If the Astros fulfill their quest to trade one of their starting pitchers, they will not be getting prospects in return. No, the Astros would justify the move to its clubhouse by acquiring major-league help, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking. Ideally, that player would be a catcher or center fielder under club control beyond this season.
The Astros are willing to trade a starter because they already are employing a six-man rotation, and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will become a seventh option if he returns, as expected, from a forearm strain in August. Such depth can be fleeting. But as things stand, the best way for the Astros to make their roster more functional would be to move a starter for a position player who would fill an existing need.
Who might that player be? Good question. The trade market is not deep in catchers or center fielders. The obvious potential targets — Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins, Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds, Athletics catcher Sean Murphy — do not play for teams hellbent on making the playoffs. So, the motivation for those clubs to meet the Astros’ price for an established starter would not be especially strong.
The Orioles are a possible exception.
As a surprise wild-card contender, would they move three additional years of club control with Mullins for three of right-hander José Urquidy if the Astros also were willing to include center fielder Jose Siri and prospects in a larger deal? A number of teams are exploring trades for Siri, sources said. The Phillies, Marlins and Brewers are among those looking for center-field help.
Jake Odorizzi, 32, is probably the pitcher the Astros consider most expendable, but his value is not especially high (he also developed a blister on his right middle finger Tuesday night that is not expected to be a problem for him going forward).
Urquidy, 27, would be in greater demand. He had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and missed a combined 2 1/2 months with shoulder trouble last season. His stuff is not at the level of Cristian Javier’s or Luis Garcia’s. But he has a career 3.69 ERA and experience in the past three postseasons, including his five scoreless innings as the Astros’ starter in Game 4 of the 2019 World Series.
For the Pirates to trade Reynolds or the Athletics to move Murphy, they almost certainly would require a package of younger players. They could land those players by acquiring a pitcher from the Astros and then flipping him to another club. More likely, the burden would fall on the Astros to find a third team. The prospects they acquired for their starter then could be used as part or all of a package for Reynolds or Murphy.
Such deals are difficult to pull off. Perhaps a simpler path exists for the Astros to land a player not currently known to be available. Only one thing seems certain: If the Astros trade a starting pitcher, it will be for talent that will help them in the present, not the future.
Padres looking for a starter?
The Padres’ A.J. Preller is among the general managers who typically explore pursuits of every big name, so perhaps it’s no surprise that, according to sources, he has checked in on the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and the Athletics’ Frankie Montas. Still, the Padres’ mere interest in acquiring starting pitching is potentially revealing on several fronts.
Preller could be:
• Bracing for left-hander MacKenzie Gore to be out for an extended period. Gore, a 23-year-old rookie, went on the injured list Tuesday with left elbow inflammation.
• Concerned about lefty Sean Manaea’s recent inconsistency. Manaea has a 5.91 ERA in his last seven starts, and pitched four innings or fewer in three of them.
• Trying to trade lefty Blake Snell or another starter to free up payroll and/or address other needs. The Padres are close to the $230 million luxury-tax threshold. Snell, who has a 3.20 ERA and 33 strikeouts over 19 2/3 innings in four July starts, is under $13.1 million next season and $16.6 million in 2023.
• Interested in adding a pitcher under club control beyond this season with Manaea, and righties Joe Musgrove and Mike Clevinger all potential free agents. Musgrove originally planned to reach a resolution on his contract talks by the end of the All-Star break. One week later, he is still not in agreement with the club, leaving him slightly more than three months away from hitting the open market.
• Seeking additional protection as they go back to more of a five-man rotation. They used six starters for most of the first half, but Gore’s injury changes the equation and righty Nick Martinez’s last start was June 18.
Like Manaea, who arrived in a trade from the Athletics on April 3, Montas pitched a number of seasons for Padres manager Bob Melvin in Oakland. The Cardinals and Yankees are among the other teams showing interest in the right-hander, who has pitched twice since an 18-day break due to shoulder inflammation, and has a 3.18 ERA in 104 2/3 innings for the season.
Diamondbacks’ Walker a first baseman of interest
The Nationals’ Josh Bell is perhaps the first baseman most in demand, drawing interest from the Astros, Brewers and other clubs. But the Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker looms as an interesting alternative at the position.
Walker, 31, is batting only .204, the sixth-lowest average among qualifiers. However, he has hit 23 homers and his expected rate stats indicate that his actual ones should be better. He is also the best defensive first baseman in the league, as measured by both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average. And as opposed to Bell, a potential free agent, Walker has two years of club control remaining.
The problem in trying to acquire Walker is that the Diamondbacks value him for the same reasons teams would want to acquire him. Club officials, therefore, view a trade of Walker as doubtful. They want to improve their major-league club, not build the best farm system. And their farm system looks pretty darned good.
Outfielder Corbin Carroll ranks second and shortstop Jordan Lawlar 11th on MLB.com’s most recent list of the top 100 prospects, which it published shortly before the amateur draft. The Diamondbacks’ selection of outfielder Druw Jones could give them three in the top 25 once the list is updated.
The team, while currently lacking a homegrown pitcher on its major-league staff, is excited about some of its pitchers in the minors. Notable among those is left-hander Tommy Henry, who has a 3.64 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Reno while pitching in a hitter-friendly home park and hitter-friendly league.
(Top photo: Jake Odorizzi: Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports)