The Astros struggled mightily in 2011, some free agents can help. They are a young team and are only going to get younger as they find new homes for Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez, and Carlos Lee is in his last year. With so many young guys coming up from a lackluster farm system, the Astros need someone to come in from the outside to show the guys how to play. The 2012 MLB Free-Agent Class can greatly help the Astros. Although Drayton McLane doesn't want to spend any of his own money anymore and Jim Crane said he didn't want any big free agents coming in, the Astros still should sign a couple of small names to teach the young guys the right way to play baseball. Astros management should just try to sign one or two of these players to make 2012 something to look more forward to.
Austin Kearns has been consistently getting worse the past couple of years but the Astros might pick him up for cheap and hope that he's got something left in the tank to be a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter. He used to be able to bring some power and hopefully can get that stroke back. He shouldn't have too many callers so he'll be an easy acquisition if the Astros need him.
Marco Scutaro's team option may be picked up by the Boston Red Sox, but if not the Astros could look into him as an option. If the Astros aren't able to bring back Clint Barmes, Scutaro could be another temporary solution. He has a solid bat, hitting .299 this past year with seven homers and 54 RBI, not to mention great range in the field. He isn't a top priority but if Barmes fails, Scutaro should be next in line.
Brad Penny has been pretty rough this year sporting a 5.30 ERA with the Tigers, but at only age 33, could very well have something left in the tank. He could be taken, but it's highly unlikely. He's only four years removed from his close Cy Young bid in 2007 and the Astros could try to recapture that kind of action that he failed to show in his year in Detroit. He offers experience and could round out the Astros rotation, but might not join the team because he'd be taking the place of a younger starter.
LaTroy Hawkins has been a solid reliever for many years. In 2011 with the Brewers, Hawkins has posted a 2.42 ERA with a solid rate of 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Hawkins played with the Astros in the second-half of 2008 going 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA in 24 relief appearances. He was a key part of the Brewers bullpen this year and could easily be brought back by them, but if the Brewers pass, the Astros should pick up on him. He'll be entering his 18th season in baseball and will be 39, so he will have a lot to teach to the very young Astros bullpen.
J.D. Drew is currently one of the most hated players in Boston. Just coming off a huge contract and lackluster play, Drew shouldn't have too many callers this offseason. The Astros do need a slight power bat to come off the bench to fill in for Jason Michaels's departure, and Drew could be the solution. However, he might not be willing to go to a rebuilding team for less. Not to mention that he'll be 36 by next year and won't be able to play like he used to. He's basically an older and more expensive Austin Kearns but a better ballplayer. The Astros need leadership and they need a bench player, Drew can fill in both positions.
Javier Vazquez has closed out what has become a good year. He started the season shakily but came out strong finishing the year with 162 strikeouts, a 13-11 record and a solid 3.69 ERA. He might get more callers since he's a veteran starter that can throw quality ball, but if the Astros can find a way to sign him, they should go for it. He might cost a little more than the Astros would like, but he would be worth it. To be able to mentor and influence the younger pitchers (although he might not be the best influence) and also be the filler in the three hole in the rotation. This might be a long shot, but could be something for the Astros to look into.
Brandon Webb represents a unique opportunity for the Astros in 2012. From 2006-2008, Webb was the premier pitcher in baseball mastering hitters with his infamous sinker. However, he got hurt and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since his one appearance in 2009. Since then, he's only been put through more surgery. The Rangers took a chance on him this year, but he went for more surgery after some rough outings. The Astros could try and reach for Webb, he is a low-risk, high-reward possibility who could come through big or sit on the Astros minor league teams for a small fee. I really hope that the Astros go for him and give the 32-year-old one more shot.
Clint Barmes was a solid pickup for the Astros this year in the trade with the Colorado Rockies. He started out on the wrong foot as he broke his hand in spring training and missed the first month of the season and then started slow. However, as the heat of summer picked up, so did Barmes's bat. He began to be more of a good hitter to go along with his clubhouse leadership and great glove. Not signing Barmes would be a big shame, but the Diamondbacks might outbid them for his services. The Astros might have to resort to Scutaro, but Barmes should be their first choice for shortstop in 2012.