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Luhnow feels pressure to build on '15 success

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The Astros making the postseason in 2015 doesn't make general manager Jeff Luhnow's job any easier. Things have changed, sure, but heightened expectations and increased pressure to deliver make this offseason as crucial as any he's had in Houston.

Luhnow said on Tuesday at the General Managers Meetings at the Boca Raton Resort & Club that he has had preliminary trade talks with several clubs but that it's still too early to expect the Astros to make any deals. They would like to find a reliever via free agency or trade, could use a middle-of-the-rotation starter and have a need for a left fielder if Colby Rasmus turns down their $15.8 million qualifying offer.

"The fewer spots you have where you can improve, the more pressure there is to improve on those spots," Luhnow said. "We're obviously not looking for a shortstop; we're not looking for a second baseman. We feel pretty good about the top of our rotation, but we've got to figure out where in the puzzle are the areas we can improve, and so to a certain extent, it becomes harder, not easier, because we know something is going to go wrong. We don't know what it is, but somebody's going to underperform, somebody's going to get injured, and we have to be prepared for it. We feel we've got to work as hard now as ever."

Yes, the Astros are set at shortstop with Carlos Correa and second base with Jose Altuve, as well as at several other positions, but it's not as though they don't have options elsewhere. First base remains a position that could see change, starting with the question of whether Chris Carter returns. Luis Valbuena and Jon Singleton are still in the mix at the position, which could also see an upgrade.

The same can be said for third base, where Valbuena and Jed Lowrie wound up in a platoon at the end of the season. Prospects A.J. Reed, a slugging first baseman, and Tyler White, a contact hitter who can play the corner infield spots, are going to be pushing for playing time.

"We've got a lot of choices," Luhnow said. "Now, what's the right choice? I don't know. We won't know until Spring Training is over and maybe not until the season is under way, but we do have a number of guys that we like that all play [first base]. We'll have to see if there's an opportunity to bring someone in at that position. We'd have to think about it, but I'm not sure it makes sense given the depth we have there."

Rasmus' decision to accept the Astros' offer or try free agency will affect a lot of what the club does the rest of the offseason. He doesn't have to make a decision until Friday, and Luhnow said on Monday that they would like Rasmus to come back, but no player has ever accepted a qualifying offer.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
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