Ausmus agrees to two-year deal with Astros

HOUSTON -- Houston Astros catcher Brad Ausmus agreed Tuesday to a $7.5 million, two-year contract that will keep him with the NL champions.

The 36-year-old batted .258 with three homers and 47 RBI in 134
games for Houston during the regular season and hit a tying
two-out, ninth-inning homer in Game 4 of the first-round series
against Atlanta, a game the Astros won in a postseason-record 18
innings to move on to the NL championship series.

He became a free agent after the Astros were swept by the
Chicago White Sox in the World Series and was offered salary
arbitration by Houston last week, extending the Astros' negotiating
period through Jan. 8.

"I think he's a key member of our team," said Astros general
manager Tim Purpura. "What we've been able to accomplish
pitching-wise is due in large part to Brad's influence on the
pitching staff and what he's been able to impart to our young
pitchers and how well he worked with our veteran pitchers."

Ausmus has played seven seasons for Houston, after spending
1997-98 with the club and returning in 2001. He won the Gold Gloves
in 2001 and 2002 -- the only ones won by Astros players.

A 13-year veteran, Ausmus has also played with San Diego and
Detroit. He has 71 career homers and 508 RBI.

Purpura said Ausmus spends so much time studying and preparing
for games that he is almost like another coach.

"He really takes on that type of role," he said. "He goes
through scouting reports and all the statistical information like a
college professor going through an exam. He really puts a lot of
time into it."

One question raised with the re-signing of Ausmus is whether it
will help get Roger Clemens back for another season with the

Houston declined to offer salary arbitration to the seven-time
Cy Young winner last week, meaning he can't re-sign with the team
before May 1.

"I don't know if it helps," Purpura said. "But I certainly
don't think it hurts, because he's got a stable commodity there
behind the plate, someone who he works with extremely well."