If spring training is any indication how the season will go, the Astros will most likely be sellers come trade deadline time.
The Astros have given up 108 runs in 17 games, 20 more runs than the next closest team in the Grapefruit League. They are sitting currently in last place with a record of 5-12.
Even though they have struggled, they do have some players who could be attractive to teams and could help them make a push for the playoffs in 2011. Now, I don't expect all these players to be traded, but I think the Astros would be willing to move them if the price is right.
The Houston Astros claimed Nelson Figueroa in July of last year, and Figueroa exceeded expectations for the Astros down the stretch. In his final 10 starts, he had an ERA below 3.25, and I would not be surprised to see him win the fifth spot in the rotation to start 2011.
However, at 36 years of age, Figueroa is not the long-term answer and is just a stopgap until top prospect Jordan Lyles is ready to make his debut, which will most likely be the middle of this season.
If Figueroa continues to pitch well, the Astros could try and move him to a contender that is looking for a starter at the back end of their rotation or even a long reliever out of the bullpen.
This would allow the Astros to get Lyles into the rotation and bring back a prospect or two for Figueroa.
The Astros traded for SS Clint Barmes this offseason but like Figueroa, he is not the long-term answer for the Astros.
Barmes is not off to a very good start with his new team, only hitting .226 and no home runs. He was specifically brought in to provide some power to this offense, and if he is not able to do that, the Astros may make him available for trade.
Clint Barmes would be a solid bat coming off the bench for contending teams as well as a defensive replacement at either shortstop or second base. This would open up playing time for a player like Angel Sanchez, who is four years younger than Barmes and hit .280 for the Astros last season.
The other notable acquisition this offseason for the Astros could be used as trade bait if the Astros fall out of the race early in 2011. Starting second baseman Bill Hall could be valuable to some teams because of his experience playing multiple positions, and he still has some pop in his bat, hitting 18 home runs for the Red Sox last year.
Bill Hall did sign only a one-year contract so he probably was not part of the Astros' long-term plan, and it would make sense to try and move him and bring back a prospect to continue to help build a depleted farm system.
Contending teams are always looking for arms to bolster their bullpen, and Brandon Lyon may be an attractive option to teams. Last year, Lyon converted 20 of 22 save opportunities, and with Matt Lindstrom traded away in the offseason, Lyon will enter the season as the Astros' closer.
The problem is that he does have a pretty sizable contract for a relief pitcher as he is in year two of a three-year, $15 million contract.
However, if the trade market doesn't have a lot of quality relief pitchers, Lyon's value will increase. This would allow Mark Melancon to take over the closer role for the Astros and show if he is capable of playing that role.
One player that I am sure the Astros may not want to trade away but should seriously consider if they fall out of contention is starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. The Astros signed Wandy to a three-year extension worth $34 million this offseason, but Wandy would bring back the biggest and best group of prospects in a trade.
Wandy Rodriguez is 32 years old and has been playing some of his best baseball over the past three years. The concern is that by the time the Astros are competitive in a few years, age may have caught up to him, and he may not be able to provide the same value to the team.
It would be a PR nightmare for the Astros as Wandy is the only player left from the 2005 World Series team and a fan favorite in Houston.
One player that will be the toughest to move will be outfielder Carlos Lee, due to the rest of the money he is owed and the fact that he has a no-trade clause. However, if Lee were to decide to waive his no-trade clause, teams, specifically American League teams, would line up to try and swing a trade for El Caballo.
Carlos Lee has played well so far in spring training, and if he is able to continue into the regular season, Lee could be a great DH for teams to plug in the middle of their lineup.
Teams like the NY Yankees or even the Texas Rangers, if they move Michael Young, would most likely be trading partners for Carlos Lee.
Brett Myers had a great 2010 season and is entering 2011 as the Houston Astros' ace of their pitching staff. However, Myers is no spring chicken and is getting up there in age, and if the Astros come out of the blocks stumbling in 2011, teams will most likely be calling the most about this pitcher.
Brett Myers has spent time as both a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher in his career, has playoff and World Series experience, and has a reasonable contract.
If the Astros do struggle in 2011, I would be surprised if Myers finishes the season with the team. I will also be disappointed as they missed a great opportunity to bring back some serious talent that could help continue to build the farm system.