Starting pitching, bat among Astros' goals

Starting pitching, bat among Astros' goals

HOUSTON -- If everything goes the way Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has scripted it, Houston will have the luxury of having its major offseason moves done by the start of the Winter Meetings, freeing the club to focus on complementary pieces.

The Astros already have addressed two of their biggest needs by acquiring a pair of impact left-handed bats in trading for catcher Brian McCann from the Yankees -- and paying him $23 million of the $34 million left on his contract -- and signing outfielder Josh Reddick to a four-year, $52 million deal. Houston also inked veteran starting pitcher Charlie Morton to a two-year, $14 million deal, plus incentives.

The Astros still are in the market for another impact bat in their effort to beef up their offense and would like to land 39-year-old switch-hitting outfielder Carlos Beltran. The addition of one more bat would give the Astros one of the deepest lineups in the Majors following a 2016 season in which the lineup was top-heavy.

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MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 8 a.m. CT.

Club needs

Starting pitching: The signing of Morton gives the Astros experienced depth, but you can never have enough pitching. The club is banking on healthy seasons from Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers and another step forward from Joe Musgrove. Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers both made 30-plus starts last season, so there are definitely options. Still, there's room for another arm to compete, even if they don't land one of the big names on the trade market. They've been linked to free-agent lefty Rich Hill.

Outfield: The Astros are targeting Beltran, which would add some versatility to an outfield that already has plenty. Reddick can play the corner, with George Springer playing center or right field. Norichika Aoki and Jake Marisnick can also play multiple positions, but a chance to add a bat like Beltran to the mix would be something the Astros couldn't pass up.

Reddick brings tools to Houston

Bullpen: After upgrading their bullpen in each of the last two offseasons -- Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek in 2015 and trading for Ken Giles and re-signing Tony Sipp in 2016 -- the Astros could look to add another left-handed arm in support of Sipp, who struggled last season (4.95 ERA, 12 homers in 43 2/3 innings).

Who they can trade if necessary

OF Preston Tucker: Tucker, a left-handed bat with power, has some tools, as evidenced by his 2015 rookie season. He's coming off what was basically a lost year, though, after battling a shoulder injury that led to surgery. He's expected to be healthy in time for Spring Training and might find at-bats hard to come by in Houston with the additions the club has made this offseason.

1B A.J. Reed: The Astros' former top prospect had a disappointing debut in 2016 and was out of shape at season's end. Marwin Gonzalez would up playing more first base down the stretch, and Colin Moran and Tyler White will be in the mix at first base as well. With Yulieski Gurriel capable of starting at first, the Astros could try to package Reed in a trade for pitching.

RHPs Musgrove/Francis Martes/Brady Rodgers: If the Astros are able to acquire an impact starter, they're going to have to trade one or more of their multiple young arms. Musgrove has impeccable control and will be in Houston's rotation if he's not dealt. Martes is a hard-throwing premium prospect knocking on the door of the big leagues, and Rodgers was the Triple-A Pacific Coast League's Pitcher of the Year last season before making his MLB debut.

IF Alex Bregman: The Astros don't want to trade Bregman, and who could blame them? He overcame a slow start at the plate last season and wound up having a solid rookie campaign in the heart of Houston's batting order. Bregman has star potential, which is why they would likely have to include him in a trade if they want some of the big-name arms on the market, like Chris Sale of the White Sox or the Rays' Chris Archer.

Top prospects

Per MLBPipeline.com, the Astros' top 10 prospects are Martes, outfielder Kyle Tucker, right-handers Forrest Whitley and David Paulino, outfielders Derek Fisher and Daz Cameron, Moran, outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, right-hander Franklin Perez and infielder Miguelangel Sierra.

Paulino, Moran and Hernandez made their debuts last season and will be in camp battling for roster spots in 2017. Martes, the hard-throwing right-hander, could be Houston's next star prospect to hit Minute Maid Park, if he's not traded. Expect him to make his debut at some point next year and be a rotation fixture in 2018. Fisher could reach the Majors in 2017, as well.

Rule 5 Draft

The Astros' 40-man roster is at 38 players, freeing them up to make a Rule 5 Draft pick if they desire. They haven't picked a player in the Rule 5 Draft and held onto him since they took relief pitcher Josh Fields with the No.1 overall pick in 2012. As their Major League roster gets deeper, it gets harder to expect a prospect to stick on the big league club for an entire season.

McCann on joining Astros

Big contracts they might unload

None. The biggest deal the Astros have handed out since Luhnow took over five years ago is Reddick's deal last week. That makes him the highest-paid player on the club for 2017, if you account for the money the Yankees took back in the deal Houston used to acquire McCann.

Payroll summary

The Astros' payroll, which has been among the lowest in baseball the last five years, should push north of $100 million for the first time since 2009. The club has made recent big-money commitments to Gurriel (five years, $47.5 million), Reddick and McCann ($11.5 million in each of the next two years), with some heavyweights due for big raises in arbitration this offseason. Former Cy Young winner Keuchel is projected to earn $9.5 million next year by MLBTradeRumors.com. Aoki ($6.8 million projected), a non-tender candidate, Fiers ($4.3 million projected), McHugh ($4.6 million projected) and Springer ($4.7 million projected) will help push the payroll to new heights under Luhnow.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.