The Houston Astros have their work to cut out for them to keep up with the Rangers this offseason. While that would have been an asinine statement the last few years, they're the reigning World Series champions and are linked to some massive names in free agency this off-season.
The title window in Houston is closing with names like Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez likely headed elsewhere in free agency over the next two years. If the Astros are to remain serious title contenders, they've got to swing for the fences.
Enter a home run hitter and a potential Cy Young candidate into the mix.
The Astros need to trade for Luis Robert Jr. and Dylan Cease
If the Astros can land Robert and Cease, they'd likely vault to the front line of AL favorites. It would be expensive, but Houston needs to make it happen. Robert is coming off of a 5.0 bWAR season after hitting .264 with 38 home runs and an .857 OPS with some great defense in center. Robert finished 12th in AL MVP voting for his efforts.
Dylan Cease struggled in 2023, posting a 4.58 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. His 3.72 FIP show he was likely snakebitten with some bad luck in front of a porous White Sox defense. But he's only one year removed from a 2.20 ERA and a second-place finish in the AL Cy Young. In five seasons, Cease is 43-35 with a 3.83 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 10.8 SO9.
Acquiring Cease would be eerily similar to when the Astros traded for another future ace six years ago. When the Astros traded for two years of Gerrit Cole, he was coming off of a 4.26 ERA season. In five years in Pittsburgh, Cole had a 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 8.4 SO9.
Cease comes with two years of team control, while Robert Jr. is under contract through 2027.
The White Sox GM Chris Getz has made it clear no player is off-limits in trade talks. With Robert Jr. and Cease actually on the table, Houston has to get the deal done.
It would cost Chas McCormick and Hunter Brown to start, and while both are exceptional young talents, Robert Jr. is an upgrade over Chas and Cease is an upgrade over Brown. Addtionally, José Urquidy, Brice Matthews, and a couple of other prospects would likely be included.
While it's a lot to pay, it's time for Jim Crane to do just that and pay up.
An Astros first five of Altuve, Robert Jr., Alvarez, Bregman, and Tucker may be the best 1-5 in baseball. They'd be better offensively and defensively.
And Cease gives the Astros another arm with an elite arsenal. When is the last time the Astros landed an arm and they regressed? Houston has made it a habit over the last decade of reclaiming arms and tapping into a new pitch or tweaking an arsenal that unlocks a new ceiling. Assuming Cristian Javier regains some semblance of form, Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Dylan Cease and Cristian Javier give the Astros as fearsome of a rotation as you'll find in the game.
It's an arms race in the AL West. If the Astros are going to keep up, they've got to take some chances. This move is the one to make. Get Cease and Robert Jr. to Houston.