The Houston Astros are in a good position. They have one of the largest division leads in the majors thanks to a 64-33 record, and they have the third-best run differential to boot. By any objective measure, they're one of the three or four best clubs in the game -- and this comes after they've lost Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Gerrit Cole to free agency over the past few offseasons.
The Astros' past several winters may be defined by subtraction, but that doesn't mean this trade deadline season can't be defined by addition. So, just who and what might James Click and company be shopping for over the coming weeks? Let's dig in.
The Astros do have a few areas where they could stand to upgrade between now and Aug. 2. We'll focus on three here, to keep things somewhat tidy.
Foremost, Houston could use some additional help behind the plate. The Astros presumably love what Martin Maldonado brings to the table defensively and as a staff handler, but it wouldn't hurt to take a swing at a more-complete backstop -- especially if they're unsure about entrusting rookie Korey Lee with a larger role.
Likewise, the Astros could try to upgrade at first base, where Yuli Gurriel has underperformed this season; at minimum, that addition could help cover for Michael Brantley's absence.
A longer shot, given the complexion of the trade market, would see the Astros find an upgrade in center field. Chas McCormick has played well this season, though, and again, it's not like there are a ton of clear steps up out there.
Sean Murphy is a fantastic defensive backstop with a track record of being an average or better hitter at the dish. His raw exit velocity suggests there's more power lurking in his bat than his production has indicated, too, giving him a glint of upside. It's unknown how serious the Athletics are about moving Murphy, and whether or not they'd entertain trading him within the division. Still, the Astros should place a call.
Josh Bell is having another good season as he nears free agency, even reducing his strikeout rate to a career-low 13.5 percent. The Nationals would seem to have bigger fish to fry at this point in the form of the Juan Soto negotiations, but Bell would give the Astros another legitimate middle-of-the-order bat.
Trey Mancini is another potential first-base solution. All he does is hit, and he's an impending free agent, meaning the Astros wouldn't have to worry about massaging him into their long-term plans. The Astros front office should have a good working relationship with the Orioles, given that Mike Elias and Sig Megdal -- two of Baltimore's top execs -- both used to work in Houston.'
Potential trade chips
We'll break down the Astros system into tiers.
The top of the Astros system includes the likes of right-hander Hunter Brown, utility player Pedro Leon, and catchers Yainer Diaz and the aforementioned Lee. If they go fishing for big names, those are the kinds of players you'd likely see moved.
Otherwise, the Astros could attempt to trade prospects who will be eligible for this winter's Rule 5 draft as a way of adding veteran talent and removing potential logjams. Think infielders David Hensley and Grae Kessinger and outfielder Jordan Brewer.