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  • Trade Deadline Preview: The Houston Astros


    Nash Walker

    The Astros, despite losing George Springer, facing the ferocious fans, and dealing with myriad injuries, continue to win, win and win. 

    Could the Twins help them win even more in 2021?

     

    What’s Their Situation? 

    The Astros continue to reap the benefits from the tremendous core they constructed nearly five years ago. Houston has a truly terrific lineup. When fully healthy, they mesh four outstanding right-handed hitters in José Altuve (138 wRC+), Carlos Correa (149), Alex Bregman (120) and Yuli Gurriel (136) with three equally great left-handed bats in Michael Brantley (138), Kyle Tucker (128) and Yordan Álvarez (146). It’s the best and most dynamic attack in all of baseball. 

    There’s no question that the addition of Dusty Baker as manager has benefitted the Astros in a massive way. He’s carefully navigated the difficulties of their (self-imposed) cheating demons, and continues to masterfully and tactfully manage. Baker’s starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the American League (3.35) even with a fairly pedestrian strikeout-to-walk rate (15.8%). The rotation is spearheaded by Lance McCullers Jr., who’s dazzled to a 2.89 in five starts since returning from the injured list. The Astros have a quantity of quality, with a major-league-leading five pitchers who’ve started at least 10 games with an ERA that’s 15% or better than league average. 

    Houston carries a 3.5 game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the American League West. FanGraphs gives the Astros nearly an 87% chance to take the division and a 96.4% of making the playoffs. With the American League East looking weaker than usual and the White Sox eating up on a poor Central division, it certainly looks like the Astros are in the driver’s seat to take the pennant. 

    What Do They Need?

    Houston is a very deep and strong club, with few glaring weaknesses. There’s one spot that sticks out, however. The Astros’ bullpen has a 4.09 ERA on the season, good for eighth in the American League. Ryan Pressly has been fantastic, pitching to a 1.42 ERA and 1.38 FIP in 36 games. 

    Outside of Pressly, Houston has very little in the way of lockdown relievers. Cristian Javier has pitched well in a longer-relief role, but the Astros could use at least one more right-handed arm to supplement Pressly and the inconsistent Ryne Stanek. The return of Pedro Báez should help in that regard, though. 

    Even more, the Astros would benefit greatly from a left-handed arm to pair with Pressly in the highest-leverage spots. 

    Which Twins Are The Best Fit?

    Without question, Taylor Rogers would be the most attractive option for Houston in a deal. Rogers was sporting a 2.45 ERA and a 51-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio before allowing a grand slam in Sunday’s eventual win over Detroit. Rogers is also under contract for 2022, his final year of arbitration before free agency. 

    Although the Astros have a deep and enviable starting rotation, they could be a sleeper for José Berríos. You can never have enough pitching and the Astros may lose Zack Greinke in free agency this winter. Could Houston, an organization that excels at maximizing starting pitching, see some hidden upside in Berríos? 

    Very few centerfielders can match the acumen of George Springer, but Myles Straw has done an admirable job in his wake. Straw is hitting .310/.401/.405 since June 1st and has been worth 1.2 bWAR in 86 games. Even when a spot is good, why not make it great? Enter Byron Buxton, who could turn the Astros into World Series favorites if they aren’t already. A healthy Buxton would make Houston truly impeccable. 

    Who Could The Twins Get Back?

    The Astros have a poor farm system, a result of graduating so many good major leaguers and losing picks due to the cheating scandal. For the Twins, the focus should be high-upside pitching prospects. 

    RHP Hunter Brown, the Astros’ No. 3 prospect via MLB Pipeline, is an intriguing player. Brown has struck out 37% of hitters at Double-A this season with a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a hammer curveball. Brown is currently a starter but has struggled to throw strikes consistently. 

    RHP Forrest Whitley is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery but has upside to dream on. Whitley has slowly fallen down prospect boards due to injuries and a truly horrific 2019 season. Still, he’s 6-foot-7 with a fastball that reaches 99 and two 60-grade off-speed pitches. 

    OF Colin Barber offers an interesting change of pace from what the Twins may be seeking. He’s a left-handed outfielder who projects as a rightfielder in the big leagues. Barber is only 20 years old and has hit .248/.380/.411 in 44 minor-league games.

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    Usually I'm intrigued enough to at least mentally entertain these ideas (especially this season :)).  However... this is a big nope in my book.  I can condone nothing that helps to improve Houston in any way, shape or form.  A tiny part of me feels bad because there are some very talented players on that team but... in the end, I am forced to wish evil voodoo hexes on the team and root against them until any and every player associated with the scandal is no longer involved in baseball.

    Doom on you Houston.

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    I don't love their system seems like we could do better with other teams.  Whitely seems like a dangerous trade given all the arm issues and lack of command he was having.  Brown is interesting but I don't love that WHIP.  Again seems a bit of a wild card if cannot control his pitches.  I don't hate Barber but it is not a position I would want as a headliner.

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    In Whitley you go for the huge upside. It might be worth the risk. He can be an ace or he might be Alex Meyer. I think I might buy low on Whitley to headline this deal. 

    The Astros use of Brown and really limiting His innings. His last start was 50 pitches. I am not sure his traditional statistics have much value. It might be a relative buy high. I think the Twins can do better for Rogers.

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    As Vincent Vega said to Jules Winnfield:

    "If you give these nimrods Taylor Rogers, I'll shoot them myself."

    No more giving our best pitchers to Houston, please.  If this is the only option the Twins have, just fold the team.  We'll understand.

    pulp fiction gun GIF by The Good Films

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    I don't want anything to do with Whitley as the headliner of any deal. More than happy with him as a potential flier/lottery ticket on a deal, but he's not the prospect he used to be. Still young-ish with the arm to be intriguing, but he's 23 now and hasn't pitched since 2019 where he got absolutely blasted at just about every level of the Astros system. 2017 was the only season he topped 60 IP so you're looking at quite the process to build up his innings totals to get him to starter level innings anytime soon. So if he's a secondary piece that you think can do well out of the pen early (I assume he needs to be on the 40 man, but don't know for sure) while he builds up his innings for a couple years before plugging into the rotation, cool. But as a headliner I want nothing to do with him.

    I generally don't like the Astros system as a fit for the Twins. I think pretty much everyone is looking for arms to return to the Twins in the deals they make and the Astros have already graduated the majority of their legit arms. 

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