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Astros in pursuit of starter, impact bat at WM

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- As a pair of big names that had reportedly drawn interest from the Astros have landed elsewhere -- first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals and pitcher Nathan Eovaldi 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 Aledmys Diaz from the Blue Jays and signing catcher Robinson Chirinos, but bigger moves await. The club remains in pursuit of a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to put behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole -- a pair of top-five finishers in the American League Cy Young Award voting in 2018.

HOUSTON -- As a pair of big names that had reportedly drawn interest from the Astros have landed elsewhere -- first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals and pitcher Nathan Eovaldi 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 Aledmys Diaz from the Blue Jays and signing catcher Robinson Chirinos, but bigger moves await. The club remains in pursuit of a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to put behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole -- a pair of top-five finishers in the American League Cy Young Award voting in 2018.

Video: Aledmys Diaz talks about joining the Astros

Despite adding Diaz and Chirinos, the Astros still seek another bat in the lineup. Chirinos provides steady catching depth with Max Stassi, 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 Marwin Gonzalez started the most games in 2018. Top prospect Kyle Tucker and Tony Kemp 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 Dallas Keuchel or Charlie Morton, though the return of Gonzalez remains a possibility, especially if his market isn't as robust as he hopes.

Video: Robinson Chirinos talks about signing with Astros

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

Video: Hinch breaks down the Astros' rotation entering 2019

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 Myles Straw has drawn plenty of interest. Lefty pitching prospect Cionel Perez 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 Bryce Harper, but his stock has since increased because of his performance in the Arizona Fall League. Catching prospect Garrett Stubbs 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.

Video: Top Prospects: Yordan Alvarez, OF/1B, Astros

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 Cy Sneed 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.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

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