Could the Astros deal Lucas Harrell or Bud Norris?

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently wrote:

Another potential trade partner for the Royals could be Houston, which is open to moving certain assets for multiple parts. The price for a starter such as right-hander Bud Norris or righty Lucas Harrell would be lower than it is for, say, Hellickson. But of course, the impact might be lower, too.

That begs the question, then: Could the Astros deal Lucas Harrell or Bud Norris?

Harrell won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2015, and is under contract until 2018. He put up 2.8 WAR in 2012, his first full season as a major league pitcher, easily leading the Houston rotation. He gave up just 0.6 HR/9, and he has a 57.2% groundball rate, which is always going to play well in Houston. Sure, he doesn’t strike many guys out (6.51 K/9), but he projects as a nice #2 or #3 guy in this rotation for years to come, at an affordable rate. In short, I simply don’t see him going anywhere.

Norris is a bit of a different story. Under the right circumstances, he could be flipped for some interesting prospects. Norris misses more bats than Harrell (8.82 K/9), but his 39.2% groundball rate doesn’t play as well in Minute Maid Park, as evidenced by his 1.23 HR/9 and his 4.23 FIP. He’s arbitration-eligible in 2013, and he’s a free agent in 2016. His 1.5 WAR in 2012 was the highest of his career, and now may be the perfect time to sell.

Ladies of Kansas City, may I introduce… Mr. June!

The only problem is that there’s no one to replace him in the rotation. Outside of grabbing a free agent, or making a veteran pitcher part of the deal, I don’t think you can plan on plugging anyone else into the rotation in Norris’ place. As I’ve discussed before, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Cisneros, Rudy Owens, and Paul Clemens are the only guys I can see pitching at the big league level.

This isn’t an unsolvable problem. There are any number of free agents who could be had cheaply, and who could conceivably throw up 1.5 WAR, in combination if not individually. Besides, 2013 is not the Astros’ focus. But I do think Jeff Luhnow wants to put a competitive team on the field, even if he fully expects to land at the bottom of the standings again.

I wouldn’t expect a trade like this to happen until closer to the deadline, when Jared Cosart has put in some innings in Oklahoma City.  But it could happen this winter – stranger things have certainly happened. But if it’s going to be with the Royals, I think an innings-eater like Bruce Chen would have to be part of the deal, along with a prospect package that I really hope would include Danny Duffy.

Norris is probably at the height of his value, so it is a good time to sell, but he’s not going to net a top-tier prospect. So you have to look at things realistically. But it could certainly be the case that we’ve seen him throw his last game as a Houston Astro.

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