Astros owner Jim Crane said when asked by MLB.com on Monday that the club is actively pursuing a high-end starting pitcher to add to an already formidable rotation that includes Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton.
The defending World Series champions have had discussions with the Pirates about acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole, according to Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan.
Sources: The Houston Astros have engaged with the Pittsburgh Pirates on trade talks for starter Gerrit Cole. One name bandied about as a return: outfielder Derek Fisher. For a trade to happen, Pirates almost certainly would need Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley as a centerpiece.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) 8 de enero de 2018
The Astros have also been linked this offseason to right-handers Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Chris Archer, among other hurlers.
According to the Yahoo! Sports report, Astros left fielder Derek Fisher's name has come up in the discussions. In exchange for Cole, Pittsburgh's ace, the Pirates may also seek top talent from Houston's farm system, such as outfielder Kyle Tucker (Houston's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, and the game's No. 8 overall prospect) and right-hander Forrest Whitley (Astros' No. 2, No. 36 overall).
"I've been told that on paper we have the best team in baseball, but paper doesn't win titles."
Crane also said that Houston is not limiting its options to the free-agent market, as evidenced by the club's reported discussions with the Pirates about Cole.
"I think with the depth of our farm system, where some of the guys are going to be blocked for some time, it might be prudent to make a move if we can get a deal done that makes sense."
Cole, 27, is entering his second year of arbitration and is under team control for two more seasons before hitting free agency ahead of the 2020 campaign. After debuting in 2013, he has gone 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9 over 127 starts. He finished fourth in Cy Young voting in 2015, going 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA.
The Yankees had been in hot pursuit of Cole in past weeks, but could never get a deal done as it was reported that the Pirates wanted Gleyber Torres in return and more. A price the "Bronx Bombers were not willing to pay.
No deal is in place, but the Astros seem intent on improving a roster that remains mostly intact after winning the franchise's first World Series championship and according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports they are also looking for a closer.
Heyman reported recently that Houston could also be a landing spot for Greg Holland or Addison Reed, both late-inning right-handers. Although Astros closer Ken Giles excelled in the regular season, he posted an 11.74 ERA during the postseason, and manager A.J. Hinch was able to win key games by using starting pitchers in relief.
Holland is the top closer on the market after an excellent 2017 season in which he returned from Tommy John surgery and posted a 3.61 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings with the Rockies, leading the National League with 41 saves.
Reed, meanwhile, sported a 2.84 ERA with 76 strikeouts over 76 innings with the Red Sox and Mets, while earning 19 saves. He will likely command a less lucrative contract than Holland.