LET'S MAKE A DEAL
With Benintendi off the market, here are 3 trade targets in Astros sights
With Major League Baseball’s trade deadline less than a week away, the Astros once again find themselves in playoff contention and will look to add pivotal pieces to make another World Series run.
On paper it seems as though Houston already has a complete team, but there is always room for improvement.
Sure, the Astros could add a few bullpen pieces and call it a day, similar to last season, but this year feels different. Houston has a winning record against arguably the two best teams in the league (4-0 against the Mets and 5-2 against the Yankees) and owns the second-best record in baseball.
Needless to say, this season is a World Series or bust year so it would behoove the club to make a blockbuster type trade to ensure their continued dominance over the rest of Major League Baseball.
The Astros have already been attached to a couple of big name players and look to be aggressive before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
One trade candidate that makes sense for the Astros is Washington Nationals’ first baseman Josh Bell.
Sure Houston already has last year's batting champion at first base, but Yuli Guriel is having a down year by his standards. The 38-year-old is hitting a career low (excluding the 2020 partial season) .234/.286/.383. He has improved over the last month, but isn’t nearly as effective at the plate as he was in previous seasons.
Bell on the other hand is hitting .304/.388/.494 on a last place Nationals team and could be a potential upgrade compared to Gurriel.
The 29-year-old might just be a rental player as he is a free agent at the end of this season, so it shouldn’t cost the Astros too much in prospects for a trade to occur.
The former All-Star wouldn't outright replace, Gurriel, but could be used in a platoon role at first base.
Another way to look at Bell coming to Houston would be he could split time at first base and be a designated hitter to alleviate stress for both Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez.
Bell’s bat would be a welcome addition to the Astros lineup, and surely Dusty Baker could find a way for both Gurriel and Bell to split time at first base.
One player who has been on the mind of every Astros front office executive for a while now is Chicago Cubs’ catcher Willson Contreras.
Similar to the aforementioned Gurriel dilemma, Houston already has an everyday starting catcher in Martin Maldonado that everyone in the clubhouse seems to like.
The issue with the 35-year-old is an obvious one, he is not a good hitter and neither are the Astros' other catchers.
Maldonado’s .237 on-base percentage is the fifth-lowest mark among 260 hitters with 200+ plate appearances on the season.
The Astros have also been without Jason Castro for almost a month now, with no update on the severity of his knee injury.
Houston’s current backup catcher Korey Lee has shown flashes of success at the plate, but is still developing and may need more time before he is ready to become the club's everyday starting catcher.
Contreras on the other hand has always been an offense-first catcher, something the Astros have not had since the days of Evan Gattis and Brian McCann.
Assuming the Astros were to deal for the 3x All-Star, he could slot into a backup catcher/ designated hitter role. That way the pitchers could still work with Maldonado and the team can use Contreras off the bench in late game pitch hit situations or to give Maldy the day off occasionally.
Similarly to the Josh Bell scenario, trading for the 2022 All-Star starting catcher shouldn’t cost much, as he can walk at the end of the season via free agency. That’s not to say the Cubs won’t ask a lot for one of the last remaining core players from their 2016 World Series championship team, though.
The Astros might have to give up some better prospects for Contreras’ services, but it would be worth it to insure their catching position is in good hands.
One of the best elements of this Astros team has been their starting pitching. Justin Verlander is having another Cy Young caliber season coming off Tommy John sugary and Framber Valdez made his first All-Star team this year. Other pitchers such as Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier are having good seasons as well.
With Jake Odorizzi as the sixth man in this rotation and Lance McCullers Jr currently undergoing a rehab assignment, it’s safe to say the Astros don’t need anymore starting pitching, right?
Yes, but Houston could make an exception for another potential ace in their rotation.
Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Luis Castillo has a 2.77 ERA and 82 strikeouts this season despite pitching in a hitter-friendly home ballpark.
The 29-year-old could fit right in to this rotation, and the Astros could move someone such as Odorizzi or Garcia and prospects to make room for the Reds' ace.
Castillo has one more year of arbitration eligibility before he hits free agency in 2024, so the extra year of control may be enticing for Astros if they were to trade for him.
Although not a necessity, having another 2022 All-Star on this already loaded pitching staff would further solidify the Astros’ rotation as the best in baseball.
Houston may have one of the best teams as it currently stands, but adding a player like Bell, Contreras or Castillo could be just what the Astros need to make it back and potentially win the World Series.