NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- With general manager Jeff Luhnow remaining firm in his belief he doesn't want to trade any players who are essential to the core of the team's production next season in his pursuit of pitching, the Astros may have to swallow hard in parting with some of their top prospects.
The Astros continued their quest for pitching on the third day of the Winter Meetings on Wednesday and would likely have to give up at least one of their top prospects to land a quality starting pitcher.
The club was unable to trade for White Sox ace Chris Sale, who went to the Red Sox on Tuesday, because they didn't want to part with third baseman Alex Bregman. They've turned their attention to some of the middle-rotation arms on the trade market and on Wednesday were reported to have interest in White Sox workhorse starter Jose Quintana, but the price is currently too much for Houston.
Luhnow said it's unlikely the Astros will have a deal in place before he leaves for Houston on Thursday morning. But things can change quickly.
"Over the past few days, there are times I thought we were well over 50 percent chance of maybe getting a deal and at times I thought we were 10 percent," he said Wednesday. "I suspect that will continue once people leave here tomorrow and go back. Perspective changes a little bit, and there might be a few things done maybe in the next 24 hours that will change other teams' appetite to get it over the finish line, including ours."
The Astros have the prospects to land a quality arm, beginning with hard-throwing pitcher Francis Martes -- the team's No. 1 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com. Luhnow acknowledged Martes' name has come up frequently. Outfielder Kyle Tucker, the team's No. 2 prospect, is generally considered untouchable.
Outfielder Derek Fisher (No. 5 prospect) was nearly dealt to the Phillies a year ago in the Ken Giles trade and could be a candidate to be moved.
"The players we're staying away from are the players that are probably going to start the year on the big league club and are key parts of the 2017 plan," Luhnow said. "Martes is a very valuable player, and very valuable players that are close to the big leagues get asked about a lot. That's no different with him. It would take something significant for us to move him."
Luhnow said the team has come reasonably close to some deals that still could come to fruition in the future. Handicapping when the Astros get a deal done is difficult, but the team is driven to add a starter. The Astros dealt a couple of young prospects last month to land catcher Brian McCann and still have the depth to make a significant trade without gutting the system.
"We've spent the last five years building up our Minor League system; we've got a number of excellent prospects at A ball through Triple-A and many of those are interesting to other clubs," Luhnow said. "If we can find a match, we're not going to hold on to our prospects at the expense of our success in '17 or '18."
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.