As we approach the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, we will be previewing every team in terms of whether they will be buyers or sellers on the trade market this summer. Make sure you check back to check all of those out, but for now...we take a look at the Houston Astros
Houston Astros: 49-25, 1st in the AL West
Unlike the woeful Orioles whom we previewed yesterday, almost everything is going right for Houston these days. They are currently riding a 12 game winning streak and sit two games ahead of the surprising Seattle Mariners at the top of the AL West.
The Astros have one of the best records in the majors thanks to a strong rotation headed by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and one of the scariest lineups top to bottom in the entire league. They have three of the top 25 position players in the entire league (in terms of fWAR anyways) in Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer and that doesn’t even get into other key contributors like Alex Bregman and Max Stassi. In short, it is good to be an Astros fan right now.
What moves have they made so far?
The biggest move that the Astros made was this past offseason when they traded for Gerrit Cole and sent four prospects to Pittsburgh to engage his services. Cole has been everything the Astros could have hoped for as he has been one of the top pitchers in the league since joining the team. He has a 2.59 ERA, has accumulated 2.9 fWAR in 15 starts, and is striking out over 12 batters per nine innings pitched. That is quite good.
Beyond that, the Astros have been somewhat quiet as they have had some minor injury issues they have been working through. One gets the sense that they are lying in wait to see exactly what their needs are going to be before they make a move, although this strategy had the detriment of missing out on Kelvin Herrera who would have helped their bullpen out immensely.
Who could they trade?
The Astros do not have the look of much of a seller as much of their core is young and under team control...plus there is the whole “they are amidst a playoff run” thing. Charlie Morton is an interesting case because he has pitched really well for the Astros this year and would seemingly be a piece they want to hang on to as the season stretches into October. However, he is also a free agent after the season and is 34 years old. Whatever voodoo magic the Astros did to revitalize his career worked, so a short-extension might work the best for both parties...but if there isn’t a deal to be made and the Astros feel like they can replace Morton’s production, a trade is possible here.
Marwin Gonzalez is another impending free agent, but he is having a bit of a down year for him at the plate. That said, he is coming off a 4 WAR season and he can play just about anywhere on the field. The Astros value his versatility, but they also have a glut of good players on the 40 man roster and some coming from the minors as well, so putting him in a trade that upgrades the bullpen or just for future assets isn’t the craziest notion.
Evan Gattis will also be a free agent and is putting together another very Gattis-y season with lots of power and not a ton else. Compounding the problem of trading Gattis is the fact that the Astros’ catchers have been banged up. Putting Gattis behind the plate isn’t an ideal situation, but having him as a backup option while Brian McCann and co. get fully healthy may be the wisest course of action even with McCann back from the DL. Plus, it is unclear how much return the DH market is going to yield for a rental like Gattis and he has performed reasonably well at the plate.
While they may sell off a couple of expiring contracts or minor pieces, the Astros are clearly buyers this summer. The biggest issue is that the Astros don’t have any real holes right now with upgrades at first base, the bullpen, and maybe at an outfield position being possible. However, the Astros have in house options such as AJ Reed and Kyle Tucker to fortify those positions if they really needed to, so the question becomes how much of an upgrade a given player is over those options.
Bullpen targets remain the most likely course of action with Zach Britton and Brad Hand being distinct possibilities although there will be a lot of suitors for both of them. The Astros are likely to check in on all of the big names on the trade market, even starting pitchers as Dallas Keuchel has been far from a sure thing this year, but the Astros have an embarrassment of riches overall. They have some prospect depth to draw from to make a move if need be, but that same depth could also lead them to stand pat and fortify the roster from within.