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12/08/09 12:56 AM EST

Valverde rejects Astros' arbitration offer

Closer remains a free agent, creates questions for club

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jose Valverde, who saved 69 games over the previous two seasons as a member of the Astros, rejected the club's offer of salary arbitration late Monday to remain a free agent, opening the door for general manager Ed Wade to explore his options at closer.

Valverde, a Type A free agent, waited until Monday's 10:59 CT deadline to inform the Astros of his decision. Wade said Houston hasn't closed the door on re-signing Valverde, but the Astros would receive two compensatory Draft picks if he signs with another team.

"It would have been great to have him accept so we would have the certainty of our back-end-of-the-bullpen situation, but we still have the ability to sign him and we will still reach out to see if there's an opportunity to do something," Wade said. "But there are alternatives in the market, and we'll explore those alternatives and try to be as aggressive as we can to solve our needs sooner than rather later."

Valverde is coming off a season in which he went 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA and 25 saves in 29 opportunities. He missed 41 games with a strained calf and returned from the disabled list on June 13 and converted 23 of 25 saves chances and posted a 1.76 ERA in that span.

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He made $8 million last season and figures to command more in free agency. Valverde's representatives refrained from comment Monday. Wade had previously made contact with several free-agent relievers, with Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg and Fernando Rodney among the available closers on the market.

"We could cycle back towards Jose," Wade said. "We're not closing the door on that possibility, and we're not closing the door on the potential to bring LaTroy [Hawkins] back. We might end up doing something where it involves multiples of pitchers who profile like LaTroy. Whether LaTroy's one of them or not remains to be seen, but we could do multiples who could cover the eighth and ninth innings for us."

Hawkins, who was not offered arbitration, went 1-4 with a 2.13 ERA and 11 saves in 65 games last season in Houston. He has experience as closer, having saved 25 games for the Cubs in 2004 and 28 games for the Twins in 2001.

"We'll continue to have dialogue with LaTroy," Wade said. "We've never walked away from the Hawkins situation. We've just recognized that if Valverde accepted, it would put some limitations on how much we could spend in the eighth and ninth innings. There's Hawkins and a number of other guys that we think fit the profile, not only of what LaTroy does but with the potential of being able to close."

Considering the Astros viewed Valverde as the top closer on the market, they feel they could have some payroll flexibility if they sign another closer at a lower cost, which would allow them to perhaps sign another reliever. The Astros could also make a trade for a closer.

"With [Rafael] Soriano accepting [arbitration] in Atlanta and to some extent [Rafael] Betancourt accepting Colorado's offer, it limits the marketplace, so we might have to get creative in mixing and matching or possibly making a trade," Wade said. "In our opinion, Valverde ranked at the top of the closer market, and if that gets reflected in the economics, then it gives us a little bit more flexibility."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.