First of all, yes, Joaquin and Alberto Arias are in fact brothers, so bringing Joaquin into the fold would be a cool story on that front alone.
I'm going to use the term "out of options" during this article to refer to Joaquin Arias and others. If you're not familiar with the term, the concept is explained here. I'll quote the parts of the article that are pertinent for a player like Arias, who has not accumulated five years of professional baseball service:
When a player is added to the 40-man roster, his club has three "options," or three separate seasons during which the club may to move him to and from the minor leagues without exposing him to other clubs. A player on the 40-man roster playing in the minors is on optional assignment, and within an option season, there is no limit on the number of times a club may demote and recall a player...
After three options are exhausted, the player is out of options. Beginning with the next season, he must clear waivers before he may be sent to the minors again.
Now, back to the business at hand...
As far as adding talented players this late in the game, Arias can offer both depth if Tommy Manzella were to show that he can hang with the big boys, and if not, he has done nothing of late but play well in Winter Ball, and offer the Rangers yet another young player who could yield a promising return in a trade.
I understand that 1) the Astros don't have much to offer the Rangers that they don't already have five of and 2) we complain all the time about how Ed Wade jumps the gun in certain situations, i.e.- signing Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz so early, thus eliminating the possibility that players like Miguel Tejada and Felipe Lopez could sign here cheaper at some point later in the off season.
As DQ has pointed out, the Astros may be acting a bit presumptuous in giving the reigns at short stop to a player like Tommy Manzella, who in truth would himself more suited as a late inning replacement player. Joaquin Arias would at least provide depth this season, even if he doesn't turn out to be anything special. Having a player with as much upside as Arias does, at a position where the Astros' cupboard is absolutely barren, cannot be a bad thing.
Defensively, Arias played 111 games last season as the Rangers AAA shortstop, and John Sickles had this assessment of his all around game:
He always looks good on defense when I see him; above average range, good arm, soft hands. He runs well and is very toolsy physically, but his bat hasn't grown since he's reached Triple-A. Turns 25 in September, and right now he looks like a guy who is going to bounce around between the majors and Triple-A for the next ten years.
The fact that he is still going to be under team control for the immediate future, and would provide a back up plan where the Astros don't really have one, is a major selling point for me.
Texas will probably look to play him as much as possible during Spring Training in order to give other teams a look at what he can do on the field. After this period, it appears that the Rangers could release him which means he'd have to clear waivers before making it back to AAA Oklahoma. Assuming that the Rangers' desire is to create space on the 40 man roster, a lower level minor leaguer may be what it takes to land Arias. Maybe a position player from Lexington/Lancaster would be their asking price? What do y'all think?
As far as Felipe Lopez is concerned, I realize he isn't a shortstop, but I think the skill set he does have: a consistently good line drive hitter, a versatile defender who could conceivably play all the spots defensively save catcher and center-fielder, would make up for sort of being a square peg in a round hole.
With veteran players in Kaz Matsui and Pedro Feliz playing second and third bases, the risk of injury is fairly high (as if you didn't know that already with Matsui), so in that sense he is a perfect fit. For a team that is unwilling to spend much more money, this is a signing that may be worth the $3 million or so that it would take to add him to the club. His statistics are sure to regress from his .310/.383/.427 season last year (fueled in large part by a .360 BABIP), but even then it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities for him to be around a 1 win player at shortstop. That's considering a decreased amount of playing time and his move to shortstop for the Astros.
If the cost to the farm system to sign Arias, or the cost in $ to sign Lopez leave you wary, here are a few more interesting infielders that are in the same boat as Mr. Arias:
Eric Patterson (A's), Jeff Baker (Cubs), Brandon Wood (Angels), Andy LaRoche (Pirates), Clint Barmes (Rockies), Willy Aybar (Rays)
As we get closer and closer to the beginning of real baseball in April, more names will pop up, and Ed Wade should be keeping his ear close to the ground on this front, no matter how Tommy Manzella is performing.