If the Astros can re-sign pitchers Randy Wolf and Doug Brocail, they may be satisfied with making nothing more than a small splash in the offseason market.
That would be a big change from last year, when the club dealt for Jose Valverde, Miguel Tejada and Michael Bourn and signed Kazuo Matsui. This time, a journeyman catcher could be the biggest new addition.
Expect the Astros to employ a new face behind the plate at least part-time. Brad Ausmus isn't coming back, and the club's young incumbents, Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles, might be a year or two away from full-time duties.
Though it's widely believed Houston will not go after big-name backstops Jason Varitek or Ivan Rodriguez, options remain. No catchers have changed teams during the free-agent period so far. The Astros could trade with a club overstocked at the position, such as the Rangers, or look into the second tier of free agents.
Notable unsigned names include Paul Lo Duca, Michael Barrett, Toby Hall, David Ross, Javier Valentin, Gregg Zaun and former Astro Paul Bako. Whoever Houston signs projects to share time behind the dish with Quintero or Towles.
Ryan Gleichowski, the agent for Ross, said in an e-mail that the Astros are one of at least seven teams that have shown interest in the former University of Florida standout. That interest is mutual, Gleichowski said.
At 31, Ross is the youngest in a class of veteran free-agent catchers. However, he hasn't duplicated a solid 2006 season, when he hit .255 with 21 home runs in 90 games. Ross dropped to .203 with 17 homers in 2007 and batted .231 with the Reds in 2008 before being released. The Red Sox signed him to a Minor League contract, but he only got eight at-bats with Boston.
Bako's agent, Barry Meister, said his client would be interested in playing for Houston again. But Meister would not say if the Astros had contacted him about Bako.
"The catching market just has not developed for anybody yet; nobody has signed," Meister said. "No question, Paul would have interest in Houston. He's from Louisiana, so he's not far away. He would definitely have interest."
Bako, 36, played for Houston in 1999 and 2000 before bouncing through seven teams, landing in Cincinnati in 2008. A career .231 hitter, Bako batted .217 for the Reds.
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.