Matt York/Associated Press
The Houston Astros were always going to be in for something of a rude awakening in 2020.
Houston’s 2017 World Series championship was tarnished after it was revealed the Astros had devised a sign-stealing system designed to benefit hitters. Manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were both fired, and the franchise found ridicule at every turn.
There were exterior factors making this season more stressful as well, notably the fact George Springer would be a free agent at the end of the year.
Needless to say, the Astros entered the 2020 campaign with a lot to ponder, and that was all before the season was suspended for four months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The uncertainty as to how Houston would respond was then amplified when it was revealed Justin Verlander suffered a right forearm strain. Things have been a struggle ever since.
Although the Astros started the year 7-10, they rattled off eight straight wins to charge back into the division race. But Houston has cooled again in advance of Monday’s trade deadline, going just 2-4 in its last six games.
The Astros are 4.5 games back of the Oakland Athletics and are unlikely to make it a tight race if stars like Springer and Jose Altuve continue to struggle and the pitching staff remains the same without Verlander.
It would seem the Astros are going to be buyers at the deadline, despite the fact their farm system is the second-worst in baseball, according to MLB.com. Both Springer and Michael Brantley will be free agents this year, followed by both Verlander and Zack Greinke next offseason. This deadline might mark the final push for one of the best teams of the last five years.
Indeed, Eno Sarris and Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic reported the Astros are showing interest in Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray and Boston Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes.
Ray has had serious command issues, leading the majors in walks (31) and earned runs (27) en route to a 7.84 ERA in his first seven starts. Still, Ray is striking out 11.1 opposing hitters per nine innings for his career, and he is just two years removed from going 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA.
The Astros have had plenty of success with reclamation projects, reinvigorating the careers of guys like Verlander and Charlie Morton. Perhaps they will buy low on Ray (who will be a free agent this winter) in the hopes they can transform him into an ace.
Barnes would give Houston another hard-throwing reliever in Houston’s injury-riddled bullpen, and the Red Sox should be eager sellers after a 10-22 start. Barnes has gotten hammered this year; he ranks in the fourth percentile in terms of average exit velocity against, per Baseball Savant. But again, the Astros might feel they can help Barnes turn things around given the success of their development and analytics teams.
In any case, the Astros appear determined to add more pitching as they look to make a final push at the division crown in this tumultuous season.
Rays Interested in Christian Vazquez
Julio Cortez/Associated Press
While the Astros are hoping to add more pitching, the Tampa Bay Rays are looking to address an area of need.
Veteran backstop Mike Zunino was hitting .133 with a .619 OPS through his first 23 games, and backup catcher Michael Perez had a .468 OPS prior to Friday’s game against the Miami Marlins.
The Rays are looking for more pop behind the dish, and they are another team looking to possibly exploit Boston’s poor start.
Sarris and Ghiroli reported Tampa Bay is interested in Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez, adding discussions are “centering around Tampa’s pitching prospects.”
Vazquez has not been quite as productive with the bat as he was last year, and he is striking out more. But the 30-year-old hit 23 homers last year, and he also had four homers in his first five games this season prior to this most recent drought.
It seems unlikely the Rays would give up their No. 6 prospect for Vazquez. That said, Red Sox president Chaim Bloom formerly worked for Tampa Bay, so he knows those players well.
Perhaps this could be a multi-player deal in which the Rays send prospects to Boston in exchange for Vazquez and someone like Barnes or Ryan Brasier. It might make sense, given all the injuries in Tampa Bay’s bullpen.
Cubs “Asking” About Cameron Maybin
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
The Chicago Cubs could be looking to address multiple needs at the deadline, including a reliever capable of working against left-handed hitters.
But it seems the North Siders are also pursuing another bat to help a struggling offense.
Sarris and Ghiroli reported the Cubs and Detroit Tigers have been “active” in trade talks, with the Cubs taking interest in veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin.
Maybin has played sparingly for the Tigers, getting just 42 plate appearances through the team’s first 29 games. But he had some success as a platoon piece for a competitive New York Yankees team last season, and he might serve as yet another veteran leader for a Cubs team struggling to put it together.
Chicago started the year 13-3 but fell to just 5-10 in their last 15 games after Friday’s loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Star shortstop Javier Baez had a .669 OPS before going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Friday. Willson Contreras’ strikeout rate has also risen, while Kris Bryant is still on the injured list with a wrist injury.
Theo Epstein and Co. appear to be seeking low-cost depth pieces to help add depth as the Cubs search for a spark entering the second half.
All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted.