IT'S TRICKY

Essential factors to weigh when contemplating trade for infamous Astros hater

Essential factors to weigh when contemplating trade for infamous Astros hater
Trading for Cody Bellinger feels like a risky proposition. Composite Getty Image.
Astros bitten by the dog days, now being dealt a lucky hand

Whaddya think … should the Astros pursue acquiring outfielder Cody Bellinger before the MLB trade deadline in two weeks? Reports have the Astros making contact with the Chicago Cubs to see what it would take to land the bounce back Bellinger.

Adding Bellinger could boost the Astros good-guy image across the country. Bellinger would be the only Astro with a national commercial on TV. He pushes Dairy Queen Blizzards, and who doesn’t love DQ Blizzards? Besides Dairy Queen is “what I like about Texas” so a trade to Houston might help Bellinger’s endorsement portfolio.

In a related note, congratulations are in order for the Cake Batter Cookie Dough, named Blizzard of the Month for July. Personally, I can’t get off the Chocolate Brownie Xtreme year-’round. I get mine with a triple shot of choco chunks and cocoa fudge.

More important, If a deal gets done, which Cody Bellinger would the Astros be getting – a much-needed lefty bat and former National League MVP who batted .305 and belted 47 homers with a .629 slugging percentage in 2019 for the Dodgers, and currently is hitting .301 for the Cubs?

Or the Cody Bellinger who followed his MVP season with batting averages of .239, .165 and .210?

Plus don’t forget any bad blood between Bellinger and the Astros that may linger from 2020 when Bellinger unloaded on the Astros over the 2017 sign-stealing scandal.

After Astros players skated free from any punishment by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, Bellinger said, “I thought the apologies were whatever. I thought Jim Crane’s was weak. I thought Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving (players) immunity. Those guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don’t realize is Altuve stole the MVP from Judge in ‘17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”

When then-Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said, “If you don’t know the facts, then you got to shut the f-up” he was talking about Bellinger.

Only two Astros from the 2017 World Series champs are still on the roster: Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Both are influential voices in the clubhouse and front office. Several players remain from the 2020 roster, when Bellinger unleashed his criticism of the team.

If Bellinger were to join the Astros, presumably he would share left field and DH duties with the returning Yordan Alvarez.

Alvarez/Bellinger in left, Chas McCormick/Jake Meyers in center, and Kyle Tucker in right – that’s an outfield that can push for a World Series repeat.

It’s a curious outfield for sure. There are only two position players in the Major Leagues who throw lefty and bat righty – and the Astros have both of them: McCormick and Meyers. Curiously, the other two, Alvarez and Tucker, throw righty and bat lefty.

Of course we don’t know what the Astros would have to send to the Cubs in exchange for Bellinger. He wouldn’t come cheap. But regardless of who’s in the Astros trade package, the arrival of Bellinger would impact the Astros everyday lineup.

With Bellinger or Alvarez in the lineup, where would that leave Yanier Diaz the Astros current DH? Diaz also can play first base, but that’s held down by the seemingly immovable Jose Abreu. Diaz also can play catcher, and that’s where manager Dusty Baker would face a decision. Is it possible that Baker would swallow his stubbornness and demote Martin Maldonado to the bench in favor of Diaz? Judging by fans’ pleas on talk radio and social media, it would be a welcome move.

Maldonado is hitting an anemic .171 and slugging .301. He has seven passed balls and is throwing out only 16 percent of attempted base stealers. That’s below average for MLB catchers. With teams swiping bases like crazy this year – 50-percent more attempts than 2022 – opponents know they can run on the Astros with Maldy behind the plate.

Diaz is hitting .261 and slugging .487. On the rare occasions he gets to play catcher (20 starts), he’s throwing out 42 percent of attempted base stealers - that’s double the MLB average. He has zero passed balls.

The addition of Bellinger would shake up the defending World Series champs’ lineup. Would you be OK with that? Whaddya think?

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It's go time! Composite Getty Image.

