Ever since the literal last-minute midseason trade in 2017 — one that made them a true World Series contender — to acquire former Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, the Houston Astros have been relatively low-key in the transaction market, but don’t mistake that for a lack of effectiveness.

In the offseason before the 2018 campaign, the Astros barely had to tap into its extensive reserve of prospects to trade for Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole — a former first round pick with a lot of potential, but one who had posted a combined record of 19-22 and an ERA around 4.00 in the previous two seasons.

The return on that investment? A 2018 season where Cole posted a 15-5 record and 2.88 ERA.

At the trading deadline in 2018, the Astros jettisoned then-closer and human gas can Ken Giles and, in separate deals, acquired little-known Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Ryan Pressly and Tampa Bay Rays closer Roberto Osuna, who was coming off a lengthy suspension.

The return on investment there? One of the most devastating setup man-closer combinations in the league that has locked down the back end of the Astros’ bullpen. Pressly, in fact, hasn’t given up an earned since becoming an Astro, setting a franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings along the way, while Osuna is 7-for-7 on save opportunities this season.

This past offseason, while the MLB world was captivated by which teams would win the separate sweepstakes for sluggers Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the Astros went under the radar and signed three-time All-Star Michael Brantley to a two-year deal.

And, the 11-year MLB veteran has been the latest in the Astros’ recent series of quiet moves that have yielded an impactful return on investment. Brantley has taken ownership of the cleanup spot in the Astros lineup with a team-best batting average of .336, as well as seven home runs and 24 RBIs, which rank third and second on the team, respectively.

Brantley is on pace to set career bests in those batting categories, and his consistency, at least early on this season, gives the Astros potentially their best lineup yet — which is saying a lot.

The Astros may rarely pull the trigger on a deal for a big name like they did for Verlander, but it’s the less flashy moves that keep them a World Series contender.

James LaCombe: 409-683-5242, james.lacombe@galvnews.com or on Twitter @JamesAtGalvNews

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