MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Astros lead pack of contenders for Quintana

With biggest need, Houston has best talent to land White Sox hurler

Astros lead pack of contenders for Quintana

The Astros are ready to win the American League West and achieve the destiny that Sports Illustrated proclaimed for them a few years back -- 2017 World Series champions.

There's just this one nagging detail.

They don't have the starting pitching to go head to head with the Red Sox or Indians, and they'll have their hands full against the Rangers and Mariners.

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Their ace, who won an AL Cy Young Award in 2015, turned in a 4.55 ERA over only 168 innings last season. Their rotation ranked in the middle of the AL with a 4.37 ERA, allowing the 12th highest opponents' batting average (.271) while working 917 innings, ranking ninth.

The Astros have thus far addressed that deficit by adding Charlie Morton, a 33-year-old reclamation project who hasn't pitched consistently well since the first half of the '14 season, when Bo Porter was still the Houston manager.

Morton has never been tested in the AL. Yet he and rookie Joe Musgrove -- maybe Chris Devenski, if he's moved from the bullpen -- are the guys expected to lift manager A.J. Hinch's rotation until the 21-year-old Francis Martes and 22-year-old David Paulino are ready.

No wonder Jeff Luhnow has joined the Pirates' Neal Huntington in maintaining a strong pursuit of White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana, who joins the Rays' Chris Archer as the best pitcher possibly available in trade.

Let's rate the Astros' need for Quintana at 9 on a scale of 1-10.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has said he'll hold onto Quintana until a team meets his asking price of multiple young big leaguers and impact prospects. The Astros are in excellent shape there, too.

White Sox plan for Quintana

They can start a trade with the 24-year-old Musgrove, who has pitched with polish in the Minor Leagues and acquitted himself well in 62 Major League innings last year. But they've so far refused to include third baseman Alex Bregman or 20-year-old outfielder Kyle Tucker (although Peter Gammons reported that the Rays turned down a proposal for Archer that included Tucker).

Other potential trade pieces for the Astros include Martes and Paulino, but the White Sox seem more interested in adding bats than arms after landing five pitching prospects in the trades that sent Chris Sale and Adam Eaton to the Red Sox and Nationals, respectively. Outfielder Derek Fisher, a 23-year-old from Virginia who reached Triple-A last season, and 24-year-old outfielder Teoscar Hernandez could also fill out a package. The same goes for first baseman A.J. Reed, who tore up Double-A in '15 but struggled when he was hurried to Houston.

Astros' Top 30 Prospects list

Let's call the Astros' resources to pull off a Quintana trade an 8.

As to other teams:

Pirates

Need for Quintana: 8 
The window to win with Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole as the headliners is closing fast. But Huntington has been patient this winter, re-signing Ivan Nova and positioning youngsters Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow to play big roles. There's little margin for attrition here, however, and Quintana's cost-controlled contract (for four seasons) is very attractive. It actually screams that this is a great fit.

Resources to land Quintana: 7
The Pirates' system isn't as deep as it once was, but in center fielder Austin Meadows they have arguably the player that Hahn most covets. Put him with Glasnow and they might land closer David Robertson or third baseman Todd Frazier alongside Quintana (with the White Sox sending along cash to help the Pirates). Josh Bell, a switch-hitting slugger expected to play first this season, is another Pittsburgh prospect who interests the White Sox. Ditto for 20-year-old right-hander Mitch Keller and advanced catching prospect Elias Diaz.

Yankees

Need for Quintana: 7
The only reason this isn't 8 or 9 is because they've been patiently rebuilding toward next offseason, when they can spend heavily to hang onto Masahiro Tanaka or add frontline free-agent starters like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. But in the short term, there's no question Quintana would improve the chance to compete for a postseason spot in '17 and beyond.

Resources to land Quintana: 7
Center fielder Clint Frazier, whom the Yankees acquired from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller deal, was the first high school player selected in the '13 Draft and is almost as highly regarded as Meadows. He and shortstop Gleyber Torres, acquired from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, could easily headline a Quintana deal. But with catcher Gary Sanchez untouchable, there aren't a lot of low-risk pieces for Hahn to consider. Shortstop Jorge Mateo, maybe. Twenty-year-old lefty Justus Sheffield, maybe. But Brian Cashman insists he's not going to deal the most intriguing talent he's accumulated in his farm system, which is fine with Hal Steinbrenner.

Yanks interested in Quintana

Dodgers

Need for Quintana: 6
The re-signing of Rich Hill has quieted talk about their interest in Quintana, but he'd be a sure thing in a rotation that is heavy on question marks (Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu) and prospects (Julio Urias and Jose De Leon) behind Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda.

Resources to land Quintana: 8
This is a deep farm system filled with talent that scouts drool about. The big-name guys are Urias and first baseman Cody Bellinger, a 21-year-old with advanced hitting skills who could become the White Sox's version of Anthony Rizzo. He's blocked by Adrian Gonzalez (signed through '18), but the Dodgers have declared him untouchable. De Leon, outfielder Alex Verdugo, power-hitting second baseman Willie Calhoun and catcher/utility men Austin Barnes and Kyle Farmer would make it easy to put together a deal behind Bellinger. The Dodgers have been focusing on a deal for Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, not Quintana.

Rangers

Need for Quintana: 6
They've got a strong 1-2 in Cole Hamels and Darvish, but they might approach the level of the Red Sox and Indians with Quintana slotted in front of Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin. Texas could also use Frazier as an option at third base or in a DH role, lessening the weight placed on unproven hitters Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo.

Resources to land Quintana: 4
The White Sox insisted on outfielder Nomar Mazara when the teams talked last summer, and might again. Without him in the deal, it's questionable whether the likes of Profar, the strikeout-prone Gallo and second baseman Andy Ibanez would be enough to merit discussion.

Hot takes before Spring Training

Braves

Need for Quintana: 5
They've added an abundance of short-term arms in Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia and the comeback-driven John Danks, but Quintana would elevate their profile as they moved into a new ballpark and aim to compete again.

Resources to land Quintana: 5
Shortstop Dansby Swanson jumped from Double-A to the Major Leagues in mid-August, and he handled himself so well that there's no way a rebuilding team would deal him. Ozzie Albies, another young shortstop with big upside, projects to move to second and play alongside Swanson, but Albies could be in play. Second baseman Travis Demeritte, who has light-tower power, could also be in play. Ditto for left-hander Sean Newcomb. This is a deep system.

Cubs

Need for Quintana: 5
This was baseball's best rotation in '16, but the addition of Quintana would lessen concern about the potential post-2017 departures of Arrieta and John Lackey. He's the type of controllable arm that Theo Epstein is always chasing, and he would join Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks to give the Cubs a front of the rotation to carry the team until guys like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell start approaching free agency.

Resources to land Quintana: 4
The Cubs may not have the pieces to do a deal without making Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez available. They have a deep farm system, but it seems unlikely the White Sox would deal Quintana in an quantity-over-quality trade built around hitters like Ian Happ, Eloy Jimenez, Jeimer Candelario and Mark Zagunis. The Cardinals are in even more of a talent deficit at the top of their farm system, so while they'd love to add Quintana, it's almost impossible finding a fit.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.