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Inbox: Will Astros be in market for a starter?

Beat reporter Brian McTaggart answers questions from fans
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- With the Astros chugging along with a 13-game lead in the American League West as they near the midpoint of the season, it only stands to reason trade talks will begin heating up. We're a little less than a month away from the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and the Astros still figure to be in the market for pitching.

Let's open the Inbox to answer some of your trade questions and more:

HOUSTON -- With the Astros chugging along with a 13-game lead in the American League West as they near the midpoint of the season, it only stands to reason trade talks will begin heating up. We're a little less than a month away from the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and the Astros still figure to be in the market for pitching.

Let's open the Inbox to answer some of your trade questions and more:

The experts keep talking about trading for another starter. Every pitcher they mention as a target seems to not be performing very well. If Mike Fiers keeps pitching so well and Collin McHugh returns strong, do you see a scenario where the Astros stand pat on the rotation? Also, is there any starter actually on the trading block you think is playing well enough to trade for?
-- Tim W., Salt Lake City

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Sure, the resurgence of Fiers, the performance of Brad Peacock and the return of Lance McCullers Jr. from his back ailment has raised the question among fans of whether the Astros even need to add another starter with Dallas Keuchel (neck), Charlie Morton (lat) and McHugh (elbow) all expected back at some point in the second half, too.

The Astros have patched together their rotation adeptly while they've had so many starters out, but it's taken a toll on the bullpen. Peacock hasn't pitched deep into games, and not having him in the bullpen has hurt. David Paulino also hasn't pitched deep into games. Plus, there are no guarantees about the health of any of their pitches in the second half, so there's every reason for the Astros to try to pursue another starter.

While it's true a lot of the starting pitchers who have been rumored to be on the market all year -- Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana, etc. -- haven't had great seasons, a change of scenery and a boost in the standings can do wonders for a player. Remember when the Astros got Randy Johnson at the Deadline in 1998? His numbers with Seattle had been OK, but he was absolutely dominant after coming to Houston.

You think the Astros will go after an ace at the Deadline with the rotation looking like Keuchel, McCullers, Morton, Fiers and McHugh when healthy? If so, I see them going after Chris Archer, Jacob deGrom or Gerrit Cole. You think a package containing Francis Martes, Joe Musgrove, Derek Fisher and/or A.J. Reed gets it done?
-- Austin H., College Station, Texas

I don't know if the Astros need an "ace." and I'm not sure any pitcher they could acquire at this point could be considered an "ace" ahead of a healthy Keuchel and McCullers. The Astros just need to add another quality starter to the mix. At this point, the Rays are in the thick of the playoff race, so I don't see Archer getting dealt, though I could be wrong. deGrom, I think, is a pipe dream. Cole is more likely, but the Pirates are seeking multiple young prospect-type arms.

As far as what it would take to get another starter like any of the ones you mentioned -- or Gray or Quintana -- it's going to hurt, prospect-wise. Martes couldn't find the strike zone in his last outing and didn't have good body language, Musgrove is in the Minors after getting rocked and Reed didn't do well in the big leagues last year. If I were trading with the Astros, I'd want Kyle Tucker and/or Fisher

Is it an expectation within the organization that Tucker will play at the big league level this year if he's not traded?
-- Kevin C., Pasadena, Texas

No chance. Tucker, the Astros' No. 2 prospect, is only 20 years old and has only gotten his feet wet at Double-A, which is where he'll probably finish the season. The Astros are loaded on offense, so if they were going to toy with the idea of bringing him up, you're talking about when rosters expand in September. That might be a nice experience for him, but that would start his service time clock unnecessarily. I don't see the Astros doing that. It's more realistic Tucker makes his debut next year.

What's up with Keuchel? Could his injury be something more serious like a disk problem?
-- Arthur E., Chicago

Keuchel was diagnosed with a pinched nerve in his neck when he went on the disabled list in late June, and his current DL stint is related to that. The team is calling it nerve irritation. Look, I think if this was September and the Astros were in a pennant race, Keuchel would pitch. But they have a 13-game lead and are two weeks away from the All-Star break, so why not just give him the extra time and make sure he's rested and healthy for the second half?

When do you think Fisher will be back up?
-- Jonathan S., Orange, Texas

Fisher made a nice showing when he came up earlier this month, and we will see him back in the big leagues again this year. Which depends on the health of the outfielders and probably the performance of veteran Norichika Aoki. If Aoki continues to struggle offensively, the Astros might decide to give his job to Fisher down the stretch. At worst, he's up in September when rosters expand.

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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