The Astros aren't making the playoffs this year. There's virtually no chance. However, with the organization (finally) on the rise, there are people who think the Astros could become buyers at this year's trade deadline. The premium talent in the farm system has either graduated (Springer, Singleton) or has run into problems (Correa, Appel, and to extent, Foltynewicz and DeShields). But there is no denying the Astros minor league teams are as deep as they come with above-average prospects flourishing (Ruiz, Kemp, Tucker, Tropeano, Smith, Hader, Hernandez, Gregor and more).
Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow has said that there is a chance that the surplus of minor league depth could be used to add Major League talent. So the question proposed to the TCB staff this week:
If the Astros were going to trade for an MLB-ready player, who would be a realistic target and why would said player be an asset to the Astros moving forward?
Spencer Morris (kyuss94)
I'll throw out the name of a player that I've always felt is underrated and fits a position of need for the Astros- Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners. Some might groan as Saunders does K a fair amount, but he has serious power that is not playing well in Safeco Field, and would be a nice fit in left field where he could be an above average defender to round out a superb fielding trio with Springer and Fowler.
Saunders is capable of posting a .330 OBP and 20-25 home runs in a favorable offensive setting, is a strong baserunner, and provides value with his defense. The Mariners aren't likely to be sellers at the deadline, but Saunders is the type of player I'd like to see the Astros target to fill their hole in left field.
My guy is Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox. He's a wiz defensively, by all accounts and is signed for 2015, plus an option year. He provides a slightly-below league average bat but his defense more than makes up for it. Plus, he can play shortstop for a while until Correa's ready to take over, and then Ramirez can slide over to third. Or, Correa can fill in at third a la Manny Machado until Ramirez inevitably leaves. With his contract, his age (32) and the amount of team control left, I imagine he wouldn't fetch superstar-level prices. Could he be had for a couple of Houston's next-tier minor leaguers? Would you trade for a solid, if older, everyday player if the price was a couple young pitchers? Ramirez has been worth 2-4 WAR for the past five seasons and appears to be headed there again this year. Can he do it for another two years? Would it be worth it for Houston to lock down that shortstop position for another two to three years at league average levels?
I'll stick with the Dodgers, and go with Scott Van Slyke. The Dodgers already have 4 legit (and expensive) outfield options in Puig, Kemp, Crawford, and Ethier. Then consider Joc Pederson waiting in the minors, and the Dodgers essentially have no space for Van Slyke. He has played only sparingly over the last 2 years, but I notice that he is quite productive in the little playing time that he gets. Case in point, he already has 8 home runs, in only 117 at bats this year. I would venture to guess some real nice power numbers if he was given the everyday LF job over the course of a full season. He also fills a glaring need for this team as it is currently constructed.
I am not sure what the Dodgers would look for in return, but I believe that they are looking for bullpen help. As much as I like Tony Sipp, and I know he has been great thus far in an Astros uniform, but I would trade him if necessary to get Van Slyke. I know we are looking for bullpen upgrades, and it seems counter-intuitive to make it weaker via trade, but to me the benefit outweighs the cost. If would probably take a little more to get him, but this deal also makes a ton of sense for the Dodgers. They trade away from a position of strength (by trading away a under-utilized player), and address a need that all contenders look to bolster down the stretch; their bullpen.
How about a hometown kid we've all been envious of for a while? Jay Bruce! There are several factors that make Bruce seem like a good fit, aside from being from Beaumont. For starters, he's still fairly young, and won't turn 28 years old until right around the start of the season next year. He also has a level of contract certainty, being locked up for the 2015 and 2016 season with a club option for 2017 as well. And of course, when he's going right, he's a 30 HR bat with a ferocious right-fielder's arm.
The thing is that, this season, he's not going right; at time of writing, he's batting .234/.316/.423. Combined with him being guaranteed $24.5 million over the next two years, there's plenty of reason why the Reds might be willing to listen on him. That also makes him risky for us, but he's not at the age of decline for several years, and there's nothing in his statistics to suggest that this is any more than a bad few months. I'd be more than willing to offer a package centered around DeShields and Folty for the burly power hitter.
Seth Drennan (Irish Pete)
When I dug into what I think the Astros should target in a trade, I looked at young, cost-controlled, outfielders who sport an above average BB-K ratio (Luhnow did say he was tired of the feast or famine offense). There were several options that arose like Adam Eaton and Gerardo Parra, but the one I think may be the most doable and the best gamble would be a lesser known commodity, Steve Souza Jr. (John Phillips Souza joke potential is almost worth it alone).