96 games down, 66 games to go as the Astros tackle a fairly significant series in Seattle to open up the figurative second half of the season Friday night. It’s actually just over 40 percent of the schedule remaining. With the Astros having closed within one game of the Mariners in the American League West it’s the biggest series possible for them as the season resumes. But it’s not remotely make or break. Measuring by run differential the Astros should already be out front. They have outscored their opponents by 49 runs while Seattle is just plus-19. The actual standings can be explained in no small part by this comparison: in one-run games the Astros are a pitiful 7-17 while the Mariners are 19-14.

The spectrum of outcomes this weekend ranges from the Astros sweeping and leaving the Emerald City two games on top, to getting swept and heading down the coast to Oakland four games behind. Of note, the Mariners beat the Astros in five of the seven meetings to date this season. So if Seattle wins this series it clinches the season series and playoff tiebreaker should a spot come down to it. The Astros and Mariners have another series to come after this one, three games in Houston the final week of the regular season.

Trade deadline looming

What may be even more important than this weekend’s games is who gets what done between now and the July 30 trade deadline. With Justin Verlander clearly not close to returning, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss both performance question marks, and both Ronel Blanco and Hunter Brown being asked to handle unprecedented workloads for them, the Astros’ rotation needs obvious fortification. The Mariners’ rotation is second to none in the American League and their bullpen is good. Seattle’s lineup is atrocious. The Chicago White Sox are on pace to be one of the worst teams of all-time. The ChiSox’ offense is a joke with a team batting average of .220. The Mariners’ team average is .219. Only the White Sox and pathetic Marlins are scoring fewer runs per game than the M’s.

The Mariners have 11 players with at least 100 at bats this season. Eight of them have an OPS of .690 or lower. Cal Raleigh has the highest at .734. The Astros have 12 guys with at least 100 at bats including Jose Abreu. Abreu, Chas McCormick, and Mauricio Dubon are the only .690 or worse OPS guys. Kyle Tucker is the Astros’ OPS leader by a significant margin, .979 to Yordan Alvarez’s .912. What’s that you ask? Who is this Kyle Tucker? 35 missed games and counting for “Tuck” with his leg bone bruise, with return not imminent. T-Mobile Park is a notably better pitchers’ park than is Minute Maid Park, but not enough to shrug off the Mariners’ offensive ineptitude. The Mariners team payroll is more than 100 million dollars below the Astros’ payroll. The Mariners have the clearly better farm system from which to deal. If Seattle doesn’t add offense, its ownership and front office will deserve a continued fade in the second half, on top of the Mariners’ 8-15 gimp into the All-Star break.

Don't forget about the Rangers

With the Astros and Mariners going at it this weekend with the division lead in the balance, a reminder that this is not a two-team race. The Texas Rangers rallying to take the final two games at Minute Maid Park last weekend sent up a flare that the reigning World Series Champions are definitely still in the picture. The Rangers sit four games behind the Astros, five back of the Mariners. If the Rangers manage to win their series in Arlington with the Orioles this weekend, they are guaranteed to gain ground on at least one team ahead of them. The Astros-Rangers season series sits tied at five wins apiece with three games left, it will be decided in Arlington the first week of August. The Rangers and Mariners play seven more times.

In broader view, as measured by opponents’ records, the Astros have the toughest remaining schedule among the three. Among the 30 big league clubs the Rangers have the fourth easiest slate left, the Mariners have the fifth easiest, the Astros have the 15th easiest. If the Astros ultimately are not to win the West, there is the Wild Card race to keep in mind. The Astros are seven games behind the Yankees, four behind the Twins, and three and a half back of the Red Sox. Those three currently hold the Wild Card spots. The Astros are also a game and a half behind the Royals. The Astros have already lost the season series and tiebreakers to the Yankees, Twins, and Royals. The Astros and Red Sox have all six of their meetings yet to come.

Remembering Ken Hoffman

This is my first column since the passing last Sunday of my friend and eventual colleague Ken Hoffman. I originally learned of Ken’s quirkiness and wit through his columns at the Houston Post. He was a big sports fan. Our friendship was driven in part by our shared passion for tennis. We played probably more than a thousand times over nearly 20 years. Tennis and baseball were Ken’s two favorite sports. His two favorite athletes were Roger Federer and Jose Altuve. Well, after he and his wife Erin’s son Andrew, who was a pitcher on Trinity University’s 2016 NCAA Division Three national championship-winning team.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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