BOSTON – The Boston Red Sox acquired reliever Mark Melancon from the Houston Astros on Wednesday for infielder Jed Lowrie and right-hander Kyle Weiland.

The deal gives the Red Sox a potential replacement for closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies. Melancon had 20 saves this year, going 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA in 71 relief outings during his first full major league season.

Weiland will be given a chance to win a spot in the Houston rotation. To make room on their 40-man roster, the Astros designated infielder Brian Bixler for assignment.

Melancon, 26, a right-hander, pitched a total of 35 games in 2009 and 2010 with the New York Yankees and Houston with no saves.

“The more experience he was able to get gave him more confidence to go out and throw,” Astros Manager Brad Mills said.

Mills wasn’t ready to name his new closer.

“We’ll have to assess the situation,” he said. “We’re not going to figure out our entire pitching situation on Dec. 14.”

Lowrie, 27, should fill a vacancy at shortstop. Clint Barmes started 120 games there for Houston last season, then signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Lowrie spent time on the disabled list each of the last three seasons because of problems with his left wrist, left forearm and right shoulder, and a bout with mononucleosis.

The switch hitter played all four infield positions last season, and hit .252 with six homers and 36 RBI in a career-high 88 games.

“For me it’s about playing and that’s always what I’ve wanted,” Lowrie said. “Hopefully I get that opportunity in Houston.”

But he is going from a perennial contender to a rebuilding team.

“I had a couple of years of playoff experience in Boston and I think it was an opportunity for me to learn what it is on the biggest stage in baseball,” Lowrie said. “I want to bring that experience and that winning attitude and culture to Houston. Even if the team is rebuilding, it’s about winning.”

Weiland, 25, was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in seven games, including five starts, last year for Boston. He spent most of the season in the minors but was promoted when several Red Sox starters were sidelined.

Mills said Weiland would compete for a spot in Houston’s rotation.

The Red Sox signed infielder Nick Punto to a two-year, $3 million contract.

Punto, 35, broke in with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2001, then played with the Minnesota Twins from 2004-10. He joined the St. Louis Cardinals last season and played in six games of the World Series against the Texas Rangers.

In 887 career games, Punto has a .249 batting average with 14 homers and 218 RBI.

TWINS: General Manager Terry Ryan said the team hasn’t ended contract talks with free-agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer, amid discussions with his potential replacement, Josh Willingham.

Ryan said “nobody is backed into a corner here.” Cuddyer has been with the organization since he was a first-round draft pick in 1997.

Willingham played last season for Oakland, hitting a career-high 29 home runs with a career-best 98 RBI. He is also a free agent and the same age as Cuddyer at 32. 

ORIOLES: Baltimore signed a Japanese left-hander, Tsuyoshi Wada, to a $8.15 million, two-year contract.

Wada, 30, is expected to enhance a pitching staff that finished last in the majors with a 4.89 ERA. The contract includes a club option for 2014.

Wada was 107-61 with a 3.13 ERA and 1,329 strikeouts in 210 career games (207 starts) over nine seasons with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. In his 52 starts over the last two seasons, he went 33-13 with a 2.29 ERA.

GIANTS: San Francisco is working to finalize a $1 million, one-year contract with free-agent reliever Guillermo Mota to bring him back for a third season.

The deal was close to done, still pending a physical and final paperwork.

Mota, a 38-year-old right-hander, has become a reliable option for Manager Bruce Bochy. He went 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 52 appearances last season.

CARDINALS: St. Louis finalized a two-year, $14 million free-agent deal with shortstop Rafael Furcal, a trade deadline pickup who helped in the run to the World Series title.

The deal was completed after Furcal, 34, passed a physical. He gets salaries of $6 million next year and $7 million in 2013, along with a $1 million signing bonus.

Furcal batted .255 with St. Louis, solidifying the defense along with the leadoff slot. He turned 36 double plays, most among National League shortstops, in the final two months.

DIAMONDBACKS: Arizona reached agreement on a one-year, $1.75 million contract with 41-year-old right-hander Takashi Saito.

Saito went 4-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 30 relief appearances for Milwaukee last season.

Saito is 21-15 with 84 saves and a 2.18 ERA over parts of six seasons.

Right-hander Jonathan Albaladejo agreed to a $490,000, one-year contract with Arizona.

BREWERS: Milwaukee finalized a $36 million, three-year contract with free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, adding a much-needed big bat to the lineup.

Ramirez, 33, played 149 games for the Chicago Cubs last year, batting .306 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI.

MARINERS: Seattle re-signed backup catcher Chris Gimenez to a one-year contract, two days after he was non-tendered by the club.

The Mariners’ 40-man roster now stands at 37.

THE HOKKAIDO Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League have until Tuesday to accept a bid from a major league team for pitcher Yu Darvish.

Bidding for the posting fee closed, and the U.S. commissioner’s office said it will notify its Japanese counterpart of the amount of the highest bid but not the identity of the team that made the offer.