Jeff Luhnow is desperately trying to determine the answer to one question: Does he already have the pieces in-house to make a run at the playoffs, or does he need to look outside the organization?
It would be a boon for his tenure if the Astros didn’t need to trade prospects or others currently on the roster and maintain their current course as the first place team in the American League West.
But it would be a huge gamble to try to make that run.
Let’s take a look at some possibilities for Houston to play the hold card at the trade deadline, keep the powder dry and still be a serious playoff contender.
These two players are keys. Crucial keys. If Valbuena picks up his average and Lowrie returns even close to where he was when he was injured, the Astros may have settled the corner infield spots. To be sure, Valbuena is on pace for over 40 home runs, but he’s hovered around .200 most of the year. Not good enough, and A.J. Hinch will have to waste Lowrie at third base if Valbuena can’t pick up the pace.
Get them both on track next month, however, and the infield is suddenly very, very strong.
Mark Appel was promoted to Fresno this week and it’s clear the Astros are wondering if he can have an impact for the Astros this summer. With rookies Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez already up, adding Appel would signal the Astros have a number of options: tandem pitching, adding one or more to the bullpen and trading a bullpen piece, or saving one or more in the bullpen and adding them to the rotation late summer when the innings’ count rises for the other.
If Brett Oberholtzer is the Collin McHugh of 2015 and, with the return of Scott Feldman soon, Luhnow and Hinch may feel they can piece together the rotation through the summer and into September without having to give up a Domingo Santana, Preston Tucker or perhaps even a Valesquez to get a front line pitcher.
Jon Singleton, the ace in the hole?
It shouldn’t be surprising if Singleton joins the Astros any day now. If Luhnow wants to know what he, Singleton is at the top of the list. Can he adequately replace Chris Carter‘s anemic bat? Is he even the short-term answer while waiting for others in the system to incubate and mature? Expect to find out soon.
The other hold out possibility is that Carter returns to his second half of 2014. Not a real good bet, but if the Astros’ saber metric guys are on the job, they may have seen something we don’t see from afar. Waiting on Carter, however, is probably the biggest gamble Luhnow could make this summer.
There are plenty of other options in the minors, but few who show the seasoning and readiness that Carlos Correa and McCullers have shown. That makes any other moves from the minors either a gamble, a hunch or risky at best.
Remember how first-round pick Chris Burke was jerked around? Many onlookers say he was doomed because of the back-and-forth, up-and-down moves from position to position, saying he never had a chance to settle in. Obviously, Luhnow would not want to push Appel or others similarly.
So…here are you questions for your assignment:
- Can the Astros fix their problems from within in 2015, without going outside for a trade?
- Can the Astros seriously contend without a major trade?
- If Houston acquires only one player before the deadline, what should that be: top of rotation starter, solid middle rotation starter, first base, third base, catcher? Something else?
- Who have you seen enough of? In other words, who needs to go today? Remember, you have to replace them, so you’ll need to specify how to handle that replacement!
- Other than those I’ve mentioned, what other minor league piece — if any — do you believe may be able to contribute in 2015?
- Finally, how do you see the Astros proceeding: Making a big trade or perhaps a trade, but nothing significant?