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Three relievers the Astros should monitor leading up to next month’s trade deadline

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It’s getting close to that time of the year again.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

MLB’s trade deadline is less than eight weeks away. The sport is approaching the time when most teams will know if they’ll be buying, selling or simply standing pat. The Astros are clearly a contending team, with FanGraphs currently giving them the second-best playoff odds in the American League. But that doesn’t necessarily make them buyers, or at least serious ones.

High-profile trades typically require a substantial package of prospects. The Astros do not have the farm system they once did, and plainly cannot afford to spend significant prospect capital as they had in prior years.

Fortunately for general manager James Click, no moves of real consequence appear to be necessary. The lineup is in good shape and an unexpectedly deep rotation is almost fully healthy. This leaves the bullpen, the main point of weakness for the Astros in 2021.

In terms of value, relievers are some the cheapest players to acquire via trade, meaning Click would not need to jettison notable prospects to swing a deal in most cases. So, with that emphasis on cost-effectiveness, here are three relievers the Astros should have their eye on:

Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles

  • 21.2 innings
  • 1.66 ERA
  • 3.03 xERA
  • 14 hits
  • 2 home runs
  • 8 walks
  • 33 strikeouts

Sulser was once a member of the Tampa Bay Rays and it’s not difficult to see why — his four-seam fastball has quality vertical movement. Sulser is not a hard thrower, averaging just over 93 mph with his heater, but he’s quietly been one of the better relief pitchers in baseball this year.

The Orioles righty has a shiny 1.66 ERA thanks to a 38.4 percent K rate, an elite clip that’s in the Top 3 percent among all pitchers. He pairs his rising fastball with a terrific changeup that generates most of his whiffs and strikeouts.

After control issues sunk his 2020, Sulser’s maintained a reasonable, sub-10 percent walk rate in 2021. An increase of nearly 10 percent in Zone% indicates a tangible improvement in his ability to throw strikes.

Though he has several more years of team control left, the rebuilding Orioles will be inclined to seek out a trade for Sulser, who, at age 31, is unlikely to figure into their long-term plans and could be at peak value.

Considering his knack for missing bats, there’s reason to be optimistic about Sulser sustaining his quality numbers. Perhaps not to the tune of a 2.00 ERA, but he would nevertheless be a welcome addition to an Astros bullpen that ranks 22nd in whiff rate.

Ross Detwiler, Miami Marlins

  • 22 innings
  • 2.86 ERA
  • 2.90 xERA
  • 13 hits
  • 0 home runs
  • 11 walks
  • 29 strikeouts

Detwiler may appear to pitch like a vanilla lefty with his mediocre velocity but his results say otherwise. After moving to the bullpen on a full-time basis in 2020, the veteran southpaw has become a force to be reckoned with in 2021. He is missing bats, racking up strikeouts, minimizing hard contact and is generally tough to hit.

Though Detwiler’s walk rate is in double digits for the first time since 2015, it’s come with a hugely improved 31 percent K rate. What’s especially impressive about that development is the fact that it’s occurred in a year where Detwiler is inducing fewer chases than normal.

The secret to his success this year has been the reintroduction of a highly effective mid-80s cutter that’s been his primary pitch. His second offering, a seemingly ordinary low-90s four-seamer, not only has an outstanding 34.1 percent whiff rate, but an Expected Slugging (xSLG) of just .126. No other four-seamer in baseball has a lower xSLG (min. 100 results).

The Marlins might have the talent to compete for a spot in the postseason, but they’ve lost 8 of 10 and currently have a microscopic 0.4 percent chance of playing in October according to FanGraphs. It’s likely that they’ll be selling. Given that Detwiler is 35 and a free agent after the season, he’s a prime trade candidate.

Mychal Givens, Colorado Rockies

  • 20.1 innings
  • 3.10 ERA
  • 4.45 xERA
  • 16 hits
  • 4 home runs
  • 10 walks
  • 22 strikeouts

I’m going to be honest, one of the main reasons I’ve included Givens is because the Rockies are not a well-run team and are susceptible to being swindled. Moreover, they’re committed to tearing down the team in an effort to unload as much salary as possible. Enter Givens, a reliever on the wrong side of 30 who is owed roughly $2 million the rest of the year and is a free agent in the winter.

Putting aside the Rockies’ shenanigans, there is some intrigue with the ex-Orioles closer. He’s still one of the best at sustaining low exit velocities, something he’s routinely done throughout his career. His fastball velocity has steadily declined the past few years but it still misses a fair number of bats and has yielded a solid xSLG of .344 this year.

Givens possesses a changeup and slider, both of which have been quality pitches in the past, just not this year, and pitching at Coors Field could be a contributory factor. All four of his home runs allowed have been hit at Denver’s launching pad. He’s yet to allow a run on the road, albeit in only 5.2 innings.

There is a chance the numbers improve once he gets out of Colorado, but this isn’t exactly the profile of a reliever that should pitch in high-leverage situations in October. That being said, Givens would be an upgrade in the middle-relief department for the Astros and is an experienced vet. It’s possible, if not probable, that he could be acquired rather inexpensively.

The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant