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Three Positions to Watch as the Trade Deadline Draws Near

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The Astros are one of the best teams in baseball, but weaknesses remain.

Cleveland Indians v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The trade deadline at the time of this writing is slightly more than ten days away. Plenty of clubs are currently in the process of determining who to trade for — or who to trade — between now and then. A bubble, if you will. The Nationals are an obvious example of being on a bubble as they’re only six games out of first in the NL East despite a 44-49 record. The same process probably applies to Atlanta, both New York squads, Cleveland, and Seattle as the obvious examples. Plenty of clubs will spend the next ten days determining their short- and long-term course.

Thankfully for the Astros, they’re fortunate enough to know where exactly they stand in the ecosystem of Major League Baseball as potential buyers — for this season, anyway. If the budget allows, this front office led by James Click will be on the lookout for additions to help shore up a few areas of concern. But what are those exact areas of concern? I’m glad you asked, or at least you did in my mind. Let’s first look at where exactly the Astros rank in terms of wins above average compared to the American League.

American League Wins Above Avg By Position

As one can quickly gather, the Astros are tied with the Blue Jays(!) for the most cumulative wins above average within their own league. The depth across this roster remains strong even in the midst of a few notable departures or injuries in the past two years, namely Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and George Springer. But it is also clear for Houston that there are few positions where the production is relatively lacking.

Relief Pitching (-3.1 Wins Above Average)

No secret here, am I right? We’ve known for a while that this bullpen is basically Ryan Pressly, and pray for someone not to blow it. Cristian Javier has looked relatively fine in relief since his reassignment from the rotation. Brooks Raley has had his shining moments and a few hiccups. Ryne Stanek started the season strong only to see ineffectiveness resurface. But the majority of the relief corps is generally unreliable, which isn’t something one likes to read about a contender in July. If there is an area that the Astros must address by the deadline, look no further than here.

Catcher (-0.7 Wins Above Average)

Honestly, I am not terribly concerned about the offensive productivity, or lack thereof, from the catcher position. While Martín Maldonado’s offensive value plummeted like a rock, he does provide more value than what the numbers suggest. Jason Castro also needs more playing time, especially as this club prepares for the postseason. One of my biggest gripes with manager Dusty Baker this season is his seeming over-reliance on Maldonado with an established backup sitting on the bench in Castro. Unless a clear offensive upgrade is available with similar defensive value to Maldonado, I wouldn’t expect anything to change at catcher at the deadline. And if there was one on the trade market, the Astros clearly lack the assets to make an enticing offer.

Center Field (0.4 Wins Above Average)

Myles Straw’s value as a hitter had rebounded following a particularly rough April when he posted a .547 OPS. Since the start of May, Houston’s primary center fielder has posted a .722 OPS (110 wRC+), which is above-average. There remains a noticeable lack of power, but we’ve known about this aspect of Straw’s limitations for quite some time. Without more power, Straw’s value as a hitter is likely capped. Whereas Chas McCormick has 10 home runs and higher power potential, his defensive value is lower than Straw’s at this point.

The main driver behind Straw’s value this season comes across with defense, where he has shown encouraging improvement as the season progresses. The Astros can justify playing Straw primarily for his defense and hopefully around league-average hitting on a roster with this much depth. It would have to take a clear upgrade, much like at catcher, for Click to pursue a trade. But the latest report that Houston was possibly exploring the possibility of trading for the Marlins’ Starling Marte seems to suggest Click is open to making an upgrade.