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MLB Trade Deadline, Rumors & Roundup: Houston Astros Could Sell, But May Lack The Desire

How did the Astros get here? How long do you have? While their current record can be linked to that nine-game losing streak to open the season or their 9-20 record in May, Houston’s problems run much deeper.

It goes back a decade because that’s the last time the Astros had a first-round pick debut in the majors before catcher Jason Castro’s first game. It goes back to Tim Purpura’s abysmal tenure as general manager from 2005 to 2007. It’s about three players (Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman) making up 51 percent of the team’s 92.6 million dollar payroll. It’s about an aging, overpaid roster that isn’t going to see any help from the farm system for at least two seasons.

But, I digress. This season, all those things combined to put the Astros on pace for the club’s worst offense in 40 years. Lance Berkman began the season on the disabled list after having his knee drained in spring training. Carlos Lee hit right around the Mendoza Line for two months before finally returning to form in June. In fact, the only two players on offense performing well early in the season were Jeff Keppinger and Michael Bourn

The rotation was also hurt by inconsistent performances from second-year right-hander Bud Norris and 2009 Astros Pitcher of the Year Wandy Rodriguez. They have both overshadowed the great season Roy Oswalt is putting together, or the effectiveness of free-agent laughing stock Brandon Lyon.

The Astros are probably not one of the five worst teams in the majors talent-wise, but they have certainly played like it in the first three months. They should be sellers at the deadline, but whether they will make any moves lies with owner Drayton McLane. He is fond of opening every season by asking the team, "Do you want to be champions?" He believes the team should compete every season for the playoffs. It’s hard to rebuild with that philosophy.

McLane is also very loyal to his players. He certainly doesn’t want to lose the faces of the franchise in Oswalt and Berkman, especially with attendance plummeting this season. Still, if the players ask him to be traded, I have to think he’ll make a hard decision. 

If he does decide to sell, this entire team should be on the market. Realistically, though, only Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers, Lance Berkman and possibly Hunter Pence or Jeff Keppinger will command any sort of return. Wandy Rodriguez probably won’t be moved because he’s been so ineffective and killed his trade value. Carlos Lee won’t be moved because he’s owed about a bajillion dollars over the next three seasons. Michael Bourn possibly could be available, but probably has more value to Wade than he would to another team.

The Astros will be looking to fill any spot on the team outside of catcher. With the 2008 first-round pick making his big league debut last week, Houston doesn’t need another in any deals. But, every other position is fair game. They have some depth on the middle infield in the minors, but could use some power bats. They also have a surplus of minor league outfielders and would need a big-time prospect (like the Twins’ Aaron Hicks or the Rays’ Desmond Jennings) to justify getting another outfielder in a deal.

If they can net at least two Grade B prospects and a couple Grade C guys out of this deadline, they can consider the deadline a success. If they hang onto aging veterans instead of giving this team a legitimate chance to contend in 2012, Astros fans are in for some long, hard seasons ahead.