Mark Loretta will be returning to the Houston Astros next season after accepting arbitration. The veteran hit four home runs and had 41 RBIs for Houston last season, playing every infield position in the process.

Loretta was looking for a starting job with another team, but when none were available, he decided Houston was the right fit for him.

"When we started out in free agency, not many teams had openings (for starting second basemen)," Loretta told the Houston Chronicle. "We did have some conversations with Colorado, but they decided to ultimately go in a different direction.

"I think it came down to other utility jobs. I know Houston; I know the guys and feel comfortable there. I went into the season last year in this type of role and ended up playing a majority of the time."

If the Astros and Loretta cannot reach a contract agreement an arbitration panel will determine his salary in 2008.

Cordero signing a hit with Reds: The signing of closer Francisco Cordero was a big hit among the Reds players who will be returning in 2008.

"Signing a legitimate closer like Cordero is huge. It shows that we're in it to win," starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo told the Cincinnati Post. "When you pay someone $46 million, it shows a significant commitment. That's even big for the Yankees or Red Sox. That's shows this team is serious about winning. I feel like it locks me and Aaron (Harang) here for a long time, because if you're going to spend that much money, you're not going to turn around and trade one of your starters. I think I'm going to be here a long time and I hope I am."

Last season with Milwaukee, Cordero appeared in 66 games and had 44 saves and an ERA of 2.98. His career high in saves (49) came in 2004 while with the Texas Rangers.

Gagne closing in on deal with Brewers: The Milwaukee Brewers continued to address their bullpen needs by reaching an agreement with Eric Gagne for a one-year contract. The deal won't be official until the right-hander passes a physical.

Gagne become the fourth reliever to join the Brewers since the end of the season. The club traded for Guillermo Mota and Salomon Torres and signed free agent reliever David Riske.

Gagne will likely be the closer for the Brewers next season, but Derrick Turnbow may fill the role at times. He saved 39 games in 2005 and was a National League All-Star in 2006.

"We still think Turnbow can be a good closer again, and we have the numbers to back it up," manager Ned Yost told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . "If this Gagne signing goes through, obviously we'll have another valuable arm at the back of the bullpen that's used to closing.

"We didn't want to lose 'Coco' (former closer Francisco Cordero) but once we did, [GM] Doug [Melvin] really went to work. One of our goals for the offseason was to improve our bullpen and I think we've really done that."

Cardinals draft Indians' prospect Barton: With the 10th pick in last week's Rule 5 draft, the St. Louis Cardinals landed a player they weren't sure would be available that late in 25-year-old Brian Barton. Last season in the Indians' organization, Barton hit .314 with nine home runs and 59 RBIs in 106 games at Double-A Akron and hit .264 with a home run and seven RBIs at Triple-A Buffalo. He also stole 21 bases in 31 tries.

"Barton is a player that has always hit and he can play all three outfield positions," Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of amateur scouting and player development, told the Belleville News-Democrat. "He displays a good combination of speed and power and has an excellent work ethic."

In 2006, Barton led the Carolina League with a .515 slugging percentage and led all Cleveland Minor League players with 144 hits and 88 runs.

Carroll figures to fit in nicely for Indians: Second baseman Jamey Carroll, who spent last season with the Colorado Rockies, has a career batting average of .272 with nine home runs and 112 RBIs in 580 games. It's his defense, though, that has the Indians intrigued.

"His defensive ability at second base and short plus his speed and experience will complement the guys we already have," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro told the Akron Beacon Journal.

In Colorado last year, Carroll got into 108 games -- 60 of which came at shortstop. He also played 35 games at third base, 11 at shortstop and three in the outfield.

"Our priorities for this spot were No.1, defense; No. 2, speed; and No. 3, offense," said Shapiro. "Jamey fits the first two criteria very well, and he will hit well enough for the at-bats he's likely to get."

Torres mulls over retirement after trade: The Milwaukee Brewers traded two Minor League pitchers, Marino Salas and Kevin Roberts, to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Salomon Torres. Now, they just hope Torrres is with the team when Spring Training starts. Torres said he might retire instead of report to the Brewers.

"I think it was all the emotion," Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . "I don't think it will come to that."

Torres, who retired once before only to return to the Majors, said he is considering retirement because he doesn't want to move his family, which includes three young children, from Pittsburgh.

Torres said he is going to take some time to reach a final decision. If he does report to the Brewers, he said he will be completely ready to pitch for the team.

Meek brings strong arm to Pirates: In Friday's Rule 5 draft, the Pirates added a hard-throwing right-hander to their roster, as Evan Meek became the newest member of the Bucs when the team selected him from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last season in Double-A Montgomery, Meek appeared 44 times in relief, striking out 69 hitters while walking only 34. He is considered to have a fastball that has been known to reach 98 mph on the radar gun. He also has a hard slider, a curveball and a splitter. His success with his other pitches has allowed him to not feel as though he has to hit 98 quite so often.

"Until last year, I always tried to throw every pitch through a wall," Meek told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Toning it down has really helped me become more consistent. It's something that I wish I'd done three years ago."

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington says that he likes what he sees in Meek.

"He's a power arm who gets a lot of ground balls and who can strike guys out," said Huntington. "He had a 3-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio. When you throw hard and get a lot of ground balls, you give yourself a chance."

Nationals bolster outfield with four top players: The Nationals have been one of the most active teams this offseason, and one area where they've made a lot of moves is in the outfield. Washington acquired youngsters Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge to go along with Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena, leaving them with four outfielders vying for three starting jobs.

"I think it's a good thing, because it's not like a fire sale or something," right fielder Austin Kearns told the Washington Post. "I went through one of those in Cincinnati, and that's not fun. These are moves that are going to help our team. I don't look at it like it's going backwards to eventually going forwards. They're positive."

While some may see four starting outfielders as a problem, the Nationals do not plan to move any of them.

"With four young outfielders, if three succeed we're in good shape," general manager Jim Bowden said. "If one gets hurt, we're in good shape. . . . We feel comfortable with four good young outfielders that are developing."

It will be up to manager Manny Acta to sort out the outfield. That should be good news for Pena, whom the manager has touted ever since the club acquired him during last season.

"Hopefully, Wily Mo can hit 30 to 35 home runs for us and continue to put fear in the opposition, which is what he did for us once he joined our club," Acta said. "I didn't think we had anybody [else] that could intimidate another club."

-- Red Line Editorial