WHEELING AND DEALING

Patrick Creighton: 5 potential Astros trade targets

Josh Donaldson might add pop as a DH. Wikipedia

Now that the calendar has turned to June, it’s officially trade watch season.  While the Mariners and Rays completed an early deal, this is usually when the speculation starts to get hot and heavy.

While the Astros starting pitching has been tremendous, the bullpen has had its struggles and some spots in the order (DH/LF) have regressed and are not producing.

In a season where the Yankees and Red Sox appear to have improved significantly, the Astros will likely seek some upgrades as the deadline approaches.  Here are five potential trade targets:

Kelvin Herrera  CL Royals

This guy should be front and center at the top of the list.  Herrera has become an elite closer in MLB, and the lowly Royals will find him a luxury they cannot afford next season.

Herrera is making just under $8M and will be a free agent at season’s end.  The Royals are in full rebuild, and the Astros are one of the teams in baseball that are loaded with minor league talent to help Kansas City in their process.  The Royals are a bad organization from top to bottom, and have what is universally considered to be the worst farm system in baseball.

In 2018, Herrera is 1-1 with 13 saves.  In 22.2 IP, he has a 0.79 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, and 19Ks.  He has not walked a batter all season. Herrera would bring a dominating presence to the back of the pen.

Acquiring him would also hurt the Indians, who are having their own bullpen woes as well.

Jeurys Familia   CL Mets

Familia should be the backup plan if Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is unable or unwilling to meet what will likely be a sky high price for Herrera.

After a down season in 2017, Familia has regained his form, increasing strikeouts and decreasing walks.  Familia is used to a heavy workload (43 Sv in 2015, 51 Sv in 2016), has postseason experience, and is also a free agent at season’s end.  Familia is making just under $8M in 2018.

As the Mets’ injuries continue to pile up, so do their losses, and Familia will definitely be on the trade block.

In 2018, Familia is 2-3 with 14 saves.  In 29 IP, he has a 2.48 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and a 33/9 K/BB ratio.   He would take over as the Astros closer, and steady the back of the pen.  Expect him to find some rejuvenation being back on a contender in a walk year as well.  

Josh Donaldson   3B/DH Blue Jays

The 2015 MVP has been beset by shoulder and calf injuries this season but will have plenty of time to show he is healthy before the deadline.

The “Bringer of Rain” is a legit power bat that is capable of playing both corner infield spots and has experience as a DH. Donaldson had 33 HR and 78 RBI in only 113 games a season ago while slashing .270/.385/.559.

Donaldson will be the Jays biggest trade chip at the deadline, and he would inject a bolt of power into the Astros’  “Jekyll & Hyde” offense.

While currently on the DL, Donaldson is hitting .234/.333/.423 this season in 36 games, with 5 HR and 16 RBI.  His value will be more heavily determined on his health and how he hits when he returns from DL. He is making $23M in the final year of his contract.

Donaldson’s shoulder woes this season have impacted his throwing, and are likely to help drive down the cost to acquire him, as he’s best served DHing this season.

Mike Moustakas   3B/DH Royals

“Moose” found no takers on the market for his services coming off a 38 HR season.  So far in 2018, Moustakas has proven that power spike was not an anomaly, as he already has 12 HR and 40 RBI in 239 AB.

Moustakas is also on a team friendly 1 year/$6.5M deal with a mutual option for $15M in 2019 (it has a super team friendly $1M buyout).

The Royals are guaranteed to be sellers and Moose would be an instant upgrade at DH.  He also brings balance to the lineup as a left handed hitter.

Zach Britton  CL Orioles

The Astros nearly pulled the trigger for Britton at the non-waiver deadline last season before Orioles ownership nixed the deal at the last second.  

The 30 year old lefty has been one of the better closers in baseball since 2014, but injuries have beset him the past 2 seasons.

Currently Britton is on the DL after having surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles.  He is expected to be activated off the DL June 15.

So far Brit isn’t pitching back-to-back days on his rehab assignment at Triple-A Norfolk, but he is expected to do so this weekend.

If he can prove healthy and able to regain his prior All-Star form, he could be the Astros guy at a cheaper cost than either Herrera or Familia.

In 2016 (his last fully healthy season), Britton was 2-1 with an AL leading 47 saves.  In 67 IP, he had a 0.54 ERA, 0.836 WHIP, and a strong 74/18 K/BB ratio. He is in the final year of a deal that will pay him $12M.

Patrick Creighton hosts “Late Hits” weeknights 7-9p on ESPN 97.5 Houston, and “Straight Heat” weeknights 9p-12a CT on SB Nation Radio & SportsMap 94.1 Houston.   Follow him on Twitter: @pcreighton1

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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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