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Facing an Astros dilemma: To trade or not to trade for a first baseman?

The Astros have Yuli Gurriel, but the Cuban veteran has been struggling for the biggest portion of 2022.

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

With only three days away from the August 2 trade deadline, the Astros are in front of a difficult decision to make. With Yuli Gurriel heavily struggling with his offense throughout the entire season, Houston must decide whether it’s ready to move on from him and get another first baseman via trade or give Yuli a chance to vindicate himself with a strong regular-season finish. But the clock keeps ticking.

It has different perspectives, though.

There are the ones who are afraid of messing up with the enviable chemistry the Astros have had for years. Gurriel is a well-respected man in the organization, won the batting title and a Gold Glove less than a year ago, is a Cuban legend, and a popular player within the Astros fanbase. He’s been an Astro for seven seasons now and it isn’t easy to, all of a sudden, find a replacement for him. I wouldn’t want to be James Click right now, believe me.

On the other side, there are the other ones who think the Astros need more run support from one of baseball’s most productive positions. At the end of the day, when it comes to their first basemen in 2022, the Astros are…

- 27th in home runs (8)

- 30th in runs batted in (32)

- 26th in batting average (.223)

- 29th in on-base percentage (.275)

- 27th in slugging percentage (.364)

- 28th in OPS (.639)

- 28th in wRC+ (83)

- 28th in batting average with RISP (.178)

- 29th in OPS with RISP (.468)

Got the point? The team does have a void to fill and/or the need to have a better Gurriel version. From an ironic, sarcastic standpoint and with a touch of humor, but with all due respect to Yuli, the Astros had another Martín Maldonado for the majority of the first four months of the campaign, but this one has been covering first base.

However, remember I said “majority” above? Well, there are some signs that suggest that Gurriel has improved at the plate recently. Take a look at the following stats of April/May Gurriel and June/July Gurriel…

- April/May: .218/.257/.358/.615, 17 XBH’s, 13 RBI’s, 74 wRC+, 86.6 MPH EV, 34.3 HardHit%, .150 AVG with RISP

- June/July: .264/.328/.425/.753, 19 XBH’s, 14 RBI’s, 118 wRC+, 88.9 MPH EV, 37.7 HardHit%, .179 AVG with RISP

Gurriel has indeed looked better, but still falls way below the acceptable when it comes to hitting with runners in scoring position, as you can see above too. This being said, the Astros can maintain Yuli hitting in the second spot of the lineup, which in theory should give him more opportunities to get on base and fewer chances with runners on board, that is, taking pressure off his shoulders.

In fact, Yuli has posted a .307/.349/.403 slash line over his last 17 games, thanks to 19 hits across 62 at-bats.

And in case you’re one of those who want the Astros to trade for Nationals’ slugging first baseman Josh Bell, let me tell you an astonishing fact: Bell’s OPS with RISP is .734 (actually better than Yuli’s, but nothing out of the ordinary) while his OPS with two outs and RISP is .578.

Are the Astros going after a rental bat sacrificing controllable talent or will they give the 38-year-old veteran one last chance before he hits free agency after the World Series?

Do the Astros want to show an aggressive, all-in approach by acquiring Bell or somebody else to be their new first baseman or would they rather improve other areas and continue with Yuli at least until they can trade for or sign someone (even Bell, why not?) in the 2022-2023 offseason?

Those are some of the questions general manager James Click needs to answer before August 2.