The Astros have interest in Lance Berkman

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The Astros are set to make the switch to the American League next season. And they have set their sights on a familiar face to be their designated hitter.

According to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said at the team’s uniform unveiling tonight that he plans to reach out to Berkman to gauge his interest about returning to his roots.

“We’re going to make a baseball decision for the organization and for the future of the Houston Astros,” Luhnow said “Clearly Lance has a great history here and he was a key part of a great franchise in a great time. If we feel collectively that there’s a fit in terms of what we need and what he can provide, we won’t be hesitant to pursue it.”

Berkman, 36, was limited to just 32 games this season due to knee problems and said in September that he was considering retiring and going back to Rice University to finish his degree. Health concerns aside, it’s not clear whether he’s willing to play in a league which he referred to as “Mickey Mouse” last month. And though it was a small sample, he was also pretty terrible as a DH with the Yankees in 2010.

Berkman, who still keeps a home in Houston, was a first-round pick of the Astros in 1997 and played 12 seasons with the club before being traded to the Yankees in 2010. He is fifth in team history in hits, fourth in games played, third in RBI, second in homers and first in OPS.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.