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12/12/08 10:40 PM EST

Wigginton, Abercrombie non-tendered

Team's decision based on Astros' need to pare payroll

HOUSTON -- Three hours before the deadline, the Astros announced that they did not tender contracts to third baseman Ty Wigginton and outfielder Reggie Abercrombie.

The biggest blow was Wigginton, who was rumored to be a non-tender candidate but seemingly was too valuable to let go. Financial reasons, however -- the Astros need to pare down their payroll from a projected $120 million to somewhere around $100 million -- forced general manager Ed Wade to make a tough decision.

"It was a difficult conversation to have with him this afternoon," Wade said. "We were forced to make some difficult decisions. We have to figure out a way to free up payroll."

Wigginton could make as much as $7 million to $8 million in arbitration this year, and during the week of the Winter Meetings, it was clear that the Astros were making every attempt to trade him. The third baseman generated significant interest, but ultimately, the risk of being stuck with his hefty contract was too high for Houston.

"I spoke with Ty and let him know that if there is an opportunity for us to adjust our payroll later in the offseason, we'd like to see if there's an opportunity to bring him back," Wade said. "It's hard to cut him loose. He's a really good guy and a good player. It was a very professional conversation."

Wigginton took the news well, understanding that it was a business decision, and expressed optimism toward the future.

"The way I look at it, it's fine," Wigginton said. "Ed Wade was great on the phone, and I have no beef or things like that with the Astros. I enjoyed my time there. I look forward to what happens down the road."

At the same time, he was surprised that the Astros opted not to retain him.

"I thought there was no way I would be non-tendered," he said. "I felt like they had to feel if I'm not going to have the thumb injury and groin injury and had the normal 500 at-bats, I would have been able to put up 30 home runs. But that's all speculation."

Replacing Wigginton will be a challenge, considering the fact that veteran infielder Geoff Blum, who is in line to absorb the majority of the starts at third, hit .240 in 2008, 45 points below Wigginton. Third-base prospect Chris Johnson will also get a look during Spring Training, but the Astros will be scouring the market for a Major League-ready replacement.

The Astros would also like to sign Abercrombie, who wasn't arbitration-eligible but was non-tendered in order to create roster flexibility, to a Minor League contract and invite him to Spring Training.

The Astros tendered contracts to the remainder of their arbitration-eligible players: right-handers Brandon Backe and Geoff Geary, lefties Wandy Rodriguez and Tim Byrdak, closer Jose Valverde and catcher Humberto Quintero.

They also tendered contracts to all other unsigned members of the club's 40-man roster that are not eligible for salary arbitration for the 2009 season.

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