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James Click seems primed to make his biggest trade as Astros GM

After employing a fairly prudent approach at the trade deadline in 2021, reports indicate Click is aiming to make at least one significant acquisition this time around.

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

A year ago, it would’ve made sense for the Astros to push their chips in at the trade deadline.

The eventual American League champions entered the deadline as one of the favorites to win the World Series, and perhaps more notably, had what was presumed by many to be their best team for the foreseeable future. At the time, it seemed 2021 would be their best, last chance to win another title.

But no blockbluster trade happened. Instead, a pair of shrewd moves headlined James Click’s deadline haul.

Abraham Toro was traded to the Mariners in exchange for relievers Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero. Myles Straw netted Indians reliever Phil Maton and hitting prospect Yainer Diaz. Graveman and Maton proved instrumental in the subsequent playoff run, while Montero has been terrific in 2022. Even Diaz, once considered a decent-but-unremarkable prospect, has emerged as one of the Astros’ best.

Though the Astros fell two wins shy of winning it all in 2021 and subsequently entered the 2022 campaign with a purportedly downgraded roster, Houston remains one of baseball’s premier contenders. Because the viability of the 2021 team has impressively carried over into 2022 despite key losses, Click’s decision to withhold premium players could have a fairly large payoff at this year’s trade deadline.

On the heels of a fruitful draft and armed with an improved collection of assets, the third-year GM is positioned to do what he’s yet to during his Astros tenure: make a serious splash.

Based on reports, it’s what he intends:

Insider extraordinaire Ken Rosenthal reports that the Astros have not only been inquiring about big-name players such as the Nationals’ Josh Bell, but have been “aggressive” in trying to finalize a trade.

In regard to Bell — who is perhaps the top bat on the trade market not named Juan Soto — there’s an awful lot of motivation for Click to try and execute a deal for the switch-hitting slugger, as Yuli Gurriel has simply been unable to find his old form in 2021. The 38-year-old first baseman carries a .237/.289/.391 slash (94 wRC+) through 350 plate appearances, with poor peripherals to boot.

While Gurriel is beloved in the clubhouse and by the fan base, his production is inadequate for a first baseman on a contending club. Bell, on the other hand, is tied for sixth in wRC+ among all qualified first basemen entering Friday and owns a 92nd percentile xwOBA. The 29-year-old former All-Star is an impending free agent, but would represent a substantial upgrade if dealt for.

In addition to naming Bell, Rosenthal connects the Astros to a “controllable catcher and/or center fielder.” It’s this specific detail that indicates Click is aiming high. How does he plan on securing a top-flight player, especially one that isn’t merely a rental? Building a package around one of the Astros’ young, controllable starters, namely José Urquidy.

Urquidy’s name has garnered the most mentions in the rumor mill, and he would seem to be slightly more expendable than Luis García or Cristian Javier, each of whom possesses more upside thanks to their respective abilities to generate whiffs, something that Urquidy has never exceled at.

The exceptional depth in the Astros starting rotation has enabled Click to potentially offer what few teams could. Starting pitching is always coveted by contenders, but a young, controllable (and productive) arm would be appealing to any club.

With Lance McCullers Jr. already having commenced the final stage of his rehab process at Double-A Corpus Christi, and provided that there aren’t any hiccups as his rehab intensifies, someone in a rotation that is already six deep will eventually lose their spot. And that’s not even accounting for Hunter Brown, the Astros’ top prospect, who has made enough progress at Triple-A Sugar Land to warrant a big-league trial.

It’s yet to be identified who exactly Click would target in terms of controllable catchers or center fielders, but based on his interest in acquiring such a player, as well as his reported aggression in trying to land Bell, it’s clear that a big move is in the works. Considering the Astros’ talent pool has just been significantly boosted, it’s possible there may be more than one.