Souza showed up in a Sickel's article that talked up unheralded minor league power/speed combos. His minor league career has been a bit of a rocky road to say the least, and he has a little bit of a Josh Hamilton story-line. The Nationals have Zimmerman signed through 2019, Jayson Werth signed through 2017, and Bryce Harper. Souza leads the AAA International League with a 188 wRC+ and has a 17.2% K rate with a 12.9% BB rate. He sports a high BABIP, but he profiles as a high BABIP style player with a high line drive rate and speed (20 steals in 25 attempts). All that to boot, the International League is not known as a hitter friendly league like the PCL. The Nationals are targeting a young shortstop according to some rumors, but I wonder if he could be had for a bullpen piece and a younger outfield prospect.
Chris Perry (CRPerry13)
I think the Astros should trade for Desmond Jennings. Jennings is a 27-year-old center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays who owns a complete tool shed of baseball skills. The 10th-round draft pick reached as high as Baseball America's #6 prospect in 2010. Since reaching the majors, he has batted .249/.331/.405 for a 109 wRC+. Those numbers are misleading -- he plays home games in that goofy Trop building, and has a career road split of .262/.339/.430. His career strikeout rate is around 20% (low by the Astros standards, and just what they need to balance their high-K ways), and he draws walks at a good clip. One can expect around 15 HR/season from him once away from Tropicana Field, with 25-ish stolen bases. Jennings is also a very good defensive player, and still retains some offensive upside due to his tools and athleticism, beyond what he's shown so far in the majors.
The Rays would consider trading Jennings because they (A) are cheap, and (B) like prospects. Astros have prospects, and Jenning's star power is not so high that the Astros would need to mortgage their future to obtain him. For a couple years of Jennings, the Astros might need to part with a couple great-but-not-Correa prospects - a package starting with Domingo Santana, who would become extraneous with Jennings' addition, plus perhaps Mike Foltynewicz. With this trade, the Astros could have three impact defenders in all outfield positions with great on-base skills and who are capable of double-digit homers. An outfield of Jennings, Dexter Fowler, and George Springer would be one of the most impressive outfields in the American League. Chris Carter, Preston Tucker, or whomever could either be used in other trades, or they can duke it out over the DH spot.
Initially, I was going to throw out the idea of Chase Headley, who probably can be acquired pretty easily from the Padres. There are some things l like to see in trades here: buy low (likely positive regression); moving a hitter out of Petco Park. But I backed off the idea because it seems like he is a better choice to be a rental for a contending team.
So, I turned my attention to relatively young outfielders who might hold value for the Astros in the future, but wouldn't break the bank in trading cost. Here is my suggestion: Rockies' 25 year old left fielder Corey Dickerson. Want to know what he is doing? Check out this Beyond the Boxscore article which argues that he has played like an all-star:
In some ways this is the opposite of the trade characteristics I mentioned above. Dickerson is playing in an offensive heaven that is called Coors Field and he may be hitting over his head right now. But if you look at the type of hitter that the Astros want, Dickerson seems to fit. He hits for decent average, has a ton of power, doesn't strike out a lot, and probably is a bit above average in drawing walks. He is also a LHB, which helps with the Astros lineup's poor splits against RHBs. Let's ignore his current hot offensive stats in the majors (.327, .392, .589), given the small sample size (224 PA), and look at his projections for this year, ZIPS and Steamer updated wRC+ of 137 and 134. His preseason projected wRC+ was 115. And he has hit well throughout his minor league career (career .967 OPS). He was the Rockies' No. 8 prospect last year, according to minor league ball, and Sickels said, "at some point people just have to admit that the guy can hit." I don't know how much he would cost, and maybe his hot start to this season makes the cost too high. But the Rockies are always looking for young pitching, and the Astros have some young major league ready starting pitching...so I would start with that kind of package (Peacock, Obie, or Folty, for instance, as a key piece).
To answer this question about the Astros' present, I turned to the Astros' recent past. How do you get Chris Johnson for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss? How do you get Wandy Rodriguez for a handful of Quad-A players? Easy. You find a team that's not very good, and which has a thin farm system. Enter the White Sox, Phillies, and Rays.
Ideally, you'd look for either a player who's still on the young side, but not so young that they're part of their current team's long-term plans. In other words, you're probably not going to net Kevin Kiermaier, but what about Conor Gillaspie? At twenty-six years old, Gillaspie isn't old, but he also isn't part of the core that's likely to be around when the White Sox get over the hump. Add in the fact that the White Sox top prospect plays the same position, and Gillaspie looks like a real promising trade option.
He's a former first rounder, which Jeff Luhnow seems to love. He's better (well, offensively, at least )than the incumbent at third base, Matt Dominguez, and he isn't arbitration-eligible until 2016. It's true that much of his offense this season is fueled by a sky-high BABIP, but he's consistently put up triple-digit wRC+ rates, and he could be available for a price that would sting - but not cripple - the Astros' farm system.