The Houston Astros right now trail the Athletics in the AL West. Houston remains the overwhelming favorite to make the expanded postseason field, and catching Oakland and winning its fourth straight division title is very much within the range of possibilities. That said, the Astros under first-year manager Dusty Baker and first-year GM James Click — the high-level turnover is of course a consequence of the sign-stealing scandal — have been hit hard by injuries in 2020. So if they’re to win the pennant for the third time in the last four seasons, then the Astros may need to make some moves leading up to the Aug. 31 trade deadline. Now let’s take a closer look at that very matter. 

Biggest needs

It’s pitching. Yes, the Astros are banged up everywhere right now, including the lineup, but pitching depth is the most acute need. In the rotation, ace Justin Verlander is on the IL with a forearm injury, and it’s not known whether he’ll pitch again this season. Verlander had some positive returns after a recent throwing session, so perhaps there’s a bit optimism that he’ll be able to pitch again in 2020. That said, he’s right now an unknown quantity, and nothing can be assumed. Beyond that, don’t forget about the free agent losses of Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, and Collin McHugh. Zack Greinke has pitched at an ace level thus far, and Framber Valdez appears to have taken the next step. 

In the bullpen, the Astros have been fairly mediocre in terms of both run prevention and the underlying indicators. Ryan Pressly has been particularly disappointing, and closer Roberto Osuna seems unlikely to pitch again this season because of an elbow injury. Youngsters Blake Taylor, Andre Scrubb, and Enoli Paredes have all been excellent to useful, but there’s risk of regression moving forward. As well, a lack of depth in the rotation can cascade into the bullpen, and that’s why Houston could use some relief reinforcements.

Possible targets

Lynn’s perhaps the prize of the deadline on the pitching front. He was long a solidly reliable starting pitcher, and he’s reached ace heights since signing with the Rangers prior to the 2019 season. Thanks to a retooled repertoire and a velocity bump, he should be able to keep it up. Lynn’s also under contract at bargain prices through the 2021 season. The question is whether Texas would trade him to their in-state divisional rivals. 

Rosenthal has bounced back in a big way thus far in 2020. He still has the big fastball, and he’s shown improved command of his secondary stuff. To the extent that it matters anymore, Rosenthal also has experience closing. 

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Kela, who’s in his walk year, missed the start of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, but the righty reliever boasts a career ERA+ of 139 and a K/BB ratio of 3.20 across parts of six big league campaigns. 

Bundy’s enjoyed a nifty breakdown season in his first go-round with the Angels (2.58 ERA, 44 strikeouts against seven unintentional walks in 38 1/3 innings). Speaking of the Angels, they’re almost certain to be sellers leading up to the deadline despite some talent on the roster and preseason designs on contention. Bundy’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, so he’s a catch. 

Taijuan Walker also would’ve been a strong fit for Houston, but the Mariners on Thursday traded him to the Blue Jays.

Trade chips

In his rundown of notable prospects who might be traded before Aug. 31, our own R.J. Anderson name-checked two Rule 5 Houston outfielders — Chas McCormick and Ronnie Dawson — as possible chips. As for pitching depth within the system, the Astros are already using much of it. However, top prospect Forrest Whitley, who’s one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, isn’t central to their plans in 2020. He’d likely be part of a blockbuster-level trade, but if the Astros decide to make a major deadline splash then Whitley could be central to it. 

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