With the trade deadline coming up quickly and the Astros featuring heavily in the rumor mill, it’s likely that a transaction is on the horizon. Like their primary AL competition the Yankees, the Astros look to be in pursuit of starting pitching for the stretch run, and have been mentioned in connection with players including Noah Syndergaard, Robbie Ray and Trevor Bauer. With a deep, and perhaps slightly top-heavy, system, the Astros could construct a wide range of packages to entice sellers in a competitive market.
While the Astros will most likely deal primarily from the farm, there are a handful of current and former big league assets, as well as big league-ready prospects, that Houston might be amenable to trading:
Cionel Perez, LHP (23) - Currently on the minor league injured list, Perez has had trouble staying on the field this season through multiple inactive stints, and the results have been middling while healthy. However, when right Perez does show the potential to be a major league starter, albeit of the back end variety, with two strong breaking balls and a firm heater. Perez needs to demonstrate that he can handle a bigger workload than he has stateside thus far to be avoid being relegated to strict bullpen duty, but should have a long major league future if he can get his health right, and with lots of control he’ll be appealing to clubs looking for left handed pitching that can help in the near future.
Derek Fisher, OF (25) - Once a top prospect in the system, Fisher hasn’t quite been able to carve out a consistent big league role yet for the crowded Astros, and his performance over the last two seasons has backed off a bit compared to his massive 2017 numbers. He’s been much better this year than last, though, and has continued to hone his strong defense and baserunning, giving him an ideal fourth outfielder profile even if there’s not enough bat for an everyday gig. Fisher’s best fit is on a team that can give him an extended audition in the big leagues to see if he can get his bat going, an opportunity that isn’t going to come in Houston. Even if it doesn’t, he’ll have value in a bench role, and with Myles Straw’s emergence the Astros don’t really need him for that purpose either.
Josh Reddick, OF (32) - A quality, if streaky big league outfielder, Reddick has plenty of big league baseball ahead of him yet, but isn’t doing a ton to keep himself on the lineup card on a daily basis for a club with World Series aspirations. While Reddick’s combination of solid defense, hustle and a capable left-handed bat still translate to some value, Myles Straw has taken to the big leagues well and Kyle Tucker is ready for another shot at the job, so the team should have no trouble replacing Reddick’s production if they’re able to find a buyer, and could improve upon it with in-house options. He’s more likely to be sold than included in a deal for a starting pitcher, but he’ll likely feature into some talks in the coming days.
Framber Valdez, LHP (25) - The tanky lefty now has 87 big league innings to his name, and has had some great outings along the way. However, he’s been hindered by inconsistent location thus far which has prevented him from getting the most out of some lively stuff. There’s a big league future for Valdez, though the role is yet to be determined, and he doesn’t figure to be much of a factor in the home stretch for the Astros in 2019, so it would make sense for the Astros to be open to dealing him in a trade for the right player. With limited upside, Valdez won’t headline a deal for a starter, but could be an attractive secondary piece.
Rogelio Armenteros, RHP (25) - The change to the baseball in Triple-A has not been kind to Armenteros, who has surrendered 11 home runs in 59 innings for Round Rock this year en route to a 5.80 ERA. His 64/22 K/BB ratio is still strong though, and he showed well in his first crack at the majors earlier this season on the whole. I’d expect the Astros to try to hold onto Armenteros over Valdez if possible as he’s having the better year and a more complete profile overall, but in the right deal he’s surely on the table. It’s worth nothing that he’s had two very rough outings in his last three times out for the Express, failing to make it past the second inning in either appearance, so he’s not likely to come back up to the Astros in the immediate future, but could potentially figure into their plans in the second half if he stays put.
As far as prospects go, I think it’s productive to break the system down into groupings of players, as the team will be trying to appeal to a variety of different preferences during deadline negotiations.
The Corner Sluggers
Seth Beer, 1B/DH (21)
Abraham Toro, 3B/OF (22)
Joe Perez, 3B (20)
JJ Matijevic, 1B/LF (23)
Beer has frequently been cast as a DH only player, but I’ve seen progress in him at first base and think he has a good chance to stick there. His offensive results continue to be excellent, and the power is showing with regularity as he’s already up to 23 home runs on the year. It’s not your typical above-average hit tool, but Beer’s feel for the barrel could allow his bat to play that way.
Toro has pretty swings from both sides of the dish, and can get to his above average raw in games. He’s been slower to progress on defense, but does have a rocket arm that can help him out in an outfield corner if he has to move off of third. He’s currently slashing .295/.386/.489 in Double-A and enjoying the best offensive season of his career.
Perez hasn’t been able to stay on the field much thus far as a pro, but has youth on his side, big raw power and potential for an average hit tool, and could make for a nice upside play to fill out a package.
Matijevic is more of a deal filler but does have enticing raw power, though he doesn’t look to have enough contact ability to be more than a bench bat given his defensive limitations.
