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Astros playing it cool with offseason approach

Luhnow: 'We're not going to start mortgaging our future to get incrementally better right now'
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- The Astros are still expected to add a starting pitcher and a catcher before the start of Spring Training in three months, but president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow gave no indication Thursday the team was close to any deals.

Like last year, Hot Stove season is off to a relatively slow start, though things will likely pick up at the annual Winter Meetings, Dec. 9-13 in Las Vegas. Luhnow, speaking before an appearance on the team's offseason radio show, Astroline, on Thursday, said the Astros are being patient, considering the team is already built to contend in 2019.

HOUSTON -- The Astros are still expected to add a starting pitcher and a catcher before the start of Spring Training in three months, but president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow gave no indication Thursday the team was close to any deals.

Like last year, Hot Stove season is off to a relatively slow start, though things will likely pick up at the annual Winter Meetings, Dec. 9-13 in Las Vegas. Luhnow, speaking before an appearance on the team's offseason radio show, Astroline, on Thursday, said the Astros are being patient, considering the team is already built to contend in 2019.

After winning the World Series in 2017, the Astros won a club-record 103 games this year before losing in five games in the American League Championship Series to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

"I think this offseason, it's hard to predict how quickly things will happen," Luhnow said. "We're having conversations with multiple free agents and multiple teams at the same time. Besides the deal for [Aledmys] Diaz, nothing's gotten to the finish line. Whether something happens before the Meetings in a couple of weeks, there's a chance. …

"We're in a nice position because we don't feel like we have to do anything. We'd like to improve the team if we can, but there's nothing we feel we have to do."

The Astros have shown interest in free-agent right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, as well as free-agent lefty J.A. Happ. Happ played for the Astros from 2010-12 and could serve as a suitable replacement for Dallas Keuchel, who's expected to leave in free agency. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole will once again be at the top of the Astros' rotation next year.

Video: J.A. Happ enters the 2019 free agent market

Meanwhile, the Astros are in pursuit of a starting catcher after losing Brian McCann to the Braves in free agency (Martin Maldonado is a free agent). The three catchers on the 40-man roster are Chris Herrmann, Max Stassi and Garrett Stubbs.

"We're not going to start mortgaging our future to get incrementally better right now, because we have a pretty good team," Luhnow said. "That being said, we have some free agents that came off of [our] team, and we have to figure out where those innings and at-bats are going to go. It's going be some combination of our own guys and guys we have to trade or sign as free agents ourselves."

Luhnow reiterated that one prospect the Astros aren't going to move is pitcher Forrest Whitley. The No. 8-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, Whitley threw 26 1/3 innings last season because of a suspension and an injury, but struck out 36 batters in 26 innings in six AFL starts, posting a 2.42 ERA.

"Whitley's not going anywhere, except to Houston in the near future," Luhnow said.

Video: Brent Strom on Astros' pitching prospects

While Josh James and Framber Valdez are candidates to fill out the rotation behind Verlander, Cole, Collin McHugh and whatever other pitcher the Astros acquire, Whitley is on the radar for later in '19.

"We've certainly traded away our fair share of prospects and they're littered all over the league and we've shown we're willing to do it, but at the same time we've got some of the guys that we have and we've got the ability to bring guys up to the big leagues," Luhnow said. "If you look at the future pipeline of pitchers that we have and some of the top players, you want to make sure you keep them unless there's an opportunity you can't pass up."

Luhnow also addressed the large number of departures in his front office so far this year, a group which includes former assistant GM Mike Elias (now the GM of the Orioles), former special assistant Sig Mejdal (who followed Elias to Baltimore) and former director of research and development Mike Fast (now a special assistant with the Braves).

Luhnow said national crosschecker Kris Gross would be managing the scouts in terms of day-to-day responsibilities in the near term. He said the team might not name a new scouting director until after next year's MLB Draft. Elias previously ran the Draft and amateur scouting for Houston.

"This year, we got hit pretty hard, and losing an assistant general manager to another club was definitely something we have to make up for," Luhnow said. "But we've got enough people in the organization working the functions that Mike [Elias] was in charge of, and we feel like we're going to be in good shape."

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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