Astros to zero in on bullpen help during Hot Stove

Club also hopes to beef up offense by targeting corner-infield spots, outfield depth

Astros to zero in on bullpen help during Hot Stove

Hot Stove Tracker

HOUSTON -- With the World Series having come to a conclusion and free agency set to begin, the Astros plan to be active in the market while exploring trade options to upgrade their club heading into the 2015 season.

The arrival of the Hot Stove season will see the Astros attempt to upgrade at several positions, beginning with their bullpen. Astros general manger Jeff Luhnow has also said the team would like to upgrade at the corner-infield spots while adding an impact bat in the outfield mix.

Free agents/options
Of their three free agents, all of whom are relief pitchers, Jose Veras seems the most likely to re-sign with the Astros. They have already declined the option on reliever Matt Albers, who pitched in only eight games, and Jesse Crain could return, but it would likely have to be on a Minor League deal after missing all of last season.

Needs
The bullpen remains the top priority after Astros relievers struggled to hold leads last year, which cost them several wins. They could use two more experienced arms at the back end of the bullpen to join Chad Qualls, who did a nice job at closer when he wasn't facing the A's. They took flyers last year on Jerome Williams, Albers and Crain, but expect the Astros to pay more for younger arms who are still at the peaks of their careers and not coming off injuries.

Potential targets
The Astros still might not be in position to make a run at the biggest names on the market, but this year we could see them sign some of their largest free-agent deals in the Luhnow-Jim Crane era. They could make runs at proven closers such as David Robertson or Rafael Soriano. They won't come cheap, but the free-agent market for relievers is deep this winter, including Pat Neshek, Andrew Miller and Luke Gregerson. Offensively, Adam LaRoche (first base) and Pablo Sandoval (third base) would be good fits if the money can work.

Trade assets
If we've learned anything about Luhnow in the past three years, it's that he's not afraid to make a deal. We're past the days when younger players like Jose Altuve and George Springer get dealt for multiple players, but the Astros have some tradeable assets. That includes outfielder Dexter Fowler, who could make close to $10 million next year. Slugger Chris Carter is arbitration-eligible, figures to get a huge raise and could still be moved. Catcher Jason Castro is due for a raise following a down year, and he's been dangled before.

Bottom line
Expect the Astros to explore all options to update their bullpen while adding some thump to an offense that relied too much on homers.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.