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Improvement Through Trades: A Speculative Exercise

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As of today, the Astros’ playoff odds stand at 93% on Fangraphs, and their chances at winning the division stand at 70%. Not bad for a team that was under .500 ten days ago.

The Pitching

Six weeks into the season, especially coming off such an abbreviated Spring, it’s worth asking what we know about the team that we didn’t know in March. One thing is clear: the dead ball is helping this team’s pitching staff, and nobody more than the fly-ball-dealing starters: Verlander, Urquidy, Odorizzi, Garcia, and Javier, all of whom are sporting ground ball %s in the 30s, except for Javier at 23.9%. Framber is the outlier, both in terms of GB% (73%!) and in terms of fly balls leaving the yard (25%).

Still, early May returns are looking good for early March questions—JV is more than fine, Javier has gotten better, Jake O has found himself, and Framber has learned to throw strikes without the sticky stuff. Every realist expects pitching regression, especially in the bullpen (I see you, Hector Neris and Blake Taylor), but this rotation is solid, with an ace, three #2s, whatever Javier is, plus two 4/5 starters (Urquidy and Odo), one of whom has proven himself to be made of steel under playoff pressure.

TL;DR: this team has lots of pitching, and SP depth out of its ears.

The Hitting

On the hitting side, one can make no such claim. The CF tandem of Chas + Siri has proven to be a capable fill-in for Meyers (0.5 WAR in 140 PAs) and Jeremy Pena is leading the team in WAR (1.4). Otherwise the unknown bats have proven to be a mess: Taylor Jones, our corner IF depth and potential RH pinch-hitter, is injured. In his place the Astros have given a 40-man spot to Matijevic, who looked totally overmatched in 5 PAs. Niko Goodrum seems washed, going 5/36 with 1 BB and 18 Ks thus far. Castro (2 for 34) looks even more lost at the plate than Maldy (5/70). Siri’s value comes from base running and defense,

Our super sub, Aledmys Diaz, has started to heat up, but he’s at best a league average hitter if you look at the last few seasons (perfectly respectable for a utility man). On the farm, we have Joe Perez and Matijevic on the 40-man, plus Taylor Jones. The Manny Valdez hype train is leaving the station and I’m on it, but it’s hard to expect a 40FV prospect to shore up a team’s bench mid-season.

TL;DR: the team needs a bench bat and some offensive depth.

The Case to be Made

We saw what guys like Kyle Schwarber and Eddie Rosario did for contenders’ lineups last season. The most obvious move for James Click to make is to find a guy, preferably a switch-hitter or a lefty, to plug into this team to sub for a a very right-handed IF and to pinch-hit late in games for Maldy, Siri, or Chaz. The most obvious place to deal from is a place of strength: the starting rotation.

You know what I’m tired of hearing: you can never have enough pitching. In fact, you can, especially when you refuse to trade any of it to repair a cannon-ball sized hole in the side of your ship. This team’s bench sucks. It is too right-handed. Goodrum is the exception in theory, but he hit .185 last season from the left side), it has no power, and Goodrum is a sunk cost at this point. Getting someone like a 2022 version of Schwarber or Joc Peterson would vastly improve the team.

If that means saying goodbye to our 6th or 7th best starting pitcher, it’s a small price to pay. Because you know who else can never have enough pitching? The other 29 teams, or whatever playoff-aspiring teams in June are vying for one of the 12 playoff spots.