Adam Dunn's quest to find a home in 2009 apparently will not be taking him back to his native Houston.
Astros general manager Ed Wade denied a Chicago Tribune report that the club might be planning to offer Dunn a contract before the start of spring training. Dunn, 29, remains unsigned despite five consecutive 40-home run seasons.
"It was never an item of discussion for us," Wade said. "And even if we had greater resources available, we would have continued to be working the starting pitching market.
"We have MVP-caliber players in left field and at first base, and we think Michael Bourn deserves the opportunity to play on an everyday basis [in center field]."
The Astros think they're sufficiently covered with Lance Berkman at first base and Carlos Lee in left field, and plan to give Bourn another shot to play full time even though he hit .229 in 138 games last season.
In 25 games in the Dominican winter league, Bourn hit .314 with 15 walks and a .402 on base percentage.
Like most major league teams, the Astros have been squeezed by finances this winter. Wade said the team payroll is expected to increase from $98 million to at least $105 million even though Houston has steered clear of big free-agent acquisitions.
The Astros signed Doug Brocail, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Michaels and Aaron Boone to one-year contracts, and are hoping that reclamation projects Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz can stay healthy and contribute in the starting rotation. The team abandoned its pursuit of free-agent starter Randy Wolf in November because of budgetary restrictions.
Dunn is one of several prominent hitters still on the market as big-league teams prepare for the start of spring training later this week. The list of the unemployed also includes Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu, Garret Anderson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Edmonds, among others.
The Nationals reportedly have interest in Dunn, and the Dodgers view him as a potential fallback in the event they can't re-sign Ramirez. Seattle is also in the market for a left fielder, first baseman or DH.
Scott Boras, Ramirez's agent, said Monday that he's involved in "ongoing" negotiations involving Ramirez, but declined to elaborate.
With supply outstripping demand, the prices for the top remaining hitters have dropped precipitously. Earlier this winter, a baseball source said Dunn was looking for a four-year, $56 million deal. Now there's a legitimate possibility Dunn could sign a one-year contract and go back on the market next winter.
Wade said he also spoke recently with agent Peter Greenberg and informed him that the Astros are not a candidate to sign Abreu. Wade was general manager in Philadelphia when Abreu was an All-Star right fielder for the Phillies.
"It's the same as the Adam Dunn situation," Wade said. "The positions that Bobby plays are covered here, and the economic reality is, it's an impossible fit."
While Seattle and Atlanta are monitoring Abreu's status and staying in contact with his representatives, the Mets continue to maintain they're not in the mix.
The Mets are close to their payroll limit, and plan to go with Ryan Church in right field and a combination of Fernando Tatis and Daniel Murphy in left. If general manager Omar Minaya makes another acquisition, it could be in the bullpen. The Mets made their first contact last week with the representatives for free agent reliever Will Ohman.
Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.