The Houston Astros are the defending World Series champions, so it follows that they intend to make a vigorous attempt at becoming MLB's first back-to-back title winners since the Yankees won it all in 1999 and 2000.
Right now, though, their lock on a postseason berth is not especially secure. They're in the third and final wild-card position in the AL, but the Red Sox, Yankees, and even Angels and Mariners aren't far behind. If they're going to hold off those squads, let alone make a run at the Rangers atop the AL West, then first-year GM Dana Brown will probably need an active trade deadline.
Speaking of which, we're here to preview what the Astros' deadline might look like as Aug. 1 approaches. So let's now survey the champs' needs, possible targets and names they might dangle.
The Astros were for a long time renowned for the rotation depth – rotation depth that was the envy of almost every other team in baseball. The thing about pitching depth, though, is that you have it until you don't, and that particular script can flip quickly. In the Astros' case, they were first hit by the free-agent departure of 2022 AL Cy Young winner (and future Hall of Famer) Justin Verlander to the Mets. Then Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia were both hit with season-ending injuries. Really, that leaves Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier as the lone known quantities in the Houston rotation right now.
Thus far, the Houston rotation has been a strength. Across the majors, the Astros right now are a strong fifth in rotation ERA and ninth in rotation K/BB ratio. However, the over-reliance on unproven arms means there's some collapse potential. They could use an addition, and that's the case even with José Urquidy on minor-league rehab assignment.
Elsewhere, Michael Brantley's uncertain status and unclear timeline after undergoing shoulder surgery means the Astros could use an outfield bat. Ideally, they'd find one from the left side to add balance to a lineup that currently leans a bit too right-handed.
The Cubs seem to be positioned as sellers, and Stroman would be a popular shot in the arm for the Houston rotation. He's thrived this season, and since 2019 he boasts a sparkling ERA+ of 134 across 110 starts. Stroman's contract includes a $21 million player option for 2024, but he figures to opt for free agency.
As long as the Astros are striking a deal with the Cubs, why not work Bellinger into the mix? While his batted-ball indicators are somewhat troubling, Bellinger is enjoying his most productive season at the plate since his NL MVP campaign of 2019. In addition to batting left-handed, Bellinger is also capable of playing all three outfield positions.
It's not certain that the Tigers are going to sell, but if they do Rodriguez will be their most alluring piece. The 30-year-old lefty has an opt-out in his contract that he seems likely to use this coming offseason, so consider him to be a walk-year guy. He's enjoyed a nifty renaissance season in 2023, as he boasts a 2.79 ERA in 13 starts. For his career, Rodriguez has put a quite solid ERA+ of 111 across parts of eight big-league seasons.
The Astros are said to have fond dreams of acquiring Dylan Cease from the White Sox, but it seems quite unlikely that Chicago will move him. While they have GM Rick Hahn on the phone, though, maybe they can ask about Giolito. The pending free agent is enjoying a quality bounce-back season in 2023 thanks in part to a refined slider that he features more prominently. Outside of an uncharacteristically poor 2022 season, Giolito has been a consistent frontline starter since his breakout campaign of 2019.
Outfielder Drew Gilbert, the Astros first-round pick last year out of the University of Tennessee, reached Double-A earlier this season and is a standout defender in center. The Astros indeed have plenty of outfield depth in the system, with names like Jacob Melton, Colin Barber, and Ryan Clifford also perhaps being of interest to sellers. Houston will probably try to resist dealing Hunter Brown or Yainer Diaz, as they presently have roles with the big-league club.