As we approach July 31, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.
Houston Astros: 52-25, 1st in AL West
The Astros reached the 50-win mark before anyone else in baseball, and was the fastest team to do so in franchise history. Dallas Keuchel is back to top form despite a couple of DL stints, but Houston’s high-powered offense has been shouldering the load as their ace makes his way back. With the Cleveland Indians coming into form, it looks like these two teams are the non-AL East favorites in the American League
In terms of the AL West, it’s already over. The Mariners are in second place and couldn’t gain any ground on the first place Astros during a stretch in which they won five straight games, mainly because Houston was busy winning four straight themselves.
The red hot start to their season has expectations running high in Houston. Making the playoffs isn’t enough anymore. Astros fans want a World Series trophy, and with the Cubs still trying to find themselves in the National League, this could be their year. They just need another piece in the starting rotation and maybe another bullpen arm to become the clear favorites for the World Series, which would be the first in franchise history. Luckily for Houston, they still have the farm pieces to make a trade happen.
What moves have they made so far?
Most of their moves have revolved around their biggest need: pitching. Due to injuries to Keuchel and Lance McCullers, the Astros have called up top pitching prospects Francis Martes and David Paulino to fill holes created by injuries to the starting rotation. Those two prospects could be the focal point of trades come the end of July.
Most other moves have been very minor, like trading outfielder Andrew Aplin for a player to be named later. General manager Jeff Luhnow has been busy looking for starting pitching help, so expect this short list to grow exponentially in the next month.
Are they buyers or sellers?
This one is a no-brainer. If Keuchel and McCullers can stay healthy, another starting pitcher would make the Astros awfully tough to beat in a playoff series, especially with a deep lineup supporting them. We’ve seen terrific offensive teams eventually succumb to the failures of their pitching staff in the playoffs, so the Astros will absolutely be looking for established arms while praying that Keuchel and McCullers will be healthy and ready to go come October.
The Astros own the best offense in baseball in terms of slugging percentage (.480), OPS (.826) and batting average (.279). This team is too talented to not try and make a run now. The wait is over. The rebuild was successful up until this point, and it is time for this team to take the next step.
Despite the pitching injuries noted, the Astros still have the third best team ERA in baseball (3.69). The concern stems from the ability to stay healthy, and the ability to rely on an established starter in a potential crucial game three situation in a playoff series, with Keuchel and McCullers likely going in games one and two. However, if the Astros are able to make a big splash and acquire a big name pitcher, McCullers can slide to that game three, which isn’t too shabby.
Who could they trade?
Martes and Paulino immediately come to mind if the Astros want a big-name starter. They are two of the team’s top prospects, and could be packaged in a deal for a Gerrit Cole, Jose Quintana or Sonny Gray. The only issue with this trio of big names potentially on the trading block is the fact that they haven’t been themselves this season. Quintana has an ERA north of five, and Cole and Gray have been inconsistent. Granted, Gray has had the undesirable task of pitching in front of a very poor defense, so perhaps a change to a solid defensive team such as the Astros could help his cause.
The Astros also have two top outfield prospects in Kyle Tucker and Derek Fisher who can help bring in pitching help. The Astros lineup seems set for now, so despite the fact that they have some prized prospects making their way up the minor league ranks, they could be used to bring in established major league talent. Sometimes that’s what prospects are for.
Jeff Luhnow seems adamant on keeping his current major league roster intact, so don’t expect many changes at the major league level. Their young major league talent is basically untouchable, and they like their contributing veterans like Carlos Beltran, especially in a playoff situation. If the Astros make a move, they will likely be parting ways with minor league talent.
As noted earlier, the top trio of pitching talent that will likely be available is Gray, Quintana and Cole. The Astros will use the farm system at their disposal and get one of them. Quintana is likely the desirable choice for Luhnow, but any one of the three would have to put the Astros ahead of the Indians and Nationals for the World Series favorite, if they aren’t already.
The Astros will also look to bolster their bullpen, specifically in terms of left handed pitching. Tony Sipp is currently the only southpaw in the pen, so the Astros need some help in high leverage situations when teams like the Indians, Yankees or Red Sox sends up a big left handed or switch hitting bat. Sipp alone won’t cut it, so look for Luhnow to see if he can use a prospect to being in a left handed specialist to help in the later innings.
If the Astros can make at least one of these moves, they have to be considered the clear favorite in the American League. The Indians are playing much better as of late, but another arm in the rotation or pen could put Houston in the best position to raise their first World Series banner in team history.