The Houston Astros don't need a trade to make the playoffs. With a 16 game lead in the AL West, the Astros should make the playoffs with 67 games left in the season. If Jeff Luhnow sees a way to improve this team for the playoffs, he will pull the trigger if it's the right price. If he's to acquire a starting pitcher, he wants one with playoff experience and multi-year team control.
Some pitchers would be nice to have, but their teams will not trade them. These are Michael Fulmer, Chris Archer, Gerrit Cole, Marcus Stroman, and Jacob deGrom. All these players are on teams unlikely to trade their young stars. If Luhnow manages to get one of these players, you can expect a massive haul for the other teams.
Who is on the Astros radar?
The names that we have heard recently from Jon Morosi are that the Astros are hot for Sonny Gray and could turn to Justin Verlander. There are conflicting reports on Gray as Jon Heyman mentioned that he hadn't heard anything serious between the A's and the Astros. Heyman went on to state that the Astros were moving on from Gray to other options.
Some experts would say that while Gray may not be an ace, he has the best stuff on the trade market at the moment. This could be why the Astros have not acquired him yet because they are waiting for a more impact arm to hit the market. The Athletics are waiting to see if another team can beat the package the Astros are offering.
Could they still be negotiating?
It was rumored that the trade was close yesterday and it could happen sometime this weekend. This is negotiating. The Astros want only to give this much and the A's want this much. They will either work it out, or negotiations will break off, and both sides move on. My guess is that the Athletics are waiting for the Astros to agree to trade Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker.
Derek Fisher and Franklin Perez could be the other prospects the Astros are willing to trade. They rank currently as the fourth and second top prospects by Baseball America. Tucker is the top prospect and Whitley is the fifth top prospect as ranked by Baseball America. Losing Perez could sting, but the Astros would have Gray for 2.5 years.
Francis Martes has settled into a bullpen role this year, but projects as a top of the rotation guy. People could also be intrigued by the bats of A.J. Reed, Tyler White, and Colin Moran. It would hurt to trade for Gray, but he does have two playoffs starts in 2013. The 27-year-old righty has a 6-4 record with a 3.64 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 91 innings.
Prediction: The Astros trade for Gray.
The backup plan.
If the Astros fail to land Gray, they will probably see if they can get two pitchers from the Tigers according to Morosi. The 29-year-old lefty Justin Wilson is being targeted by many teams, including the Astros. It was rumored that there was almost a trade for Wilson in the offseason in return for Fisher. Wilson has 50 strikeouts in 36 innings with a 2.75 ERA.
The second player could be a former ace, Justin Verlander, who is coming off a season where he finished second in the AL Cy Young Award. Verlander is throwing as hard as he has but has struggled with command and has allowed 14 homers. His ERA is 4.54 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 117 innings.
The problem is the $56 million dollars Verlander is owed over the next two years plus the prorated $28 million for 2017. He does have a $22 million vesting option for 2020, but that triggers if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young race in 2019. The Tigers would have to absorb some of that money or take fewer prospects in return. Morosi suggested that Wilson and Verlander could be packaged together to get the most in return for the Astros.
Should those two options fail, the Astros can focus on left-handed relievers to complement Tony Sipp. Names like Zach Britton, Brad Hand, or Wilson. The Padres are seeking a high return for Hand, and the Astros were reported to be motivated to get Britton. Adding another reliever could help stabilize the bullpen. The Astros are in a holding pattern waiting for the best deal.
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***Stats from Baseball-Reference***