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MLB trade rumors: Breaking down the potential prospect return from the Houston Astros

The Astros seem to need an outfielder. What can they offer the Rockies?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Since the offseason began, there has been intense speculation that the Colorado Rockies would trade an outfielder, preferably in exchange for some cost-controlled pitching. There have been rumors surrounding Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez going to the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, and surely a few others. One team that hasn’t come up has been the Houston Astros, which is strange since they could use outfield help.

A quick scroll through the Astros’ MLB Trade Rumors page will tell you that the Astros have really been looking to upgrade their starting rotation. But as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs pointed out last week, the Astros may not need to pursue another pitcher, since their top three of Dallas Keuchel (a Cy Young Award winner), Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh are all above average, and Mike Fiers and Charlie Morton are both capable as back-of-the-rotation starters. Meanwhile, their current outfield plans seems to be some combination of George Springer, Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran, Evan Gattis, Jake Marisnick and Nori Aoki. While the bats of Beltran and Gattis may play (and they will ostensibly be spending time at DH), a left field of Beltran/Gattis/Aoki doesn’t inspire great confidence.

Let’s grant the premise that the Astros, despite their already impressive lineup, would want to add a true outfielder to their ranks. Could the Rockies be a good trade partner? Charlie Blackmon is under team control for two more seasons, which fits nicely into Houston’s win curve, and plays centerfield well enough to possibly push George Springer over to left field. He’s also coming off a career year, which is why the rumors have been swirling around him. Carlos González could be dealt, but with the Astros already taking on the big contracts of Carlos Beltrán, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick this offseason, adding CarGo at one year and $20 million seems like it might be a bridge too far. Chuck Nazty it is.

What could the Astros offer in return? They have a farm system that is loaded with talent, including some pitchers who are close to major league ready, which seems to be the return Jeff Bridich is seeking in deals for Blackmon. It’s also possible that the Rockies might take some of their major league talent, maybe play Gattis at first base and move Ian Desmond to the outfield, but that, too, seems like a stretch. So who are these prospects?

Joe Musgrove, RHP

A supplemental round pick by the Blue Jays in 2011, Musgrove made his major league debut for the Astros on August 2 and put up a 4.06 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 16 walks over 10 games (11 starts) and 62 innings. After fighting shoulder problems early in his career, he rose quickly through the minors, jumping from low-A to Double-A in 2015, and from Double-A to the majors in 2016. Overall he owns a 3.23 ERA with 320 strikeouts and just 41 walks in 337 13 minor league innings.

His fastball sits around 92-93 mph with a slider in the low-80’s that he’s demonstrated he can spot in or out of the zone well. He also has a low-80’s changeup that he throws to both righties and lefties and generates a decent amount of swings and misses (15% whiff rate). Put it altogether and you have a pitcher who gets a fair number of strikeouts but whose real strength is limiting walks, a crucial skill when you play half of your games in Coors Field. Right now he’s a back-end starter, but has a chance to develop to something a little better. The Astros may be reluctant to deal Joe Musgrove, who has a shot to be the team’s fifth starter, but this is likely where the potential for a deal would start and end.

Francis Martes, RHP

Whereas Musgrove would be the safe bet on a major-league ready pitcher, Francis Martes would be the upside play. Currently ranked as the Astros’ top prospect both by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, Martes is about as intriguing as they come. Last year in Double-A Corpus Christi he posted a 3.30 ERA with 131 strikeouts and 47 walks in 125 13 innings over 22 starts. He has a fastball that hits triple digits and a curveball that is considered “potential plus-plus.” He also has a change that is average now but could morph into something greater as he develops. All in all, he’s likely to generate a lot of strikeouts and could find himself in the majors as early as next season.

It’s possible the Rockies could swap Blackmon for Martes straight up, maybe with a low-A pitcher (see below). The Nationals sent their number one prospect plus two others in exchange for five more years of Adam Eaton, and they had a clear need for a centerfielder. Though Blackmon is better, having fewer years of team control makes it less likely the Astros would give up their number one guy in exchange.

David Paulino, RHP

Let’s forget for a moment about the last time the Rockies acquired a pitcher named Paulino from the Astros. The 6-foot-7 righty made 15 starts across three levels last year before getting a brief cup of coffee with the Astros in September. Overall Paulino has a 2.20 ERA with 219 strikeouts and 50 walks across 196 13 minor league innings. Best of all, he’s only allowed six home runs! Another fireballer, he uses his exceptional height to generate a fastball that touches 97 which he offsets with a hard curveball and a mid-80s changeup. There are health concerns, as he has already had Tommy John surgery, but he is still just 22 and could reach a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. Paulino would be a good headliner in a package that included a few more players who are more lottery picks, like Feliz or Deetz.

