Do all of these Framber Valdez rumors speak to a larger Astros problem?

All of these Framber Valdez trade rumors are a symptom of a larger problem that Houston has to reckon with.
Championship Series - Texas Rangers v Houston Astros - Game Six
Championship Series - Texas Rangers v Houston Astros - Game Six / Bob Levey/GettyImages

The Houston Astros are in a really tough spot this offseason. The roster is still going to be strong going into 2024, but multiple of the teams that are Houston's chief competition in the American League are getting better and better while the Astros don't seem to have the payroll space to even get their bullpen back to where it was in 2023. Their only saving grace in their own division is that the Rangers and Mariners seem to have their own financial issues to contend with, but both of those teams are still going to problems for the Astros in 2024.

One way that the Astros could get around their financial limitations would be to trade away players that are set to make real money over the next couple of years. Alex Bregman, who is almost certainly going to walk after next season, seems like he SHOULD be on the block, but Dana Brown shot down that idea before it could get much traction. Another name has been on the rumor mill and who hasn't been declared completely off limits is arguably the Astros best pitcher, Framber Valdez.

While Houston doesn't seem to be actively shopping Valdez, the current word is that the Astros are certainly listening when teams call and ask about his availability. As much as Brown and the rest of the front office wants to talk about winning now, the way the organization has been run the last few years has painted Houston in a corner where such a move may be necessary.

The Astros' payroll management and player development may force them to trade Framber

If Astros owner Jim Crane had his way, the team would be run similarly to how the Rays run things: add a ton of cheap talent consistently, develop them well, and then rack up the wins and let guys leave once they get too expensive. Crane and the Astros aren't nearly as cheap as Tampa is to be sure and we have seen some extensions handed out before, but the self-imposed limits on payroll pose some big problems going forward.

Complicating matters is that while the Astros reaped the benefits of some crazy strong draft classes as well as snagging Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve before the secret was out on them, their player development has lagged behind now that they aren't picking near the top of the draft anymore. Losing their top draft picks in 2020 and 2021 after the sign stealing debacle were even more devastating. Just like that, the talent pipeline that had been feeding the Astros machine could barely produce big leaguers anymore, let alone stars.

That brings us to now with the Astros at a crossroads. They certainly have some interesting prospects coming up like Jacob Melton, Zach Dezenzo, and Joey Loperfido, but those guys don't look like they are going to be star-level players unless they surprise us. With the hit to their prospect depth that came from acquiring Justin Verlander at the trade deadline, Houston now has to decide whether or not to try and keep most of this current core together to stay competitive. Given their payroll situation, that is going to be tough.

Bregman is almost certainly gone after 2024. Altuve is likely to stay given his public comments that he wants to play the rest of his career in Houston. Kyle Tucker and the front office seem far enough apart on extension talks with Boras as his agent that the smart money is on him leaving after 2025. That leaves Framber who has been outstanding in the Astros' rotation, but who also hasn't been able to come to terms with the team on an extension.

If the Astros trade him now, they could get a haul of prospects in return for his two years of control and free up around $12-$13 million in payroll for 2024 and even more for 2025. However, it would also mean that they would lose their best starting pitcher unless Verlander can turn back the clock next season and might very well make the Astros worse overall for the next couple of years.

These are not easy decisions for a pretty new front office to make. Unfortunately, it is a mess that is long built and now it is up to Dana Brown and co. to figure out how to get this organization back on track.

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