Astros figure to be active as Hot Stove heats up

Eyeing another postseason run, Houston likely to use free agency, trade to improve

Astros figure to be active as Hot Stove heats up

HOUSTON -- Now that the World Series is over, the baseball world will turn its attention to the offseason, when teams figure to be wheeling and dealing for the next couple of months during the Hot Stove League.

The Astros, coming off an 86-win season and a trip to the playoffs, will be trying to bolster their position to make another run into October next year. They have several key players eligible for arbitration, which will factor into how much money they have to spend in free agency.

Hot Stove Tracker

Look for Houston to be in the market for a power bullpen arm and a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to put behind Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers Jr. How many position players the Astros may acquire will depend on how many of their own players are back next year. Catchers Jason Castro and Hank Conger and third baseman Luis Valbuena are among those eligible for arbitration.

Free agents/options: Among the key free agent players set to be able to negotiate with any team on Saturday are outfielder Colby Rasmus, starting pitcher Scott Kazmir and relievers Tony Sipp and Chad Qualls, whose club option for 2016 was declined on Tuesday. Rasmus could be in line for a large contract after a bang-up postseason, but the Astros could choose to platoon Jake Marisnick and Preston Tucker in left or opt to bring in another outfielder via trade or free agency.

Kazmir isn't likely to return after he underperformed following a midseason trade with Oakland. Sipp proved to be a huge piece of the bullpen last year and could be a focal point for the Astros to return. Qualls was left of the roster for the American League Division Series and will be paid a $250,000 buyout on his $3.5 million option for next year.

Needs: First and foremost, the Astros will be looking to upgrade their bullpen for the second winter in a row. They have a glaring need for a power arm -- or two -- at the back end of the bullpen. The team also must also decide what to do in left field, beginning with exploring re-signing Rasmus. What they do at the corner infield spots depends on which players return. Do they tender contracts to first baseman Chris Carter and third baseman Valbuena? They could use a veteran starting pitcher, but don't expect them to be players for David Price.

Potential targets: The Astros tried to trade for Aroldis Chapman (Reds) and Craig Kimbrel (Padres) in July, so don't be surprised to see them make another run at them. If they don't decide to bring back Rasmus in left field, they could be interested in Alex Gordon, who opted out of his contract on Wednesday, or Justin Upton in free agency, but they'll have high price tags. Free agent starting pitching candidates to watch include Doug Fister and Mike Leake. The Astros will have some payroll flexibility to add a few pieces.

Trade assets: The emergence of Carlos Correa at shortstop last season could make veteran Jed Lowrie a trade piece for a team seeking a steady, veteran hand. Outfielder Tucker has some value and could be moved if the team signs a left fielder in free agency.

Financial situation: The Astros have $43 million committed to salaries in 2016, not including their pre-arbitration eligible players. They have nine arbitration-eligible players who could command a collective $30 million if they were all tendered contracts.

Bottom line: The Astros aren't going to stand pat. They're going to be active in looking to improve through free agency and trade and won't be shy about spending more money as the payroll continues to increase. They're at the point where they can fill a few specific needs instead of making wholesale changes.

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