HOUSTON (AP) – Infielder Mark Loretta and the Houston Astros agreed Thursday to a $2.5 million, one-year contract, a deal that allows him to make an additional $1 million in performance bonuses.

The 35-year-old, who is likely to play at several infield positions, has a .299 career average and was an All-Star in 2004 and 2006. He hit .285 with 33 doubles, five homers and 59 RBIs last season with the Boston Red Sox. In 2004, he set career bests when he hit .335 with 16 homers and 76 RBIs with the San Diego Padres.

“This was a unique opportunity to acquire a high-caliber offensive and defensive player late in the free-agent market,” Astros general manager Tim Purpura said.

A right-handed hitter, Loretta should boost a Houston offense that had an NL-worst .255 average last season.

Loretta has mainly played at second base during his 12-year career. But 41-year-old Craig Biggio will likely start the 2007 season at second and is 70 hits shy of 3,000.

Loretta has also started 328 career games at shortstop and 171 each at first and third.

“He will play regularly at all infield positions, and his contribution will definitely make us a stronger team in 2007,” Purpura said.

Loretta spent his first eight seasons in Milwaukee, then was traded to Houston in August 2002.

He appeared in 21 games for the Astros, became a free agent and signed with San Diego in December 2002. He was dealt to the Red Sox for catcher Doug Mirabelli in December 2005.

Also Thursday, the Astros agreed to minor league contracts with five players, including catcher Eric Munson, who appeared in 53 games last season.

Infielder Cody Ransom and pitchers Jose Rodriguez, Stephen Randolph and Kevin Walker also agreed to deals and were invited to spring training.

AP-ES-01-04-07 1958EST

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