|Astros’ Surprising Start Propelled by Trade Targets||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on June 15, 2012
The Houston Astros are celebrating their 50th anniversary, but that was the only celebration expected this year at Minute Maid Park.
Following an atrocious 56-106 last-place finish (40 games out of first place), the Astros did not improve at all this offseason. The rebuilding phase was in full gear, so the Opening Day lineup had really only one recognizable name: Carlos Lee.
Surprisingly, the Astros have not been as bad as forecasted. Yes, the team is under .500, but they've actually shown some signs of life. The Astros really should be where the Cubs are (if not worse) in the cellar of the division.
Other than Lee and a few veterans, the Astros are a group of young players still trying to get their feet wet in the major leagues. With an impending move to the AL, many of these veterans may be shipped out at the trade deadline, especially if they continue playing well.
Leading the way is young second baseman Jose Altuve. He leads the team with a .325 batting average, 79 hits, 17 doubles and 11 stolen bases. Altuve's been a spark plug at the top of the order, so he might be someone the Astros try to build around.
However, Lee, better known as "El Caballo," may have his bags pre-packed by the time July rolls around. He's a free agent after this season, and it is extremely unlikely that the Astros re-sign him even though he would be able to play everyday as a designated hitter.
Lee is hitting a solid .297 on the year, but his power numbers (four home runs) and run producing ability (23 RBIs) have slipped. Still, a team looking to add a right-handed power bat may give the Astros a call about Lee's services.
Another name that should draw much trade attention is left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez. He's a few years removed now from his breakout year in 2009 (14-12, 3.02 ERA, 193 strikeouts), but he's been on the short end of low run support the past few seasons.
He's off to a 5-4 start this year with a 3.27 ERA. Trade rumors swirled around him this offseason, but a deal never materialized. However, since starting pitching is a coveted commodity for teams making a playoff push, expect Rodriguez to be on the move.
The Astros also have some bullpen arms that they could trade. Closer Brett Myers has been great with 15-of-16 saves and a 2.08 ERA, while veteran righty Brandon Lyon is finally earning his $5.5 million salary as evidenced by his 2.55 ERA in 26 appearances.
Just like starting pitching, relief pitchers are often on the move at the trade deadline. Myers or Lyon could shore up a contender's bullpen just in time for a playoff appearance.
If Lee, Rodriguez, Myers and Lyon were all traded, it would certainly deplete any remnants of a Major League-caliber baseball team in Houston. However, the Astros could net some intriguing prospects in return, especially for Lee and Rodriguez.
The team has blossoming talent in the form of J.D. Martinez, Jason Castro, Brett Wallace and top pitching prospect Jordan Lyles. Throw Jed Lowrie, Chris Johnson and J.A. Happ in the mix, and the team has some valuable pieces.
Couple those valuable pieces with some Major League ready prospects via trade, and the Astros could be a competitive bunch upon moving to the AL West.