielder Jeff Keppinger, who took over the starting job at second base last season after the release of Kaz Matsui, in order to capitalize on a weak free-agent market for middle infielders that no longer includes Hall or Orlando Hudson.
According to a source close to the situation, the Yankees have been in contact with Houston regarding the possibility of acquiring Keppinger to add depth to the infield behind All-Stars Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
If the Astros elect to trade Keppinger, it could open the door for Matt Downs to officially take over the utility infield role — a position held by Geoff Blum over the last three seasons, and even by Keppinger during the 2009 campaign.
After ranking toward the bottom of most NL offensive categories in 2010, Wade made it a priority to upgrade the starting lineup this offseason by focusing on adding more power to the middle-infield positions, thus causing the Astros to pursue Hall and acquire Clint Barmes via trade from the Colorado Rockies in November.
Hall blasted 35 homers for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006, but has yet to top more than 18 home runs in a season over the last four years.
Traditionally, neither Barmes nor Hall hit for a high batting average, but Wade and manager Brad Mills expect both players to offer additional pop to the lineup, along with Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace.
Wade refuses to comment on the club’s agreement with Hall until it becomes an official transaction.
Hall is hitting .250 with 122 homers and 425 RBI over nine major league seasons with the Brewers, Seattle Mariners and Red Sox.
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