Typically, the trade deadline divides teams into two categories: buyers, and sellers. The buyers, as their name suggests, are teams who are making a playoff push and need reinforcements. The sellers are teams who have no playoff aspirations, and are, therefore, willing to trade away talented players in order to restock for the future. The Houston Astros, given their undeniable playoff credentials, are widely seen as buyers.
But, it might make a lot of sense for the Astros to be sellers.
Of course, the Astros must not lose sight of the playoffs. I'm certainly not advocating moving big players; the Astros time to win is now. The farm system is still stocked, the playoffs are well within reach, and the majority of their star players are young, improving, and cost controlled. However, let's consider the state of the market.
The case could certainly be made that the Astros need to add some pitching: probably a top of the rotation starter, or a left-handed reliever. When you explore the options you realise that, well, there really aren't any good options available out there. Furthermore, given the scarcity of talented players available for trade, the prices will be extremely high. The Astros have worked extremely hard to build this winning team, and a productive farm system; a big deadline deal, or two, could leave the farm system devoid of high-end talent.
Now, given the development of the likes of Joe Musgrove, James Hoyt, and Brady Rodgers, the Astros still have a few in the system who are probably ready to grace the major league team with their presence. It's a risk, granted, but trading for a high-end player to succeed in a tiny sample size is only a slightly lesser risk. There's a chance that graduating, say, Hoyt and Musgrove improves the Astros just as much as trading for Andrew Casher, and Will Harris would, for example.
This is where the Astros become sellers. Bringing up, again for example, Musgrove and Hoyt could potentially give the team the short sample size improvement they need to make the playoffs. What is also does, though, is make certain players surplus to requirements. If the aforementioned prospects got called up, both Pat Neshek and Scott Feldman would, as a result, become surplus to requirements. All of a sudden, the Astros have two players available to trade, who would, immediately, become very desirable.
In this current market, either Feldman or Neshek, or both, could net a decent return. The San Francisco Giants need a relief pitcher to add to their lacklustre bullpen, for example. The Giants would probably be willing to surrender one of their better prospects to add Neshek to the fold. Young Cuban shortstop Lucius Fox, or left-hander Andrew Suarez could be available, giving the Astros some much needed reinforcements to the said positions in the minor leagues.
That's one, cherry picked example, as a result of my lack of minor league knowledge, but we all know the Astros are always looking for ways to improve in both the immediate, and in the long term. Becoming sellers at the deadline, with a little added risk, does exactly that. Of course, it wouldn't be the attractive move that most fans would respond to, but it's about being savvy in a seller's market.
When the market is so harsh for teams looking to add talent, and so fantastic for teams looking to trade away talent, why join the wrong party? The Astros can make the most out of this lopsided trade market, whilst still improving their team, and improving their chances of making the playoffs. I guess the reason I've put this idea forward is because, in a sense, it's extremely Astros-esque.
The Astros have managed to completely turn around the fortunes of the franchise in a matter of years by being bold, by being different, and above all, being savvy. Whether it was in the draft, in the free-agent market, or in the trade market they've always used an extremely avant garde approach to baseball. And so, becoming sellers at the deadline, despite their playoff aspirations, makes sense. It's about understanding the market, and not being lured into trading in this awful buyer's market.
The Astros will almost certainly be looking to get better before the trade deadline, but who says they can't do that as sellers?