Sports

Astros Bolster Lineup with Trio of Trades

Christian Vazquez (left) will bring a needed bat to the bottom of the Astros order.
Christian Vazquez (left) will bring a needed bat to the bottom of the Astros order. Photo by Jack Gorman
It took a while for Major League Baseball's trade deadline activity to heat up, but a flurry of deals came down on Monday including three that involved the Astros. The team acquired first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini from the Baltimore Orioles and pitcher Jayden Murray from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Jose Siri and minor league pitching prospect Chayse McDermott in a three-team deal.

They followed that up by landing Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez in exchange for infielder Emmanuel Valdez and outfielder Wilyer Abreu. Vazquez was in Houston for the Sox three-game series at Minute Maid when the deal went down.

Finally, just as the Astros fell to the Red Sox 3-2, it was announced they would send starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi to Atlanta in exchange for veteran lefty reliever Will Smith.

The first two trades immediately address issues with the Astros lineup, which has struggled despite a team that is winning on the strength of their pitching. And, it would appear the Astros still have other moves ahead of the Tuesday deadline. "We are not done by any means," said GM James Click when discussing the deals. Not sure if, now that the Smith trade is done, that still applies, but it's clear the team is attempting to strengthen itself for a playoff run.

Mancini, 30, is a cancer survivor and fan favorite in Baltimore. This season, he's split time between first base, outfield and designated hitter, slashing .268/.347/.404/.751, an upgrade over Yuli Gurriel, who has improved over the last month, and certainly better than any of the platooned outfielders the Astros have put in center field this year. It should allow them flexibility to play a combination of Mancini, Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez, Jake Meyers and hot-hitting Aledmys Diaz in several spots, while providing rest when needed.

It could also afford Michael Brantley additional time to rehab from a shoulder injury that has kept him out for over a month. At last check, he was throwing, but not swinging a bat yet.

Vazquez, a veteran catcher, will provide a much needed boost behind the plate. While Martin Maldonado has been outstanding defensively and as a manager on the field, his .173 batting average has been hard to swallow at the bottom of the order. Vazquez is hitting .282 this season and will likely platoon with Maldonado at the position.

Smith has struggled a bit this year with a 4.38 ERA in 41 games, but he gives the Astros a much needed left handed reliever and helps to relieve a bit of the glut in the starting rotation. With Lance McCullers, Jr.'s return imminent, a decision would have to be made on which pitcher would go into the bullpen with seven starters. This allows them to stay in a six-man rotation, ease McCullers back in and keep Justin Verlander healthy. Plus, they don't have to give up one of their young arms in the process (unless a bigger deal comes along before the deadline).

The Astros had looked at some bigger names on the market including Washington's Josh Bell, but clearly decided the price was too high. Thus far, they have only had to give one rotation player in Odorizzi and none of their top prospects despite fortifying their lineup, nabbing another arm for the bullpen and adding bats to an already fairly potent group. Even if Click were to stand pat, this would be considered a successful trade deadline for the team and a significant improvement with little loss of talent in the process.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke