Houston picks up Biggio's option

HOUSTON -- Craig Biggio will be back with the Houston Astros
next season. If Jeff Kent returns, it will be at a reduced rate.

Biggio's $3 million option was exercised Thursday by the Astros,
who declined Kent's $9 million option and will pay the second
baseman a $700,000 buyout.

However, general manager Gerry Hunsicker said the team "made it
clear to him that we had interest in sitting down with him and
bringing him back under another contract scenario."

Eight Astros are eligible for free agency, including outfielder
Carlos Beltran, likely to be pursued by the New York Yankees and
other big spenders.

Biggio, who will be 39 when next season begins, is such a
franchise icon that a statue of him and longtime teammate Jeff
Bagwell sits outside Minute Maid Park. He was an All-Star at
catcher and second base before moving to the outfield. He was the
starting center fielder until moving to left to make way for Beltran.

Biggio is the franchise leader in games (2,409), hits (2,639),
runs (1,603), at-bats (9,221), singles (1,790) and doubles (564).
No other current major leaguer has played as many games for his
original team.

He hit .281 with a career-high 24 home runs, 47 doubles and 63
RBI this past season. In the playoffs, Biggio hit .269 with two
home runs and five RBI.

"I think he's earned the right to come back because of what
he's done for the franchise and because of the ability he showed
this year to play and continue to produce at a high level,"
Hunsicker said.

If Houston had declined the option, Biggio would have received a
$1 million buyout.

Kent, 37 next season, agreed to an $18.2 million, two-year
contract in December 2002.

The highlight of his time with the Astros was a three-run homer
in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NL Championship
Series, putting the Astros within a victory of their first World
Series appearance. Houston went on to lose the next two games in
St. Louis.

Kent hit .289 with 27 homers and 107 RBI last season. He also
set a club record by hitting in 25 straight games and started the
All-Star Game in Houston.

His 278 homers are the most ever by a second baseman and his
seven seasons with 100 RBI ties another mark for the position. The
former NL MVP has a career average of .289 with 302 homers and
1,207 RBI in 13 seasons.