I've been thinking about this for a little while now, and CRPerry13's article proved to be the laxative that got me writing on the subject. I am assuming that if you are reading this then you have already read that excellent article on the Astros defense in 2011. The game of baseball can be divided into 4 basic parts: pitching, hitting, base running, and defense. Very simplistic, I know, but those first two things are expensive and our Astros aren't in a position to throw around a ton of money looking for home runs and hits. At the risk of sounding like Tal Smith, I'll say that the most important thing the Astros can add is defense.
Targeting defense is less expensive than targeting offense both in free agency and on the trade market. Defense is harder to evaluate than offense so teams have a harder time justifying a lot of spending on it. But that is not the only reason why it will cost less for the Astros. If you look at CRPerry13's write up you will notice that the Astros already have a chance at being above average defensively at first, left field, and right field, so then with Paredes, Altuve, and Schafer possibly being average or better fielders (going on what others have said before), there are potentially fewer defensive holes to fill than there are offensive holes to fill. If the Astros can trick Barmes into staying they will be most of the way to having a good defense. If they cannot resign him they must find someone who can field the ball well via trade or free agency. I also want a glove-first third base option because Paredes's bat will probably need some time in the minors and CJ's glove just won't cut it. There's also a good chance that Altuve will struggle and that we will need Downs for second base. He can't play both positions at once.
Focusing on defense is also focusing on the future. If we are ever to rebound from these dark times we are going to have to develop starting pitching. We already have some young guys like Norris, Lyles, Sosa, and A. Rodriguez who will be getting innings in 2012. I think it is a wise investment in their futures to make sure they are pitching in front of a team that can make plays for them. If pitching to contact works for some of them then they will be able to hone that skill better with good fielders behind them.
Building a good defensive team will have positive effects on our veteran pitchers too. If there are fewer runners on base then there will be fewer runs scored which will make Wandy and Brett look more attractive at the trade deadline, increasing their value, and thereby bettering our farm system.
So, it may not be the most exciting way to build a team and it may not result in many more wins in 2012 but defense first is the way to go. After the trade deadline the Astros' team UZR greatly improved. It is a small sample size but maybe we can build on it.
What players do you think the Astros can realistically get through free agency or trade to play solid third base and shortstop? I like CRPerry13's suggestions of Punto and Kouzmanoff, but I'd like to hear some other ideas.