The Astros have arrived at a pivotal moment. While the tipping point obviously occurred months or even years ago, general manager Jeff Luhnow now faces decisions he’s never faced as the leader of the Astros’ baseball operations.
And, it’s not as simple as buy, sell or stand pat.
As the Astros prepare to complete a series in Arizona on Thursday, the times have changed. No one is laughing anymore. The team has as many as four legitimate All Star candidates. Fewer scoffers are showing up on blogs and radio shows. Six teams, in fact, have worse records than Houston.
No, we shouldn’t declare “Mission Accomplished”. We all know how that worked out for another famous Texan. But the game has changed over the last three months. And even the breaks are beginning to go the Astros’ way.
So let’s take a look at the three arguments.
Scenario #1: Buyers.
Hard to imagine, but the Astros could be buyers at the trade deadline. At 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card race, it is certainly tempting. But where would they add? And which prospect or major league player(s) would be the trade bait?
The bigger question: What or who would you trade for? Unless you’re looking for one-or-two-year gap filler at shortstop or some short-term bullpen upgrade, most every other position has a player of the future or has someone pushing their way toward the major league roster soon. Catcher, first, second, third and two outfield positions are strong, if not solid. You can argue the rotation could use a fifth starter, but would Michael Foltynewicz and others will be available soon.
Still, if the Astros are at .500 and/or 4-6 games out of the race, it will be tempting to assess the buyer’s option.
Scenario #2: Sellers.
Not only hard, but very hard to imagine. The high-dollar, aging players are fewer and farther between. Few Oswalts, Pences, Bourns, Myers or others. Sure, there are some players that could draw attention and attract some high-level prospects, but why trade Dexter Fowler, Chad Qualls, or Jason Castro just when the team has turned the corner?
No, this is actually the worst of the three options for the Astros this summer. The only trades Houston should consider would be lesser exchanges involving Jesus Guzman, Alex Presley or perhaps a trade of Tony Sipp or Darin Downs while their stock is high. Chris Carter is also an option if the Astros could upgrade.
Scenario #3: Stand pat.
Perhaps the best of the three scenarios. And the most likely. Jim Crane, Luhnow and the entire organization have been extremely patient to stick with the plan. Why would that change now? With so many viable options a year or two away at a variety of positions, Houston could solve many of its problems and fill many of the existing holes by just hanging on.
The outfield is bubbling with possibilities and that could force Luhnow’s hand soon with Fowler. The team has already faced decisions on the rotation and the tough choices will only continue later this season and into 2015. The middle infield? Second in depth only to the outfield and pitching.
Predictions and other thoughts.
- The Astros will add from within the rest of the season, sticking to the add-a-player-a-month trend.
- Luhnow will pull off some minor trades involving some of the players mentioned above.
- Not an outright prediction — and it would be a tough call — but with a raise in arbitration due, Fowler could be moved and replaced with one of the young guns in Oklahoma City.
- This one could be a risk, but if the Astros believe Collin McHugh is at his peak, they could sell high before he hits the second or third trip around the league.