The Injured Starting Pitchers
Corbin Martin, RHP (23)
Jairo Solis, RHP (19)
Peter Solomon, RHP (22)
Some clubs are willing to take gambles on players on the shelf as a buy-low, while more risk averse teams will prefer to avoid the potential for complications. The Astros currently have two high profile Tommy John casualties, most notably Corbin Martin who has mid-rotation potential that he flashed in an up-and-down big league trial earlier this year. Martin should carry quite a bit of trade value despite the injury as he’s close to big league ready with significant upside, and teams looking to contend a few years out won’t mind waiting a year for him if they’re confident in his profile.
The same is true of Jairo Solis, who has shown a lot of starter ingredients early in his career with a hard fastball and flashy curve, and should be a full go in 2020. Solomon has not had Tommy John, at least not yet, but hasn’t pitched since April 13th and presumably has a major, though to this point undisclosed, injury. Solomon had a terrific debut in 2018 that seriously boosted his stock from where it was in on draft day, though without information on his injury it’s hard to speculate on how he might be valued on the open market. When healthy he’s shown a strong #4 starter profile.
The Likely Up-The-Middle Players with Offensive Upside
Freudis Nova, SS (19)
Luis Santana, 2B (20)
Jeremy Pena, SS (21)
Ronnie Dawson, CF (24)
Jonathan Arauz, 2B/SS (21)
Deury Carrasco, SS (19)
Osvaldo Duarte, IF (23)
Nova has been a hot name in the system for a long time despite his age, and has shown flashes of the hit/power combination that made him a highly touted amateur. His approach has been rough however and whether or not he stays at short is an open question. He could potentially fit at third, second or the outfield long term but shortstop certainly isn’t to be ruled out just yet. He still needs a lot of polish, but his ceiling remains among the highest in the system.
Santana has posted top notch contact rates this season after a big 2018, but thus far the quality of contact has been low. He remains a potential regular, but will need to focus on being more selective and driving the ball more frequently. He’s a good bet to fit at second base long term, and should have a bit of pop down the line.
Pena has taken a big step forward with the bat in 2019, employing 20 lbs of muscle added in the offseason to drive balls at a much higher rate. He can play all over the infield and can run, too.
Dawson is big league ready in center and has tantalizing power and speed, but hasn’t gotten the bat on the ball enough in Double-A and is already 24.
Arauz continues to come along slowly but if you see him on the right day he’s very impressive, with a pretty swing, athleticism, a good arm, and the ability to surprise you with a loud homer. He’s not setting the world alight, but has taken a nice step forward in 2019 while repeating a level, is still very young, and shows the ingredients to be a utility player.
Carrasco is beginning to get playing time in Tri-City and hasn’t performed yet but has plus wheels and a glove that should fit up the middle to go with some bat-to-ball, so the results should follow eventually.
Duarte has an energetic play style, wheels and power, but his approach limits him to a bench role, albeit one who can impact games with splashy plays.
The Pitchers with Loud Stuff Who May be Stretches as Starters
JB Bukauskas, RHP (22)
Bryan Abreu, RHP (22)
Brandon Bailey, RHP (24)
Enoli Paredes, RHP (23)
Cristian Javier, RHP (22)
Bukauskas and Bailey have less reliever risk than the other names in this group, but still can very reasonably be projected to the pen in multi-inning roles. I still like the chances of both to start, though I think they’d both perform best with a managed workload of 125-150 innings to maximize performance. The innings should be of a very high quality, though, as Bukauskas has three pitches that are plus or better, and his command, though a bit up-and-down, should be a 45 or so. He’s famous for his slider, but his change has really come along and is a bona fide plus pitch as well at this stage.
Bailey may not have as much stuff as JBB, but there’s no shame in that, and he also shows three pitches that range above-average to plus, putting him in the #3-#4 starter range from a pure stuff perspective. Bailey responded well to a career high 122.1 innings last year and has had a strong 2019, with a 3.26 ERA in the Texas League, and shows a lot of starter traits even if he lacks the traditional frame at 5’10”.
Abreu has an athletic 6’1” frame and high end ability to spin the ball along with a firm heater. His command will need to improve for him to start in the bigs, but he’s missing a ton of bats and has the athleticism to make strides with his location. There’s mid rotation potential if he does, and if he has to fall back on the pen his upside is significant there as well.
Paredes has piled up 111 strikeouts in 82 innings this year and is revered in the clubhouse, serving as an unofficial interpreter for his teammates. He has a broad arsenal headlined by a vicious curveball, and has missed a ton of bats throughout his pro career. With a max-effort delivery and slight build, it’s hard to envision Paredes as a starter despite the success he’s had in the role in the minors, though he’ll continue to get the opportunity as long as his performance stays up and has shown the endurance to throw multiple innings at the least, and he could fit as an opener.
Javier is a crafty, four-pitch righty with pitchability but employs an unorthodox style, attacking hitters from an angle, and has below average command. Javier does one of the stronger frames of the group, and is on pace to blow past his career high workload, so an outside chance to start remains even if the command makes it unlikely.
