The Astros may have a losing record, but they have been outscoring their opponents. I feel confident that if they continue to do so they will see their win loss record improve. They may even have a number of wins lumped together to catapult them up near the top of the division for a short period of time. I don't expect them to maintain a lofty standing, but I can see them having a good run at some point. What should the Astros do around July 31st if they are 3 or 4 games out of first place?
First, we could go ahead according to plan and blow it up. This makes sense if any success that the team has had in the standings is unsustainable, and conventional wisdom says it will be. I have a gut feeling that has come from the shadows of baseball lore that tells me that young teams are volatile (and that the manager, if great, can keep them together). I have no idea if that is really true or not. But blowing up the team regardless of their record makes a lot of sense if a team this young team can't be counted on to compete past the deadline. Trading away this class veterans (Lee, Wandy, Myers, Downs, Happ, and (if the price is right) Norris) probably won't have as big an impact on the Astros' performance as when they dealt Pence, Bourn, Berkman, and Oswalt. So not only will trading them away be good for the future, but it probably won't really hurt the current season all that much anyway. It is possible that Wandy could be dealt for a player who could improve the hitting/defense (a third baseman) and have much of his production replaced by a pitcher currently in AAA. Such a trade would actually make the current team stronger, be good for the future, and make it easier to part with Downs and Lee (who might just be a negative anyway).
There is another option. We could mimic the 2011 Pirates. The Pirates have a July 31st "sell by" date marked on all their players every year, but they had a crisis last season, they were still in the playoff picture. What could they do? They were ahead of schedule. Were they for real? They could have gone all in and traded away top prospects for high-end rentals, but they didn't. They went ahead and picked up a couple of B-level rentals whose cost wouldn't break their farm. Did they win? No. But they did show that they are willing to compete when the stars align, which does have value to fans and players. The Astros have a lot to gain by being as competitive as possible. The fan base is broken, abused by Selig, and angry, so if the starting pitching is still strong and the offense hasn't fallen apart by the deadline they could add few bullpen arms without breaking the bank to keep the team interesting into August and September.
Probably, by mid July, the Astros will have floundered enough to make the decision easy. Lee will be given away with a 10 million dollar mail-in rebate, Wandy will be sold for a few interesting prospects, Myers will net us some minor league relief pitchers and no team will meet the asking price for Norris. Yet I can't help but feel optimistic as I watch this team play. Unlike last season they have a chance to win any given game. And, I am embarrassed to admit this...my brain knows it's silly and childish...but my heart hasn't given up on giving the rest of the NL central a run for it's money.