After a surprisingly slow start to the 2023 MLB season, the Houston Astros are back. With a 60-47 record, the ‘Stros are just a half-game behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West for the top spot in the division, and given how well they have been playing, and how poorly the Rangers have been lately, they should be the favorite to win their division right now.

Of course, it's worth noting that Texas has quickly gone out and made some big moves with the trade deadline quickly approaching, as they swung a massive deal with the New York Mets for Max Scherzer, and landed Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton in a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Now the ball is in Houston's court to make a big move.

The Astros have been linked to a handful of big-name targets with the trade deadline just hours away now, but they keep looping back to one name in particular who would clearly help them in their efforts to repeat as World Series champions. So let's see who that player is and why Houston needs to complete a trade for them before the deadline closes.

Astros last minute trade: Bring in Justin Verlander

Old friend Justin Verlander only won the AL Cy Young with the Astros last year before departing for New York in free agency. However, the season has not gone as expected for the Mets, and they have quickly turned into sellers at the deadline. With Scherzer already gone, Verlander seems likely to be departing before the deadline as well.

Houston's interest in Verlander makes a lot of sense. For starters, they are obviously very familiar with him considering he just spent the past six years with them, and the Astros have struggled mightily to replace him this year. Adding another top-of-the-line starter to work alongside Framber Valdez is exactly what Houston needs right now.

While Verlander was coming off arguably the best season of his career in 2022, things haven't gone as smoothly for him in 2023. His numbers are still solid (6-5, 3.15 ERA, 81 K, 1.15 WHIP) but he hasn't been able to deliver at the rate that was expected of him for the Mets. Again, though, pairing him back up with Valdez could be just what Houston needs.

Trading for Verlander is going to be complicated for Houston, though. While he seems open to returning to Houston (or going to any contender, for that matter), he has a massive contract that he is carrying with him, and is going to require a decent haul in order for New York to agree to move him. It's not impossible, but it's going to be a tough sell for Houston.

It's a strange change of pace for New York's front office considering how they only landed Luisangel Acuna in exchange for Scherzer, and agreed to pay a massive chunk of his salary for Texas. It doesn't seem like something similar would work when it comes to landing Verlander, as the Mets reportedly want prospects in return for him if he is to be dealt.

The Astros ability to contend for so long has gutted their farm system, as their only top 100 prospect according to is Drew Gilbert, who is the 68th overall prospect in the league. That could convince New York to look for other trade partners for Verlander, but then again, trading for a 40-year old pitcher on a massive contract isn't exactly something many teams are going to be looking to do.

Houston has competition when it comes to landing Verlander, and any perceived inside track at landing him due to the two sides familiarity with each other likely doesn't exist. However, it's clear that the Astros front office has the capability of making such a deal, and given their starting rotation needs, it's a move they should be pushing for.

The Astros have been a top contender in the MLB for years now, but their title window may be closing faster than anticipated. Making moves in an effort to capitalize on that title window is a must, and at this point, it's tough to argue that there is another move that can be made to help improve their championship odds like going out and bringing Verlander back to Houston can.

This could be the most daunting challenge the Astros have faced in some time, but they have a very good shot to land Verlander, and they would be wise to make it happen. They could very well win their division without him, but if they want to win the World Series again, their hopes may depend on whether or not they are able to pull off a trade for Verlander.