The Likely Back-of-the-Rotation Starters With Results
Tyler Ivey, RHP (23)
Brandon Bielak, RHP (23)
Brett Conine, RHP (22)
Ivey and Bielak are both pretty close to the bigs and showing starter profiles, with Ivey recently returning from a long absence. Ivey has a very strong three-pitch mix and command while Bielak shows four offerings, and both have a chance for above-average command, though Ivey is closer to it at present.
Conine is an emerging prospect who looks like a day three steal- the former college reliever has been one of the organization’s best performers this season across two levels and has a chance to stick as a #5 starter.
The Bat-first Positional Tweeners
Ross Adolph, OF (22)
Alex McKenna (21)
Enmanuel Valdez, 2B/3B (20)
Adolph and McKenna are easy to compare to one another because they are both borderline center fielders with above average power and speed. Adolph has really picked things up with the bat since a brutal start but is showing a good amount of swing and miss, while McKenna has spent quite a bit of time on the shelf since being drafted and hasn’t had his power show up in games yet. Both look like reserve outfielders but have a chance to max out as more with their above-average tools.
Valdez has done a lot for his stock this year by handling full-season ball admirably at age 20. He stands just 5’9”, but shows a promising bat and more raw power than you might expect. He probably fits at second or third base, but may not be a great defender at either spot. Utility may be the most likely outcome for Valdez but there’s potential for the bat to carry him. As far as prospects outside the top couple of tiers in the system go, this group offers solid upside among position players.
The Pitchers with Starter Traits, Above-Average Stuff and a Long Way to Go
Manny Ramirez, RHP (19)
Angel Macuare, RHP (19)
Jayson Schroeder, RHP (19)
This grouping is a bit looser as there aren’t a ton of similarities between the overall profiles here- Ramirez has the most stuff of the group with two potential plus pitches including a curve, while Macuare shows a deep arsenal and advanced pitchability but may lack a putaway offering.
Schroeder has a #4 starter package but has struggled mightily with control this season and will be viewed as a project. Ramirez could make for a good secondary piece in an offer, while Macuare and Schroeder are more likely to be tertiary pieces.
There will likely be players not listed above that feature in talks, but the bulk of the value should be represented here. Depending on the team that they’re negotiating with, a deal could come together several different ways, but the Astros have a blend of old and young prospects on both sides of the ball that should allow them to appeal to most clubs. The most likely names to be included in deals that aren’t listed above are pure relief arms such as Jojanse Torres, Colin McKee or Carlos Sanabria, to name a few.
The elephants in the room are Forrest Whitley and Kyle Tucker. Personally, I do not consider either one a trade candidate at this point in time unless it is for a player who has not been rumored to be on the block yet. I don’t think Noah Syndergaard is worth either one, and the buzz suggests that Jeff Luhnow doesn’t either. You can’t sugar coat Whitley’s season, but he is healthy now, is showing most of his stuff, and still has the best overall package of traits among minor league pitchers when he is right. The lost season hurts, but I still view Whitley as a future frontline starter with all of his control years remaining, so I think the team would need to feel absolutely confident they were getting an ace in return to part with him now.
There are enough question marks surrounding Noah Syndergaard, namely the present and future quality of his secondary offerings and his durability, that I think moving Whitley for him is too risky to consider.
Tucker’s profile doesn’t provide quite as much upside, but by virtue of not being a pitcher, his risk factor is significantly lower and he’s a nearly fully realized above average regular in an outfield corner. I think the Astros would consider a Tucker trade for the right player, but the list of right players is pretty short and I don’t believe one is currently on the market. I would be surprised if any prospects of Tucker’s stature moved this week, with the possible exception of Deivi Garcia, who is in Tucker’s neighborhood but not valued quite as highly.
If the Astros can strike on a quality starting pitcher, I expect the best player in the deal will be either JB Bukauskas or Seth Beer, or perhaps Freudis Nova if a seller is particularly enamored with him. Derek Fisher and Abraham Toro feel like players with a high likelihood of being dangled with no opportunity in sight with the big club. Even Kyle Tucker can’t get into the lineup in an outfield corner, and the presence of Jake Marisnick and Myles Straw mean that the reserve outfield roles are more or less locked down unless one of those players is traded- which I don’t expect.
If Reddick does get moved, the team might be a bit more reticent to move prospective corner outfielders as they may want a contingency plan beyond Myles Straw if Kyle Tucker were to struggle. I expect most offers to begin with Bukauskas, Beer or Nova, supplemented by one of the big league ready assets, and a prospect or two from the lower tiers depending on the selling team’s preferences.
There is possibility some sellers will prefer Corbin Martin as the headliner, and I think that’s a possibility though expect the Astros will do their best to hold onto him. There aren’t a ton of potential centerpieces for the Astros to dangle, but their options for filling out a deal are myriad, giving them a good chance to close on a deal in this busy starting pitching market.