Astros general manager derived a new strategy to tackle problems

With Houston’s problems, Astros general manager “can’t envision” selling at the MLB trade deadline: How might dismantling proceed?

Despite their 12-23 record, the Astros have no intention of selling anytime soon. Though we can consider it, the New York Yankees thrashed the Houston Astros 10-3 on Tuesday night, led by future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, who allowed seven runs on eight hits in five innings.

It wasn’t totally unexpected, considering how the Astros’ 2024 season has gone. Their record plummeted to 12-23 after the loss, which tied them for bottom place in the AL West with a team that lost 112 games the previous season and another that lost Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in free agency.

The White Sox, Rockies, and Marlins are the only clubs in MLB with a worse record—the absolute bottom dogs. With the transfer of Luis Arraez to the Padres, the Marlins has offloaded a crucial player. We can anticipate the Rockies and White Sox to be sellers this season as well, given that they are both on pace to lose more than 120 games (for real).

As for the Astros, who are now on track to win 56-106. Should that sound familiar, it was the Astros’ 2011 record, the first of three consecutive dreadful seasons before things began to turn around for the team.

The Astros may be sellers this season if things keep going in this direction.

On Tuesday, general manager Dana Brown was asked if he could envision a situation in which that idea materializes. He would not consider it.

He said, “No,” to MLB Network. No, I’m not able to imagine that. This baseball team is too talented.”

You have to concede to Brown on one hand. Remember that I mentioned earlier that the terrible rebuilding years more than ten years ago were the turning point for the franchise. They have now qualified for the ALCS seven times in a row; during this streak, they have won two World Series championships and four AL pennants. They returned a remarkably identical roster to the one that finished one game short of the World Series the previous year.

With that in mind, the general manager most definitely shouldn’t be prepared to announce a selloff with just 35 games remaining in the season.
However, we don’t have to share the same perspective. We can certainly investigate whether the Astros are truly that bad before delving much deeper into “what  if they are sellers?” territory. Let’s do just that.

Are they this bad?

It can be folly to judge teams based on run differential early in the season (for example, note that the Cubs lost 17-0 one game, totally wrecking the curve for a while), but the Astros’ run differential of -27 says they should be around 15-20 instead of 12-23. I suppose that’s a better sign than the actual record, but 15-20 isn’t exactly good. Small-sample caveats remain in play, but Fangraph’s “BaseRuns” has the Astros at -4, which indicates they’ve played more like a 16-19 team than their actual record. Again, better but not good — and those 23 losses in 35 games are banked and can’t be taken back.

We could glance at the projection systems and see they still have a decent chance to make the playoffs. SportsLine has them finishing 87-75 and with a 47.1% chance to make the postseason. You don’t sell with those odds.

If we glance at the personnel, we could try to find players who will turn things around. Jose Altuve has been amazing, so it’s not him. Kyle Tucker is also having an excellent season. Yordan Alvarez isn’t hitting well for average (.248), but he sits currently with a 123 OPS+, so while there’s room for growth, it’s not like we should expect him to absolutely explode.

Alex Bregman is the one to watch. He’s slashing .195/.275/.260 and we know with his track record he’s much better than this.

Overall on offense, things could stand to happen in a more timely fashion. They are first in the AL in batting average, second in on-base percentage, third in slugging and eighth in runs. The lag in runs can be partially attributed to sequencing, or, as noted a second ago, timing. They are hitting .225/.313/.331 with runners in scoring position and two outs, causing them to strand 253 runners — or more than seven per game.

One would expect things to turn around on that front.

In the rotation, they’ve dealt with injuries. Verlander has only made four starts. Framber Valdez has also only made four. Cristian Javier hit the IL after four himself. Hunter Brown and J.P. France have been bad in 12 combined starts, though Ronel Blanco has been a surprising bright spot.

The bullpen has been an issue with Josh Hader (6.14 ERA) and Ryan Pressly (5.27) being terrible after entering the season as what should have been the most dominant back-end duo in baseball.

In all, the Astros’ 4.92 ERA is 14th of 15 AL teams.

It’s very reasonable to conclude the likes of Bregman, Alvarez, Verlander, Valdez, Hader and Pressly pick it up while the offense starts to hit better in so-called clutch situations. That would then right the proverbial ship and Brown would be correct for not envisioning being a seller.

Still, there is a world where this is just how the team plays all season. If that’s the case …

What if they sell?

Verlander has a $35 million option for next season that vests if he throws 140 innings this season and he’s already been on the injured list. He might not make it and if he doesn’t, he’ll hit free agency after the year. If he’s healthy in July and the Astros are out of it, he’ll absolutely be discussed in trade rumors. It’s possible there will teams willing to pay him that fee next season or at least split it up in some fashion with the Astros. And, again, there’s no guarantee he’ll get to 140.

Bregman is a free agent after this season, so he would be a rental and could be a very attractive one. I know he isn’t hitting right now, but he’s 30 years old and posted 4.9 WAR last season. Teams would be lining up to speak with the Astros about him.

There’s a $14 million mutual option for Pressly for next season, otherwise he’d be a free agent. Not only would that be attractive to potential bullpen buyers, but he’d surely love a chance to return to closing duties after the Astros essentially demoted him when they signed Hader.

Speaking of the bullpen, Kendall Graveman (free agent after this season) and Rafael Montero (free agent after 2025) could go as well.

The Astros could trade any of these pieces without it having an effect on their intentions to return to the post-season in 2025.

It is not really important at this time. But it will be interesting to observe if the Astros continue to lose about two thirds of their games.

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