HOUSTON -- The days leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline the previous four years have been a whirlwind for Astros fans, who saw the team begin its ambitious rebuilding plan by trading away franchise stalwarts Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt in 2010.
That was only the start, as the Astros traded Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, Carlos Lee, Chris Johnson, Bud Norris and Jose Veras, among others, in the years to come. They were deals that were made to unload veteran contracts in exchange for younger, less expensive players.
As Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, the Astros will be less active than they've been in recent years. They could still make a deal or two, but they don't have as many players they'd be willing or eager to trade as in years past.
"At this point, I expect a relatively quiet trade season," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said last week. "I don't think the July 31 date is that crucial for us. We could continue to explore opportunities in August. The reality is that we've got six healthy starters that are all performing well, and I expect there's going to be calls about those guys, and I know there already have been calls about our bullpen. And there's going to be calls about some of our position players, as well, and there have been. We're going to have to take them as they come. But I really don't anticipate, at this point, doing anything significant."
The player drawing the most interest, but who likely won't be traded, is veteran reliever Chad Qualls, who's having a terrific season as the closer in his return to Houston. Qualls could be a nice fit for a team looking for veteran bullpen help, but he's too valuable to lose.
Luhnow wouldn't go as far as calling Qualls "untouchable," but he certainly remembers how the Astros struggled to close games last year after trading closer Jose Veras to the Tigers. In addition, Qualls is under contract for next season and has an option for 2016, giving the Astros and him some peace of mind going forward.
"To have a guy who's capable of pitching late in the game, in close games, we're going to have opportunity going forward," Luhnow said. "This is a team that's improving, and as the team improves, you have more save opportunities, more opportunities to pitch at the end of close games. We need more Chad Qualls. We don't need less."
Veteran lefty Tony Sipp, who's pitched well since being acquired from the Padres early in the season, is drawing some interest as well, and the Astros would be more willing to move him than Qualls. Others who could have some value are outfielder Dexter Fowler -- though he's likely not to return from an oblique injury until after Thursday -- and designated hitter Chris Carter, whose July surge has boosted his value.
Then there's the rotation. The Astros have six starters they feel good about: Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock and Brett Oberholtzer, though Peacock has struggled lately and was optioned to Triple-A on Saturday.
If the Astros do make a deal, it won't have the impact as those in the past few years.
"They are no obvious players for us to move," Luhnow said. "The players that are being asked about by other clubs are all players, not only players we like and have value this year, but have value in the future. It's going to be very difficult for us to move the guys that other clubs are asking for at this point. We will, as a matter of course, as we always do, talk to other clubs to sort of find out what their needs are and find out if there's anything they have available to help us."