Astros open to re-signing Tejada
Reserve outfielders, starting pitcher also on club's radar
HOUSTON -- The Astros might not be in position to sign any marquee names when free agency begins in earnest Friday, but general manager Ed Wade is still confident he can improve the club in the coming weeks through either trades or free agency.
The first task for the Astros is re-signing their own free agents, a list that includes impact players in shortstop Miguel Tejada, closer Jose Valverde and reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Houston likely doesn't have enough payroll flexibility to retain all three, and Tejada's future with the club would be at third base instead of shortstop.
"Everybody is aware Miggy is a free agent and that's 199 hits and a guy who did a really super job for us and a two-time All-Star [with the Astros]," Wade said. "We're not prepared to close any doors with Miggy."
Considering they aren't going to bring Doug Brocail back, re-signing either Hawkins and/or Valverde is one of Wade's top priorities. Wade said the club is also going to explore some options at third base, while trying to address the two backup outfield spots.
The Astros' starting outfield is set with slugger Carlos Lee in left field, Gold Glove winner Michael Bourn in center and 2009 All-Star Hunter Pence in right. Jason Michaels and Darin Erstad served as backups last year, and both are free agents.
"From the standpoint of position players with both Jason Michaels and Darin Erstad being free agents, our extra-outfield situation at this point is an issue," Wade said. "I'm not saying we wouldn't bring both guys back, but both are free agents, and we have to recognize we have a void now."
Houston could be in the market for a third baseman to platoon with Geoff Blum, a switch-hitter. The Astros signed Aaron Boone last season, but he missed pretty much the entire season after undergoing open-heart surgery in March.
Blum wound up starting 94 games at third, with Jeff Keppinger starting 59. Keppinger returns, and Chris Johnson, who would be a rookie, could also work his way into the mix. Of course, if they re-sign Tejada, it will be to play third base.
"If we can mix and match with Geoff over there and provide more offense, that's something we have to pay attention to," Wade said.
The Astros feel good about the top of their starting rotation with Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris occupying the first three spots. They've re-signed workhorse Brian Moehler to anchor the bottom of the rotation and may look within to fill the final spot.
Felipe Paulino, who has great stuff but is terribly inconsistent, started 17 games last season and will be in the mix, along with Yorman Bazardo, Wilton Lopez and left-hander Wesley Wright, a former reliever who is in the process of being converted into a starter.
"But at the same time, if we have an opportunity to make a deal that brings us a starting pitcher [it will be considered]," Wade said. "But everybody is looking to add starting pitching."
Former first-round pick Jason Castro appears on track to take over as starting catcher for the Astros at some point next year. Last season, the club signed Ivan Rodriguez -- and later traded him away -- to help bridge the gap to Castro, who hit .309 with seven homers and 44 RBIs in 56 games at Class A Lancaster before hitting .293 in 63 games at Double-A Corpus Christi.
J.R. Towles, a former No. 1 prospect, remains in the mix to share some of the catching duties next year, along with backup Humberto Quintero.
"I thought J.R. caught better for us at the end of the season last year," Wade said. "Q has established himself at the very least as a solid backup catcher at the big league level, so we have two guys we like. Whether we add onto that or not remains to be seen.
"Castro we think at some point in time will be here, whether it's April or some point beyond. I certainly don't see us going out and adding a front-line starting catcher. We do believe with J.R. and Q already here and Castro on the horizon that we've got coverage there. Our resources are better used in other areas to try to improve."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.