Trade Deadline Arms Race

Houston Astros: 3 trade deadline scenarios

Jeff Luhnow has no shortage of potential moves at his fingertips. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Take a moment to rewind to 2012.  The Houston Astros were 33-53 heading into the All-Star Break.  They were 15.5 games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL Central crown, and first year General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s main concern was trading away team ace Wandy Rodriguez.

The Astros have changed ownership, leagues, and a whole lot of personnel since then, but Jeff Luhnow still remains.  For perspective, Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve are the only players who remain from that forgettable season. Following the first title in franchise history, Luhnow is looking to bolster a roster that looks potent enough to be the first MLB team to repeat as champions since the New York Yankees’ string of titles in the late 1990s.  What path might the Astros take in the coming weeks?

1)Trade for J.T. Realmuto

J.T. Realmuto is arguably the best catcher in baseball, and in my opinion, he is the best catcher in baseball.  Starting with traditional stats, Realmuto’s .317 batting average, 13 homers, and 44 RBI are first, tied-for-second, and third respectively amongst MLB catchers.  He looks just as good in the advanced stat category, where he boasts a 149 wRC+ and 3.5 WAR. Both numbers lead catchers leaguewide. Realmuto also has a reputation as a spectacular baserunner and good defensive catcher.  Oh, and he’s doing all of this playing for the lowly Miami Marlins. Imagine what he would do hitting between Carlos Correa and Josh Reddick instead of Brian Anderson and Justin Bour.

Realmuto won’t come cheap, as he won’t be a free agent until 2021.  The Marlins are in 2012 Astros rebuild mode, and they’ll be looking for the best return possible for their biggest fish.  The Astros have made it clear that Forrest Whitley and Kyle Tucker are off limits, but the farm system should still be deep enough to make a deal with Miami.  With Brian McCann on the shelf and likely on his way out of town at the end of the year, catcher is a need. Anybody have a problem dipping into the farm system to add the best catcher in baseball? No? How about having him until 2021? No again? Yeah, me neither.

2) Trade for a Reliever…but who?

Listen.  The Astros bullpen is spectacular.  The Houston Astros don't really need another reliever or a closer, but this is the era of the super-bullpen, and the Astros don't have a scary three-headed monster at the back of the bullpen like the present day Yankees or the 2015 world champion Kansas City Royals.

Raisel Iglesias, Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, and Brad Hand have all been tied to the Astros.  Iglesias is both the best and most likely option of those four. Iglesias is a failed-starter-turned-closer that’s in his second full season closing games, and in 2018 he has a 2.48 ERA with 18 saves over 37 games and 40 innings pitched.  In those 40 innings he has struck out 43 and walked 14, which translates to a 9.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. All respectable numbers.

However, not every statistic is glamorous.  Iglesias has a 4.05 FIP, indicating that he could be a bit lucky and face some regression.  Hitters have a .234 BABIP against him, which is considerably lower than its been over the rest of his career.  Could it mean he’s gotten better? Maybe. Could it mean he’s been a little lucky this year? Probably. I still wouldn’t have any complaints about adding an arm of his caliber to an already elite bullpen.

3) Stand Pat and Trust the Kids

Houston is 62-32, leads the AL West by 4.0 games, and is all but a lock for the postseason.  The team doesn’t have a clear hole, and a midseason acquisition isn’t a necessity. People have proposed trading for Jose Abreu or Mike Moustakas, which would likely lead to Yuli Gurriel playing left field, but young phenom Kyle Tucker is expected to be the every day left fielder now.  The Astros have even more depth in AAA, like A.J. Reed, Myles Straw, J.D. Davis, Garrett Stubbs and Yordan Alvarez. On the mound they have Rogelio Armenteros, Francis Martes, Riley Ferrell, and Cy Sneed. Just last week they called up top prospect Cionel Perez from AA, but sent him back to Corpus Christi before he ever made an appearance.  There’s no reason that if concerns arise that those prospects can’t plug the holes.

I bet Luhnow is enjoying his job a lot more in 2018 than he was in 2012.

 

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

As things continue to relax as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, a return to a semblance of normalcy seems imminent. The NBA has some parameters in place for a potential return. Training camps are set to open late this month and the season is supposed to open July 31. Whether that's the rumored Disney-centered one-stop shop or another form, they have a plan in place to return. There's also no argument between the league and players going back and forth about money either (MLB could learn a lesson here).

So when it comes to the potential return, how does that fare for the local team? The Rockets were 40-24 and tied for the fifth seed in the West when the season was shut down. Since they're getting ready to return potentially, we need to be looking at what chances they may have in making a run in the playoffs towards an NBA title.



Harden's new physique

According to his new trainer, James Harden has done more cardio workouts and lost some weight. Specifically, he's done more football player workouts as opposed to basketball player workouts. There was a pic of Harden floating around showing an obvious loss of weight. His new-found cardio and weight loss could mean more late-game and late-season success for Harden and the Rockets.

Westbrook's edge

Russell Westbrook has a competitive fire that can't be put out. It's like one of those never-ending burning torches you see at monuments. He wants nothing more than to prove he's a winner on a high level. Given that he's reunited with a long time friend in Harden, his competitive nature could help fill the gap where Harden may lack. These two have proven they can coexist very well this season. Now could be their time to take surge.

Small-ball

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela, they fully committed to small-ball. There were times they didn't have a guy in the lineup over 6'5. The tallest guy that gets regular time is roughly 6'8. The smaller, quicker lineup is an advantage on the offensive end, but can be a huge liability on the defensive end. Given the stoppage and restart of the season, it could help them. Suppose other teams are sluggish and can't get their chemistry straight. Houston's advantage is that they go through one or two guys and eat off their shooting. Shooting can be worked on during times like these, whereas other aspects of your game can't.


I'm not saying the Rockets have a built-in advantage, but they have as good a shot as they've ever had in the past. The field is wide open to any team that's in the playoff hunt. No team will have a built-in advantage over others. With the Rockets' unique brand of ball, they may be able to make a run at a title this season. Couple that with Harden's weight loss and Westbrook's competitive nature, it could be very interesting. Whenever the NBA comes back this season, which I believe they will, I think this team has a legit shot at winning it all.

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