The Houston Astros are, as you know, the reigning world champions. They're coming off a 101-win season in 2017, and this year their on target to top 100 victories once again. While the Mariners are within range of the division lead at the moment, the SportsLine Projection Model for now expects the Astros to fend off Seattle by a reasonably comfortable margin. So for GM Jeff Luhnow, the deadline will be used to fortify his roster for deep playoff run rather than as a means to get his team into the postseason in the first place. Let's have a closer look:
The Astros have a stuff rotation, a lineup with multiple All-Stars, and a deep bullpen. They're stacked, and the fact that they're second in the AL in runs scored and first in fewest runs allowed suggests that the roster is without a real weakness. That's certainly the case. Maybe you squint and say Brian McCann's knee surgery, which will sideline him for several weeks, means they need a catcher. Really, though, Max Stassi has been productive this season, and the organization has a great deal of confidence in him. As well, DH Evan Gattis can still work behind the plate when needed. Veteran Tim Federowicz is also presently on the active roster.
You could also make the case that the 'Stros need another reliable outfield bat alongside George Springer and Josh Reddick. Houston, though, has a potential in-house solution that may be as good as any on the market. Top position prospect Kyle Tucker -- the No. 15 overall prospect on Baseball America's preseason list -- was recently called up, which signals the Astros likely won't be looking for external solutions on that front.
The rotation? Nah. It already houses Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers. They've got swingmen in the bullpen, and top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley may be ready for a promotion down the stretch. So the bullpen? This is the by-default move for contenders without any glaring need, and certainly surplus depth is a good thing, given that starter workloads tend to decline in October these days. Well, the Houston relief corps right now leads the AL in ERA and FIP, so you'd be filling hole that's ... not really a hole at all. That said, it's the only path toward an active deadline for the champs. While a stand-pat approach would be more than justified on Luhnow's part, we'll provide some bullpen options just in case. Likely of specific interest will be left-handed options to go alongside Tony Sipp, who's right now the only left-hander in the pen.
Best trade targets
Britton's start to 2018 was delayed because of an Achilles' injury, and he's struggled with his control across a very limited sample of innings thus far. That said, Britton isn't far removed from a four-year run of dominance from 2014-17. The velocity on his sinker has been down this season, so proceed with caution. He's a pending free agent.
Diekman is a 31-year-old lefty who doesn't have notable platoon issues and who offsets his occasional control issues with strong ground-ball tendencies. He's eligible for free agency at season's end. Would the Rangers deal him to the rival Astros? He's a middle reliever, so it's not as though this would be some kind of headline-grabbing exchange.
The lefty Hand has been the subject of trade rumors for multiple seasons. He's turning in another strong season for the Padres, thanks in part to heavier use of his wipeout slider. Hand's under contract through 2021 (assuming his club option is picked up), and that's why he'll be coveted on the market. He'll be costly, but he'd definitely move the needle for the already strong Houston pen.
Obviously, Whitley and Tucker are off the table if we're talking about depth plays for relievers. The same probably goes for right-hander Rogelio Armenteros. You're going to have to move down the Astros' prospect list to find names in play. Those names potentially include David Paulino, Yordan Alvarez, Corbin Martin, Jorge Alcala, Jonathan Arauz, and Hector Perez. There's more than enough to put together a compelling package for a controllable lockdown arm like Hand without touching the best prospects in the Houston system. Throw in the Astros' lack of desperation, and they're in a good spot heading toward July 31.