AL West Trade Primer: Houston Astros

The first three entries in our AL West trade primer series were a pair of organizations clearly needing to rebuild — the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels — and the Texas Rangers; a fringe contender who may buy or sell.

With the Houston Astros, there’s no doubt regarding their summer strategy. They’re a serious contender to reach and win the World Series.

With so much at stake, general manager Jeff Luhnow is certain to bolster his roster for a deep postseason run. Based on recent history, he’s willing to part with some of his prospects to fill needs.

At the 2015 trade deadline, the first place Astros traded minor leaguers Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, Brett Phillips, and Domingo Santana to the Milwaukee Brewers for Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez.

Fiers is still with Houston. Gomez signed with the cross-state rival Rangers after being released last August.

Both Houser and Phillips are in Milwaukee’s minor league system, while Hader entered the season as the top southpaw pitching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com and debuted with the big league club on June 10.

Domingo is the Brewers’ everyday right fielder and slashing .276/.374/.475 with 11 home runs.

Houston’s other major acquisition was starter Scott Kazmir, who came from the Athletics in exchange for Daniel Mengden and Jacob Nottingham.

Kazmir left after the season as a free agent and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hasn’t pitched since last season due to a hip injury.

The 24-year-old Mengden has been effective with Class-AAA Nashville, but unable to repeat the same success with Oakland during 16 big league starts.

Nottingham was included in the deal that brought Khris Davis to Oakland from the Brewers.

This season, the Astros have just one area needing significant attention — a rotation experiencing a rash of injuries.

Former Cy Young Award winner and staff ace Dallas Keuchel is on the DL for the second time this season with neck discomfort. The southpaw should begin playing catch within the next few days.

Lance McCullers is out with lower back pain and should begin throwing within a week. Before being injured, McCullers was every bit as good as Keuchel this season.

A lat strain has kept Charlie Morton out of action since late May. If all goes well, he could be ready for a rehab assignment by the end of next week.

Right-hander Collin McHugh hasn’t pitched this season due to an elbow impingement. He’s throwing batting practice and could be making rehab starts within two weeks.

Joe Musgrove missed a month due to shoulder discomfort. The sophomore is back in the rotation, but averaging just 5.3 innings/start this season.

Fiers is the lone starter to avoid the DL this season. However, he’s allowed 18 home runs this season and failed to get past the fifth inning in six of his 13 starts.

Having said that, the right-hander has pitched better lately. In his last two outings, the 32-year-old tossed 14.1 innings and surrendered just one run.

The Astros have some internal depth to withstand the wave of injuries. Veteran swing-man Brad Peacock and prospects David Paulino and Francis Martes are available to fill in.

Still, the rotation of a team with a realistic chance of reaching the Fall Classic needs more quality and depth than Houston currently possesses.

If Luhnow agrees and desires to acquire players under team control for more than one season — like Fiers and Gomez — there are four names routinely bandied about in trade speculation capable of helping the Astros.

Houston was reportedly interested in Oakland’s Sonny Gray during the offseason. The right-hander’s contract is team-friendly, but his injury history may concern a club with its own durability issues.

The biggest obstacle to a Gray deal may be the Athletics’ reluctance to deal the former Cy Young Award finalist. Moving him now would be selling low with their best trade chip.

Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox was reportedly a Houston target during hot stove season.

The left-hander is having a down season in Chicago, but he’s topped 200 innings in each the past four seasons and controllable through the 2020 season.

Two Tampa Bay Rays pitchers under team control could be appealing to the Astros.

Chris Archer is having a great season and signed through 2021 for $34 million with relatively inexpensive buyouts during the last two years of the deal.

Jake Odorizzi isn’t on Archer’s level, but has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining.

Acquiring top shelf pitchers, such as Gray, Quintana, or Archer, would require the Astros to part with some of their very best prospects.

Players such as Paulino, Martes, Kyle Tucker, and Derek Fisher will top the wish lists of trade partners.

A more expensive and older long-term option would be Jeff Samardzija of the San Francisco Giants. The 32-year-old is owed $59.4 million for the next three seasons.

A deal involving a high-priced veteran, such as Samardzija, wouldn’t require as many prospects going to a prospective seller, but Luhnow would relinquish a considerable amount of payroll flexibility with such a deal.

If the Astros prefer to go the rental route as they did with Kazmir, potential options include former Mariner Jason Vargas, current Ranger Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Jaime Garcia, and Matt Moore.

Whether Luhnow goes big at the deadline or shops the discount rack, he’s certain to add rotation help.

The Astros may hold onto their impressive division lead without adding pitching help. But, they won’t reach the World Series with a makeshift rotation.

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