Astros busy as Meetings buzz features bullpen

Astros busy as Meetings buzz features bullpen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With rumors swirling around Reds closer Aroldis Chapman possibly being traded to the Dodgers on Monday, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wouldn't say whether his club was still in the mix for the hard-throwing closer, though relief pitching remains Houston's focus at the Winter Meetings.

Luhnow, speaking with reporters from his suite in the Opryland Resort and Convention Center, said he met face to face with a couple of teams about possible trades while talking to a couple of agents representing free agents.

The Astros want to add at least one and possibly two relief pitchers and have been aggressive on that front.

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"We're continuing to work hard to figure out avenues to improve the club," Luhnow said. "I will say that there's probably more potential avenues now than there were two weeks ago or a month ago, in that there's just new options that opened up and not too many that closed down.

"Obviously, the free agents that signed are off the board and not available to us, but there's still a lot of players available in free agency, and there's still a lot of teams that are considering moving players that haven't decided, and we haven't decided how badly we want them, but there's still a lot of ongoing dialogue."

Chapman, a target of the Astros at the Trade Deadline last season, was reportedly going to the Dodgers early Monday, though no deal was announced. MLB.com, citing sources, reported that multiple teams remained in the mix for Chapman, but Luhnow wouldn't say whether he had talked to the Reds.

The Astros have last year's Winter Meetings acquisitions Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek returning to the bullpen, along with Will Harris and Josh Fields. They didn't pick up the option on veteran righty Chad Qualls, and lefty Tony Sipp is a free agent. Veteran lefty Oliver Perez signed with the Nationals recently, and the Astros need to replace the innings of those who have departed.

"We've stated it's a priority for us this offseason to add an arm or two to the bullpen, but there are lots of avenues to get there, and we've got some guys in our system that may be able to help," Luhnow said. "Will Harris was not even on most peoples' penciled-in roster, and he ended up being a big part of our bullpen. Maybe [Minor Leaguer] James Hoyt is that guy, who knows? But we're going to continue to work hard to improve the bullpen one way or another.

The Astros would also like to add a middle-rotation starting pitcher, but quality free-agent starters are proving to be expensive. When it comes to relievers, other clubs are asking about young arms like Lance McCullers, Vincent Velasquez and Francis Martes, the Astros' No. 7 prospect. Luhnow hasn't been shy about dealing young pitchers in the past, but would making such a move be worth it to acquire a reliever?

"We need to be careful not to give up too many, because we gave up quite a bit of value at the Trade Deadline for the right reasons, to help this team get to the playoffs," Luhnow said. "... But we know we're going to have a team that's going to compete next year, and so if we have to give up a little bit of future value to enhance our chances of getting to the playoffs and performing, we're going to certainly consider it."

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.