Why the Astros should have these priority trade targets in their sights

Astros Jim Crane, Jose Altuve, Dana Brown
The Astros need another starting pitcher. Composite Getty Image.

With three and a half weeks to Major League Baseball’s July 30 trade deadline, the Astros’ stampede from 10 games back to within two games of impotent and staggering Seattle in the American League West obviously changes their approach. The Astros were a couple of bad weeks from needing to enter sell mode but that is delightfully completely off the table. As in, gone is any notion of getting what you can for Alex Bregman before losing him for nothing but a compensatory draft pick. General Manager Dana Brown will have failed if he does not add a starting pitcher. Just remember, Brown could fail at the deadline but still have his team win the West or nab a Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, if Mariners’ cheapo ownership doesn’t authorize taking on significant salary for some hitting and/or GM Jerry Dipoto doesn’t acquire same, they should be run out of the Emerald City.

The Astros should be in hard for a decent starter such as Colorado’s Cal Quantrill. Counting on Luis Garcia to come back and pitch very well is hope, not smart expectation. Counting on Lance McCullers to come back at all should probably be regarded as hope, not expectation. Justin Verlander’s status is very up in the air. Unless Spencer Arrighetti’s command makes a sudden leap in quality, he is not a quality starter. Ronel Blanco and Hunter Brown are carrying the rotation. Imagine uttering that sentence in March! Both guys are on course to blow past previous professional highs in innings pitched. Does their excellence hold up? Framber Valdez is yielding too many big innings, but overall remains a critical contributor.

A bunch of other playoff hopefuls have much better farm systems than the Astros and can dangle more highly regarded prospects as trade bait, but we’re not talking about Justin Verlander or Zack Greinke level acquisitions. If the White Sox are to deal Garrett Crochet, who is under team control through 2026, the Astros don’t have the goods to make a winning offer. For the ChiSox’ Erik Fedde? Make an offer and see what happens. Fedde is signed for next year at seven and a half million dollars. I mentioned Quantrill earlier. He makes just over six and a half mil this year and is arbitration eligible for 2025.

Yordan is on fire!

It seemed impossible at the time that Yordan Alvarez mustered just two home runs and four runs batted in for the entire month of May. In June he exceeded those totals on the third, and basically hasn’t stopped pounding away since. In his last 27 games the Cuban Missile Launcher is batting .367, has mashed 10 homers, and driven in 27 runs. That’s easy math to extrapolate over 162 games: 60 homers and 162 runs batted in. Not coincidentally the Astros’ offense has taken off with him. After what he did in Toronto this week it would be understandable if the Blue Jays tried to have Yordan’s passport temporarily voided next season to keep him out of Canada. Having just turned 27 last week, Alvarez is on an early Hall of Fame track. Yet amazingly, in this his fourth full season in the Major Leagues, Aaron Judge has been better than Alvarez in all of them. Of course, Astros fans can giddily taunt Yankees fans by asking “Would you like to compare their postseason performances?”

Speaking of amazing, that fairly summarizes Jose Altuve’s career, which has another banner season in progress and a ninth All-Star selection to show for it. Altuve is within three of the record for most All-Star teams made as a second baseman. Hall of Famers Nellie Fox and Roberto Alomar were each picked 12 times, Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg 10. It should be noted that the All-Star game didn’t come into being until 1933, so all-time greats like Rogers Hornsby and Eddie Collins couldn’t rack up selections. Back to Altuve. He last reached 170 hits in a season in his 2017 Most Valuable Player Award campaign. He is on pace for 203 hits this season. Still, Joe Espada needs to be mindful of giving Altuve some days off through the dog days of summer. Somewhat bizarrely, after two strikeouts to go with two hits Thursday, Altuve is on pace to strike out a whopping 137 times this season. Altuve’s career high in strikeouts is 91. I say somewhat bizarrely in that it is explainable. Altuve swings harder much more frequently than he did in his younger days. That brings more swing and miss. Also, at 34 years old while still fabulous, Altuve is more vulnerable to whiffing on breaking balls. Jeff Bagwell’s career-worst strikeout season was 135, Lance Berkman’s 125, Carlos Lee’s 94. It’s a different era.

No Tucker, no problem

Kyle Tucker has now missed more than a month since not suffering “major damage” when he fouled a ball off his right shin. I wouldn’t call the best player on the team being out more than a month “minor damage.” Anyway, it makes the Astros’ offensive surge much more impressive that it has occurred with Tucker not a part of it. The time lost probably cost Tucker a first time selection as an All-Star Game starter. Judge and Juan Soto were two obvious American League outfielder choices. Tucker had been the obvious third, but missing what is now 30 percent of the Astros’ schedule played to date ended that. His overall numbers are still stout enough that Tucker should be named a reserve for a third year in a row, though there is zero chance of him playing in the game. Cleveland’s Steven Kwan has been outstanding and won the vote for the third slot, though he has actually played only 59 games vs. Tucker’s 60. Boston’s Jarren Duran clearly should be the third AL outfield starter.

*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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Astros beat the Mariners 4-2. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a go-ahead two-run homer off former Houston reliever Ryne Stanek in the seventh inning, and the Astros beat the Seattle Mariners 4-2 on Saturday night to take sole possession of the AL West lead for the first time this year.

Stuck playing catchup through the first 3½ months of the season, Houston has won six of eight to climb into first place all alone.

Seattle lost its fifth straight and fell out of first place for the first time since May 11.

Meyers drove a 1-2 pitch from Stanek (6-3) to right-center field for his 11th homer. Stanek opened the inning by walking Jeremy Peña, and the homer by Meyers cost George Kirby the chance at a victory after he allowed one run in six innings.

Yainer Diaz added a solo homer in the eighth off reliever Trent Thornton that bounced off the top of the wall.

Julio Rodríguez snapped Seattle’s 14-inning scoreless drought when his two-run homer off Framber Valdez gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead in the sixth. It was his 11th of the season and Rodríguez nearly hit a second longball in the eighth off Ryan Pressly only to watch Trey Cabbage make a leaping catch at the wall in right field.

It was one of two terrific defensive plays by the Astros in the eighth as Joey Loperfido ended the inning with a diving grab of Mitch Garver’s drive into the left-field corner and saved one run from scoring.

Valdez pitched 5 2/3 innings. He allowed three hits, four walks and struck out six. Tayler Scott (7-3) got the final out of the sixth before Bryan Abreu, Pressly and Josh Hader closed out the final three innings. Hader earned his 20th save.

Kirby allowed four hits and struck out six. Houston’s only run off him came on Peña’s infield single that scored Alex Bregman in the fourth.

UNUSUAL STRIKEOUT

Houston slugger Yordan Alvarez struck out to end the first inning when he was called for a pitch-clock violation for not being ready in the box prior to a 3-2 delivery from Kirby.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHPs Justin Verlander (neck discomfort) and Luis Garcia (Tommy John surgery) threw bullpens. Verlander threw about 40 pitches with increased intensity, while Garcia threw 15 pitches. Both are expected to throw again sometime early next week. … C Victor Caratini (hip) was expected to catch for a second straight day at Double-A Corpus Christi.

UP NEXT

Astros: RHP Ronel Blanco (9-4, 2.56 ERA) has allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven straight starts, but lost to Texas in his last outing before the All-Star break.

Mariners: RHP Bryan Woo (3-1, 2.45) will make just his second start since June 24. Woo allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings on July 12.

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