It’s still early, of course, but with a seven-game lead in the AL West entering the evening’s action, the Astros (like the rest of the league) now look like a buyer on the summer trade market. As Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports, GM Jeff Luhnow says that the club is looking at where it might improve, with starting pitching at the top of the list.
According to Luhnow, the “only area that’s obvious [to explore acquisitions] is in the rotation.” While the unit owns a 3.64 collective ERA, that has been driven by the strong work from Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh at the top of the rotation. Roberto Hernandez and Scott Feldman have been serviceable, but hardly dominant, and the team has yet to settle on a fifth starter. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained earlier today, and as Tim Dierkes and I noted in last week’s MLBTR Podcast, Houston has the cash, prospects, and need to profile as an early and aggressive buyer.
The Stros’ head baseball decisionmaker did not shy away from acknowledging that situation. “[The club’s strong start] makes it more likely that we’re going to be making moves to have an immediate payback and potentially even moves that come at a cost long term,” said Luhnow. “The more we feel like we’ve got a chance to be relevant all summer and potentially be relevant in October, the more we can be focused on what we can do to bolster this team.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Astros are looking to make a rare May strike for an arm, of course. “We’re constantly looking at it,” Luhnow explained. “It’s unusual for things to start this soon but we’re certainly doing our homework to get ready for it.”
If and when the time comes, though, it seems that Houston will be able to add to its still-low payroll. Luhnow said that he has spoken with owner Jim Crane about the club’s spending capacity, saying that “there are scenarios where we would continue to invest in this team as the year goes on in order to maximize our chances of not just getting to the playoffs, but being better in the playoffs.” Reading between the lines, the notion of bolstering the club’s playoff roster would suggest that an impactful starting acquisition is not out of the question.
This early look in at the Astros’ thought process should not be read as an assumption on the club’s part that it will continue to play this level of baseball. While acknowledging the rising expectations, Luhnow cautioned that a quick start is no assurance of continued success. “But, at the same time,” he said, “it’s never too early plan for the outcomes we’ve been trying to get towards.”