HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Ed Wade is "kicking the tires" of players who can share time with Geoff Blum at third base and has plans to reach out to a handful of free agents who may fit the bill.
"There are a couple of guys that are at least worth talking about or talking to," Wade said. "[Assistant general manager] David [Gottfried] had a conversation with one of them today, and the price tag ran away from us. There are three or four guys we could send signals to: 'This is what we have available. Say yes or we're moving on to the next guy.' "
Among the available free agents on the market are Joe Crede, Chris Gomez, Pablo Ozuna and Morgan Ensberg. Ty Wigginton, whom the Astros non-tendered on Friday, is obviously also available. Of that group, Ensberg is the least likely to be contacted by the Astros, and as was revealed on Friday, Wigginton is probably out of the team's price range.
Of the remaining possibilities, Gomez could be an attractive option. The 37-year-old veteran of 16 Major League seasons played in 90 games for the Pirates in 2008, batting .273 with eight doubles and 20 RBIs in a backup role. He also earned only $1 million, which suggests he may be affordable for a team like the Astros, who are attempting to fill out their roster under extremely frugal guidelines.
Another selling point is Gomez's versatility. He has played all over the infield, mostly at shortstop. The Astros need someone to back up Miguel Tejada, who is expected to receive a significant number of days off in 2009. Gomez, who could fit in well as a right-handed complement to Blum at third, might prove valuable to both positions on the left side of the infield.
Ozuna, 34, played in 68 games in 2008, 32 for the White Sox and 36 for the Dodgers. He hit .260 overall, knocking three homers and driving in 45 runs. He also falls into the "versatile" category, having played 77 career games at second, 75 at third and 23 at short. He also has played 63 games in the outfield, and he earned $1.25 million in '08.
Crede, who had back issues that prematurely ended his season in 2008, is probably out of the Astros' price range, having earned $5.1 million last year. The 30-year-old third baseman played in 97 games in 2008, batting .248 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs.
In addition to searching the free-agent market for third-base help, the Astros are prepared to take a long look at prospect Chris Johnson, who hit .296 over 25 games in the Arizona Fall League. He logged 13 extra-base hits and drove in 19. The 24-year-old hit .324 over 84 games for Double-A Corpus Christi in 2008 and .218 in 30 games after receiving a promotion to Triple-A Round Rock. He is expected to compete for a job during Spring Training.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.