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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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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