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3 scenarios Astros must avoid at all costs with trade deadline looming

3 scenarios Astros must avoid at all costs with trade deadline looming
Framber Valdez is one of three untouchable players. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Why avoiding arbitration with Framber Valdez is a sign of good things to come for Astros

MLB changed the trade deadline rules. Gone are the days of the regular deadline and the waiver wire deadline a month later. The Astros benefitted best from the waiver wire deadline, the most of any team I can think of in 2017. With what was reported as literal minutes or seconds to spare, they completed the deal for Justin Verlander. They went on to win a World Series that year and last year. Verlander threw in two Cy Young Awards amongst other awards and career milestones during his time in Houston.

Now that there's only one trade deadline, teams have to be more diligent. Whether selling or buying, teams have to do their homework and be ready to make a deal by 6PM EST on August 1 this year. Every year around this time, there are tons of rumors. Most of the scuttlebutt is about what players teams are potentially trading for. Another good portion is about players who are supposedly on the trading block.

The Astros are no different. This year, the rumors are exclusively about whom they may trade for. They're still trailing the Arlington Junk Grabbers by a few games in the division. Houston is currently in position to win a wildcard spot. A lock to make the playoffs wouldn't be a stretch, but it isn't guaranteed. Whether they trade for an arm, a bat, or both, they need to make a move/some moves. Whatever they decide to do, these are the guys I will not consider trading under any circumstances:

José Altuve: This man is a future Hall of Famer. He's Mr. Astro. You can argue Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, or whoever me all you want! THIS is the man people think of now when you think Astros baseball! He's a former MVP, batting champ, and was a key figure in two World Series wins. Some athletes earn the right to go out the way they see fit. Altuve has earned the right to do so here in Houston. I would give the death stare and silent treatment to anyone who calls about him as part of any trade.

Yordan Alvarez: The same way I revere Altuve for what he's done so far for this organization, that's the same way I feel about Yordan's future. He's taken over as the team's best hitter. Altuve owned that title, but his slide in recent years (coupled with Yordan's rise) has led many a fan to this conclusion. When he signed an extension through the 2028 season at a team friendly rate, he cemented himself as a long-term Astro. His ascension as a hitter, and his improved defense, has made him an untouchable in my eyes. Teams dream of All Star-caliber players locked up long-term on team friendly deals. When you have one, you do not trade them.

Framber Valdez: He's arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now. Debate that with your mom because I said what I said. He's the ace of this staff now that Verlander is wallowing in his own misery in New York. This season he's fifth in ERA, ninth in WHIP, averages 9.9 Ks per nine innings, and is 10th in innings pitched. His 7-6 record speaks more to his run support than his 2.76 ERA. Every great team has a staff with an ace of spades and the Great Frambino is that ace. He's arbitration eligible for two more years after this year, which means he's going to be relatively cheap for another two years. That makes him even more untouchable.

These three guys I'd put up against any other three in the league for what they mean to this team, this season. If you found a way to clone Willie Mays and turned the time machine back on Nolan Ryan, I might think about it. Outside of that, I'm willing to go into a fight with these three. Are there better individual players out there? Yes. Can a team put together three other guys I'd take over these guys? No. I want to see a move/some moves made before the deadline. Those moves need not involve any of these guys. I'd prefer to see each one retire in blue and orange.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*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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