Astros in pursuit of starter, impact bat at WM

December 7th, 2018

HOUSTON -- As a pair of big names that had reportedly drawn interest from the Astros have landed elsewhere -- first baseman to the Cardinals and pitcher back to the Red Sox -- the Astros will head into the Winter Meetings on Monday in Las Vegas with plenty of heavy lifting yet to accomplish.

The Astros have bolstered their roster somewhat in the past month by trading for infielder from the Blue Jays and signing catcher , but bigger moves await. The club remains in pursuit of a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to put behind and -- a pair of top-five finishers in the American League Cy Young Award voting in 2018.

Despite adding Diaz and Chirinos, the Astros still seek another bat in the lineup. Chirinos provides steady catching depth with , but the Astros could be in the market for a higher-profile backstop. The move stabilizes the catching situation, if nothing else.

Because they have an opening at designated hitter, the Astros could add any kind of impact bat and be able to make it fit into their lineup. There remains an opening for playing time in left field, where free agent started the most games in 2018. Top prospect and are in the mix, but a veteran presence is desired.

As far as their own free agents, it remains unlikely the Astros will re-sign or Charlie Morton, though the return of Gonzalez remains a possibility, especially if his market isn't as robust as he hopes.

Club needs

The Astros' top goals this offseason are acquiring a quality starting pitcher and adding another bat, which could come from a number of positions. The team is versatile enough to move guys around to accommodate an addition. The two most likely positions the Astros could tack onto are outfielder and catcher.

Hot Stove Tracker

Whom might they trade?

Any trades would involve prospects, though president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow said last week top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley wouldn't be dealt. Tucker is another player who the team has been hesitant to include in trades the past few years. Luhnow said outfielder has drawn plenty of interest. Lefty pitching prospect could be a trade chip.

The Astros were willing to trade pitcher J.B. Bukauskas last year in the deal that nearly happened with the Nationals for , but his stock has since increased because of his performance in the Arizona Fall League. Catching prospect was also reportedly going to be a part of that deal.

Prospects to know 

Whitley, the former first-round Draft pick who dominated in the AFL, isn't going anywhere until he's called up to the Astros at some point in 2019. Tucker will be in spring camp with another shot to win an outfield job. Outfield prospect Yordan Alvarez could be a prime trade chip, along with right-hander Corbin Martin.

Rule 5 Draft

The addition of Chirinos will push the 40-man roster to 38, leaving room to make a couple of additions. Because it will be hard to stick with the Astros' Major League club all of next season, it's unlikely the team will make a pick in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. Among the prospects the club left unprotected are pitchers Riley Ferrell and and infielder Jonathan Arauz.

Payroll summary

The Astros have some payroll flexibility to fill holes. Last season, their payroll was around $170 million, and they're currently on the hook for about $132 million in 2019, including their arbitration-eligible players in estimates provided by MLBTradeRumors.com.