Rosenthal: What the Astros want for one of their starters;  why the Padres could buy a pitcher

Rosenthal: What the Astros want for one of their starters; why the Padres could buy a pitcher

If the Astros fulfill their quest to trade one of their starting pitchers, they won’t be getting any prospects back. No, the Astros wanted to justify the move to their clubhouse by acquiring major-league help, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking. Ideally, that player would be a catcher or center fielder under club control beyond this season.

The Astros are willing to trade a starter because they already use a six-man rotation, and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will be a seventh option if, as expected, he returns from a forearm strain in August. Such depth can be fleeting. But as it stands now, the best way for the Astros to make their roster more functional would be to move a starter for a position player who would fill an existing need.

Who could that player be? Good question. The trade market is not deep in catchers or center fielders. The obvious potential targets — Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins, Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds, Athletics catcher Sean Murphy — aren’t playing for teams intent on making the playoffs. So the motivation for those clubs to meet the Astros’ price for an established starter wouldn’t be particularly strong.

The Orioles are a possible exception.

As a surprise wild-card contender, would they trade another three years of club control with Mullins for three of right-hander José Urquidy if the Astros were also willing to include center fielder Jose Siri and prospects in a bigger deal? A number of teams are exploring trades for Siri, sources said. The Phillies, Marlins and Brewers are among those looking for help in the middle.


Cedric Mullins (Scott Taetsch/USA Today Sports)

Jake Odorizzi, 32, is probably the pitcher the Astros consider most serviceable, but his value isn’t particularly high (he also developed a blister on his right middle finger Tuesday night that isn’t expected to be a problem for him going forward).

Urquidy, 27, would be in greater demand. He had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and missed another 2 1/2 months with shoulder problems last season. His stuff is not on par with Cristian Javier or Luis Garcia’s. But he has a career 3.69 ERA and experience in the last three postseasons, including his five scoreless innings as the Astros starter in Game 4 of the 2019 World Series.

For the Pirates to trade Reynolds or the Athletics to move Murphy, they would almost certainly require a package of younger players. They could land these players by acquiring a pitcher from the Astros and then flipping him to another club. More likely, the burden will fall on the Astros to find a third team. The prospects they obtained for their starter could then be used as part or all of a package for Reynolds or Murphy.

Such agreements are difficult to implement. Perhaps there is an easier path for the Astros to land a player who is not currently known to be available. Only one thing seems certain: If the Astros trade a starting pitcher, it will be talent that will help them in the present, not the future.

Padres looking for a starter?

The Padres’ AJ Preller is among the general managers who typically explore the pursuit of all big names, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he has checked in on the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and the Athletics’ Frankie Montas, according to sources. Still, the Padres’ mere interest in acquiring starting pitching is potentially telling on several fronts.

Bouncers can be:

• Support for left-hander MacKenzie Gore to be out for an extended period. Gore, a 23-year-old rookie, went on the injured list Tuesday with left elbow inflammation.

• Concerned about lefty Sean Manaea’s recent inconsistency. Manaea has a 5.91 ERA in his last seven starts, pitching four innings or fewer in three of them.

• Trying to trade lefty Blake Snell or another rookie to free up salary and/or fill other needs. The Padres are close to the $230 million luxury tax limit. Snell, who has a 3.20 ERA and 33 strikeouts over 19 2/3 innings in four July starts, is under contract for $10 million this season, $13 million next season and $16.6 million in 2023.

• Interested in adding a pitcher under club control beyond this season with Manaea, and righties Joe Musgrove and Mike Clevinger all potential free agents. Musgrove originally planned to reach a resolution on his contract talks by the end of the All-Star break. A week later, he still does not agree with the club, which means that he is a little more than three months away from the open market.

• Seeks additional protection as they return to more of a five-man rotation. They used six starters for most of the first half, but Gore’s injury changes the equation and righty Nick Martinez’s last start was June 18.

Like Manaea, who arrived in an April 3 trade from the Athletics, Montas played a number of seasons for Padres manager Bob Melvin in Oakland. The Cardinals and Yankees are among the other teams showing interest in the right-hander, who has hit twice since an 18-day layoff due to shoulder inflammation and has a 3.18 ERA in 104 2/3 innings for the season.

Diamondbacks’ Walker a first baseman of interest

The Nationals’ Josh Bell is perhaps the most in-demand first baseman, drawing interest from the Astros, Brewers and other clubs. But the Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker looms as an interesting option at the position.

Walker, 31, is batting just .204, the sixth-lowest average among qualifiers. However, he has hit 23 homers and his expected rate stats indicate that his actual should be better. He is also the best defensive first baseman in the league, measured by both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average. And unlike Bell, a potential free agent, Walker has two years of club control remaining.

The problem with trying to get Walker is that the Diamondbacks value him for the same reasons teams want to get him. Club officials therefore view a trade for Walker as questionable. They want to improve their big league club, not build the best farm system. And their farm system looks pretty good.

Outfielder Corbin Carroll ranks second and shortstop Jordan Lawlar 11th on MLB.com’s latest list of the top 100 prospects, which it published shortly before the amateur draft. The Diamondbacks’ selection of outfielder Druw Jones could give them three in the top 25 when the list is updated.

The team, while currently lacking a homegrown pitcher on its major-league staff, is excited about some of its pitchers in the minors. Notable among those is left-hander Tommy Henry, who has a 3.64 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Reno while pitching in a hitter-friendly home park and hitter-friendly league.

(Top photo: Jake Odorizzi: Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports)

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