Franklin Perez, RHP

Franklin Perez was the breakout star from Low-A Quad Cities last year, where as an 18 year old he had a 2.83 ERA and 75 strikeouts with 19 walks over 66 23 innings. He has a fastball that touches 95 and a plus changeup, but mechanics that are still pretty inconsistent. As he’s still young, this would likely be a acquire-and-wait play by the Rockies. They may decide it’s worth the risk, but probably not as a headliner of a deal.

Derek Fisher, OF

When all someone’s done at the minor league level is put up an .800 OPS over the course of three seasons and six levels, you might begin to wonder why such a player wouldn’t be considered higher on a prospect list. Throw in the fact that he was a supplemental round pick (37th overall in 2014), you really start to wonder why you’ve never heard Derek Fisher’s name before. Fisher’s line in three minor league seasons is a solid-if-unspectacular .271/.368/.459 with 45 home runs and 76 stolen bases. That’s not too dissimilar from a certain bearded outfielder’s .308/.375/.466 line with 39 home runs and 94 stolen bases in seven minor league seasons. And with Fisher’s prospect pedigree, he could be the perfect throw-in to a trade headlined with one of the stars above.

Michael Feliz, RHP

Michael Feliz has spent the past two seasons bouncing between Houston and the minors, but he is still just 23 years old. Signed from the Dominican Republic in 2010, Feliz jumped from Double-A to the majors in 2015 and was a below average reliever with a 4.43 ERA across 65 innings in 2016. However, he did manage 95 strikeouts against 22 walks, so the potential is there. He relies on a fastball in the high-90s and a plus slider to generate those strikeouts, but can sometimes be a little hitable. If the Rockies want to upgrade their bullpen in this deal, Feliz might be the player to do it.

Ramon Laureano, OF

Sometimes all it takes is a good month. Ramon Laureano was rising on prospect hound radars before his appearance in the Arizona Fall League, but by winning AFL Player of the Week after the opening games of the circuit, everyone wanted to know more about him. Drafted in the 16th round of the 2014 draft, Laureano has acquitted himself nicely in two seasons, batting .289/.380/.465 with 20 home runs and 65 stolen bases in 880 plate appearances. He was on fire playing this fall, though, hitting .295/.340/.477 for the Glendale Desert Dogs. While it was just 12 games and 44 plate appearances, it still caused people to take notice. More of a speed guy than a power guy, Laureano displays a penchant for getting on base and getting the most out of his athleticism while on the basepaths.

Trent Thornton, RHP

Trent Thornton was drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 draft out of collegiate powerhouse UNC-Chapel Hill but hasn’t really hit his stride yet in the professional ranks. In two seasons across three levels he has a 3.45 ERA with 172 strikeouts and 32 walks in 190 23 innings. He possesses an above average fastball, which sits 92-94, but has trouble controlling it. He also throws a cutter in the low-90s and a curveball in the high-70s, both of which have the potential to develop into something greater. Think of him as a Yency Almonte type: someone who comes over as a toss-in at the back end of a deal but could potentially take a step forward just in time.

Dean Deetz, RHP

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Dean Deetz. He was drafted in the 11th round out of Northeast Oklahoma A&M in 2014 and has never made a major prospect list. But in the interest of potential throw in pieces, you could do a lot worse than a guy who strikes out about a batter an inning. There seems to be debate over whether Deetz is destined for the bullpen or if the Astros want to keep trying him out as a starter. He has a 2.40 ERA in 11 starts across three levels in 2015 before getting battered at Lancaster and Corpus Christi in 2016 to the tune of 4.96 ERA in 25 games (18 starts). His mid-90s fastball and mid-80s change both generate swings and misses and his low-80s curve moves well enough to generate weak contact. All three flash plus, but can he put them together consistently, either as a starter or in relief? If his parent club chooses the later, it’s possible he could rise quickly to the majors.

★ ★ ★

Earlier this offseason the Astros refused to send Joe Musgrove, Francis Martes, and top outfield prospect Kyle Tucker to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Jose Quintana, a frontline starter with four years of team control left. That gives us a pretty reliable baseline of what the Houston front office is and is not willing to do. Perhaps they would be willing to part with Musgrove or Martes plus a bullpen piece like Feliz in exchange for Blackmon. More likely, if the Rockies want major league ready arms, they will have to settle for secondary pieces that are further away from the big leagues, like Perez or Deetz. It all may be a longshot now, but maybe Silent Jeff will surprise us.

The Astros could use an outfielder. The Rockies are looking for young, close-to-MLB-ready pitchers. While there have yet to be any rumors, the fit is so good it seems outrageous that there hasn’t been.