At one point this season it looked as if Ed Wade could stir up a bidding war on the Houston Astros' top assets, and as the trade rumors bounce around, it still might be the case over the next two weeks leading up to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.
But the indications are not great.
Injuries to the Phillies and Red Sox bullpen means that they will be looking for relief help first, and everything else second. The Red Sox, who would be a natural fit for Hunter Pence, have also got problems in their rotation with John Lackey struggling and both Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester still missing. And just this morning Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo said that the Sox should make a push for the Mets' Jose Reyes. If they need help at SS, perhaps they would like Clint Barmes as a freebie with Pence.
The Phillies and Giants both have solid division leads and the Braves sit snugly above the rest in the NL wildcard race. The most wide-open race in the league is the NL Central, and the Astros do not historically enjoy trading within their own division. Arizona remains on the heels of the Giants and Braves, but there is no natural fit for any Astros players on their roster. Perhaps the Pirates should make a push for Pence, as the Tribune-Review says they will be "actively looking to add in a couple of different areas," according to manager Clint Hurdle.
Meanwhile Pence's value is hampered by the fact that both Carlos Beltran and, perhaps Colby Rasmus will be available this summer. Second tier outfielders such as Josh Willingham of the A's will be available, as well as a few other smaller names.
Meanwhile, Colorado, mooted as a good fit for Wandy Rodriguez, seems to be putting up conflicting signs as to whether they are buyers or sellers. Troy Renck of the Denver Post says that Rockies GM Dan O' Dowd "wants to acquire at least one starting pitcher he controls beyond this season - whether the Rockies are in the race or not." Renck has gone on the record previously saying that Rodriguez would be an ideal fit for the team.
However Rockies owner Dick Monford seemed to indicate in comments made last week that they would not make any blockbuster deals. His comments do seem to preclude getting a rental player, but Rodriguez is not a rental player. He would be a good fit for most NL teams, is a left-handed pitcher, and would be under contract until the end of 2014, given that the 4th year vesting option on his contract would be turned into a player option if traded. Whether he would do well in Coors Field is another thing.
Brett Myers might be another trade candidate, but more because the Astros would like him off the books at this point. His 2013 vesting option is contingent on him making 25 starts in 2012 and not being on the DL when the season ends. A pair of AL Central teams, Detroit and Cleveland may have some interest.
All of this will limit the haul Wade can get for any of the players mentioned above, and as the front office has stated on many occasions, if they cannot get the price they want, and they want a lot, they will simply keep hold of their players. But Wade seems confident that he can re-boot the franchise:
"We're going to be viewed as a land of opportunity for teams to try to improve the teams that are in contention."
Rodriguez, Pence and Michael Bourn could easily be worth two wins above a replacement from here-on-in, but Wade is in a lose-lose situation. Bourn and Pence trade value will never be higher, and he really does need to trade them now, but he needs to be seen to winning any trade he pulls off. The Astros need to acquire a cache of prospects that can come up with Dallas Keuchel, J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve, and co, and make this team slightly less miserable. That means acquiring guys like Mike Minor and Will Middlebrooks. He needs quality prospects, he needs a lot of them, and he needs high ceilings and floors. No pressure then?
Meanwhile on the field events continue to slide further and further downhill. They netted just their eighth win in 37 games and took their third win of the season against the Pirates, compared with eight losses. Last year we went 11-4 against the Pirates. Runs are drying up, and in those past 37 games they have scored at a rate of 3.4 runs a game, forcing Brad Mills to finally drop Carlos Lee out of the cleanup spot, for the past two games. It had little effect against Jeff Karstens, who twirled a masterful complete game shutout before the Astros got to Jose Veras, snapping a five-game losing streak.
At this point, are Angel Sanchez and Jason Michaels, who batted second and sixth in last nigh'ts lineup respectively, doing anything more than eating up two roster spots? Jeff Keppinger meanwhile batted third in both games, knocking a 2-run home run into the Crawford Boxes last night. As the Astros sink closer and closer to 100 losses, the best the Astros can hope for over the next two months is to play spoiler in a tightly packed NL Central, with four teams within four games, and 30 games left to play against those top four.