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The Astros may have the assets to pursue a significant trade. Should they?

Improved depth could embolden the club to make more names available in trade talks, thus enabling them to target higher caliber big leaguers.

Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

It’s been almost seven weeks since Major League Baseball and its owners imposed a lockout. The league made a proposal to the players’ union on Jan. 13, and it’s predictably made no impact on negotiations, according to reports. The players are expected to make a counteroffer, but the general sentiment is that spring training is in jeopardy of being postponed. The deadlock seems to have no end in sight, which means it could be sometime before transactions resume.

With the uncertainty and complete lack of optimism established, let’s collectively put our heads in the sand, pretend everything will be OK in relatively short order, and speculate.

FanGraphs Depth Charts projects the Astros to finish with the third best record in baseball in 2022. The rest of the division will supposedly be well behind in the standings — only the Angels are pegged to have a record above .500.

Regardless of where Carlos Correa signs when free agency restarts, it’s reasonable to believe the AL West will still go through Houston. What’s more, based on DC’s projections, the other four teams may hardly put up a fight for the division crown. The possibility of expanded playoffs in the new CBA notwithstanding, winning the division is paramount for any contender. Or rather, avoiding the madness and unpredictability of the Wild Card round is.

The point in all of this? The Astros’ viability as a contender in 2022. It’s not questionable in and of itself, but what might be in question is the club’s elite status. While no other AL team has been as successful as the Astros have been over the past five years, a trade of real magnitude could be necessary for the club to remain at the top, especially if Correa is wearing a different uniform come Opening Day.

The organization’s farm system has been in a state of recovery due to trades and the loss of multiple top draft picks. Though it’s still not considered to be the upper-echelon system it once was, it could be reasonably argued that the Astros have rejuvenated their collection of prospects enough to the point where it could again be utilized in a trade for a meaningful big leaguer.

Additionally, the Astros have a surplus of capable of starting pitchers. With Justin Verlander now back in the fold and Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Luis García and José Urquidy expected to fill out the rest of the rotation, Jake Odorizzi and Cristian Javier could be intriguing trade chips.

As important as it is for teams to roster more than just five starters, the Astros could move Odorizzi, who ZiPS projects to have a bounce-back season, or Javier, a young and talented hurler whose best role has been as a swing man, and still be more than OK from a depth standpoint. The aforementioned improved farm system has developed talented arms that are on the cusp of the big leagues — Hunter Brown, Shawn Dubin, Peter Solomon and, before injuries derailed his ascension, the once top pitching prospect in perhaps all the minors, Forrest Whitley, who could return to game action sometime during the year as he progresses through Tommy John rehab.

Without delving into specific trade proposals — which would be fairly pointless at this juncture — the Astros could afford to move either Odorizzi or Javier in addition to a prospect or two if it markedly improved the club’s outlook. It wouldn’t be ideal for Brown, Dubin, Solomon or Whitley (health permitting) to be fixtures in a contending rotation as rookies, but could they contribute from the bullpen and provide depth in the event of injuries to the starting staff? I think that would be a reasonable plan.

There would be a number of routes the Astros could explore if they desired to upgrade their roster via trade. In 2021, what ultimately happened was expected beforehand — a few savvy, relatively inexpensive deals were executed, but none of the organization’s top prospects were jettisoned in the process.

Based on the depth that’s been accumulated in the majors and minors, the Astros could be more flexible in trade talks, which would enable them to aim higher in acquiring big-league talent.