Astros Exploring Center Field, Bullpen Markets

Bryan Reynolds, Byron Buxton, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Astros are exploring the market for center field and bullpen help, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported over the weekend that Houston was among the teams with interest in Marlins star Starling Marte.

In addition to Marte, Houston “checked in” on the availability of Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds, according to Rosenthal, but it doesn’t seem he’s a particularly attainable target. As Rosenthal wrote in a separate piece earlier this week, Pittsburgh prefers to build around Reynolds rather than trade him this summer. That’s hardly surprising, since the All-Star outfielder is controllable through the end of the 2025 season.

There’s an argument to be made the Astros needn’t explore the center field market at all. While the position looked like a question mark entering the season, Houston center fielders (Myles Straw and Chas McCormick) have played well. The Astros have a cumulative .269/.344/.361 slash line at the position, resulting in a 103 wRC+ that ranks tenth leaguewide. They’ve also both rated highly defensively.

Indeed, it’s possible the Astros would only look to the top of the center field market if they were to make an acquisition. Marte and Reynolds have been among the best performers at the position this year, and Houston could explore the possibility of making an impactful add while being content leaning on Straw/McCormick if no top players come available.

That’d generally align with comments made by general manager James Click earlier this month regarding the club’s payroll outlook. The Astros narrowly stayed below the $210MM luxury tax threshold over the offseason. Click suggested the organization was free to go above the threshold this summer but didn’t seem inclined to inch above the line to accommodate marginal upgrades.

There’s a case to be made no center fielder who might be made available in the next week and a half has the potential to move the needle for a team more so than Byron Buxton. Rosenthal wonders whether the Astros might look into acquiring the Twins’ star center fielder, although there’s no indication they’ve done so to this point.

Of course, it’s not even clear Buxton will become available. Rosenthal reported last week the Twins were making a renewed effort to broker a long-term extension with Buxton but might consider a midseason trade if the parties can’t get a deal done. However, LaVelle Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes that the chances of Buxton being dealt before July 30 are “remote.” Neal hears from Twins personnel who believed the sides were making progress on an extension during Spring Training before those talks broke down. (Jeff Passan of ESPN hears differently, writing that the gap in extension talks this spring “was far too big to bridge“).

Even if the Twins and Buxton don’t work out an extension in the next week, there’s no guarantee Minnesota would make him available in a trade. The Twins can keep him in Minneapolis through 2022 via arbitration, and the club has their sights set on contention next year. Buster Olney of ESPN reported over the weekend the Twins were generally disinclined to part with players under team control beyond this season.

Obviously, the center field situation remains in a state of flux, but the relief market should be more straightforward. There are a handful of productive relievers on non-contending teams, many of whom are affordable enough for Houston to stay below the luxury line if they’re so inclined. Cot’s Baseball Contracts estimates the Astros have a little more than $3MM in breathing room before hitting the threshold. Paul Fry and Cole Sulser (Orioles), Scott Barlow (Royals), José Cisnero and Gregory Soto (Tigers), Ian Kennedy (Rangers), Dylan Floro and Richard Bleier (Marlins), Ryan Tepera (Cubs), Richard Rodríguez and Chris Stratton (Pirates) and Daniel Bard (Rockies) are among the many quality relievers due less than that amount for the remainder of the season.

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