Wheeling and dealing

Barry Laminack: A way-too-early look at potential trade options for Astros

A.J. Hinch could use some more weapons. Jason Behnken / Getty Images

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is July 31st, and trade talks don’t usually start to gain momentum until after the MLB draft in June, but when you are a baseball dork like me it is never too soon to start talking about potential trades for a team that's in contention and that everyone's excited about (yes, I'm talking about your Houston Astros).

There are some names being floated around on teams that are still in the hunt, but since we don’t know how that’s going to shake out, I tried to pull from teams I think will be out of it come the trade deadline (mostly because they are already out of it).

Those teams are:

Seattle Mariners*

Texas Rangers

Baltimore Orioles

Kansas City Royals

Chicago White Sox

San Diego Padres

Miami Marlins

Los Angeles Dodgers (I know, surprised me too)

Cincinnati Reds

*losing Cano was a huge blow

Now that we have that out of the way, let's look at the top options for the Astros (from the teams listed above).

LF/DH

There aren’t a lot of sexy names out there for left field, and by “not a lot” I mean NONE. Of course the Astros always have the options of adding a center fielder and moving Springer to right and Reddick to left, or adding a right fielder and moving Reddick to left, but outside of Adam Jones there really aren’t many sexy outfielders that will be on the market this year. And I hate to be the one to bring it up, but put Bryce Harper out of your mind Astros fan, it ain’t happening.

So I turn to the other spot in the order that needs some help...

DH

Nelson Cruz - Seattle Mariners

Contract Status: 2019 Free Agent

Now that the Mariners have lost Robinson Cano for the next 80 games, they should begin the fade I’ve been talking about (and expecting), albeit a little sooner than anticipated. By July the Mariners will be out of it and looking to offload some expiring contracts, Cruz among them.

Cruz brings a big bat with a lot of pop. He’ll strike out, but he’s also a legit deep threat and RBI machine. The 37 year old slugger probably peaked back in 2015 when he hit 44 home runs, drove in 93 runs and slashed .302/.369/.936, but he’d be a half year rental and insurance to try and match run for run with that Yankees lineup.

CLOSERS

It’s no secret that the biggest weakness on this Astros team right now is the bullpen, and two specific areas of need are a dominant closer and a lefty specialist.

Zach Britton - Baltimore Orioles

Contract Status: 2019 Free Agent

Britton has missed the entire year recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, but he’s working his way back now and looks to be back on the bump a soon as June. When healthy, he could solve a lot of problems for a lot of teams. The good news is, if he does return in early June, teams like the Astros will have about 6-7 weeks to see how he bounces back. That should be just enough time to decide if they want to make the move for a guy who saved 47 games in 2016. At this point, Britton is a rental, but one that might come a decent price given the injury.

Kelvin Herrera - Kansas City Royals

Contract Status: 2019 Free Agent

Despite having a down 2017, Herrera has top end closer stuff. He’s got a live fastball (97 mph avg) and can hit triple digits on the gun on occasion. Mix in a wipeout slider (83 mph avg) that he gets a ton of strikeouts on and an above average change that he uses almost as much as the slider.

A two-time all star (2015, 2016), he averages right at a strikeout per inning. He reached 26 saves last year, but don’t let those numbers fool you, he’s the real deal.

Brad Hand - San Diego Padres

Contract Status: Signed through 2020 (with a club option in 2021)

Brad Hand in the best closer you’ve never heard of (unless you listen to me gush over him around this time last year). He’s still a name that comes up when trade rumors and the San Diego Padres are discussed.

The upside of Hand is that he has 2+ more years of team control (not including the $10M team option in 2021). And because he’s only been closing games for a short time, he shouldn’t cost as much as Britton or Herrera, but that inexperience is also a risk for clubs (like the Astors) needing a sure thing at the back end of the bully.

Oh, and did I mention he’s a lefty?

BONUS NAME TO WATCH!

Jeurys Familia - New York Mets

Contract: 2019 Free Agent

I know I said I was pulling from a list of teams that are “out of it” but the Mets are already going to have to surpass six teams to earn a wild card spot (including the Nationals) and I don’t see that happening, so that’s why I think it’s worth keeping an eye on Jeurys Familia. He’s had some injury issues in the past, including missing most of 2017 with an arterial blood clot, but when you see back-to- back 43 and 51 save seasons, and a hot start to the 2018 season, you tend to salivate a little. His fastball tops out in the upper 90’s and he’s developed a devastating splitter. He can struggle with command on occasion but for the Astros he would be as sure of a thing as they had in the pen.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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