As Greg noted earlier today, the Astros continued to create starting pitching depth by signing 16-year veteran Livan Hernandez. The former World Series MVP will join his 8th different organization and should battle for the 5th spot in the Astros’ rotation. While the move certainly isn’t flashy, it gives the Astros a reliable innings eater who will take the ball every 5th day, without exception. This does create an interesting logjam in the starting group along with fueling speculation that more moves are on the way. Given the fact that Hernandez’ deal will only be a minor league contract and with a Spring Training invite, not sure how anyone can be critical of this move.
Hernandez is the definition of an innings-eater who is almost never a question mark to take the mound. Last season, Livan posted a 4.43 era in 175 innings with a a whip of 1.39. Those aren’t great numbers but for a 4th or 5th starter, those will certainly be just fine on the 2012 version of the Astros. Livan, only two years ago, pitched some of the best baseball of his career posting a 3.66 era with a pretty good whip of 1.32. Compare that whip to Wandy’s 2011 whip of 1.31 and Norris’ of 1.33 and you get an idea of what Jeff Luhnow would like to get out of Hernandez. He will give up a ton of hits and issue quite a few walks, that comes with the territory, but he tends to work deep into games and will surely help save some innings off the young bullpen arms. One point of concern are his homerun numbers, earlier in his career he gave up a nice amount of bombs but it appears that he has adjusted as his stuff has diminished.
The move impacts the club in more ways than just depth. This gives the club a number of different options for the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation. The top four in the rotation are set in Wandy, Myers, Norris and Happ but the fifth spot will be a fight to the death. Newcomers Hernandez and Zach Duke along with former top prospect Jordan Lyles might have an edge but Aneury Rodriguez, Henry Sosa and Lucas Harrell all could claim the spot with a strong spring. This move all but guarantees that prospects Paul Clemens, Brett Oberholtzer and Dallas Keuchel will remain at AAA for the immediate future. Luhnow understands adding veteran pitching will help the Astros youth and Livan could be a good mentor for the younger arms. This also opens the door for a possible trade or two, as if the issue wasn’t already a hot topic. A trade to open up a rotation spot would be a logical course of action and make even more sense given Hernandez’ team friendly contract.
The next few weeks before Spring Training should see another move or two as I believe this was just a precursor for more activity. Hernandez’ signing was another low risk, potentially high reward acquisition that has been Jeff Luhnow’s strategy up to this point. If Livan does what he is expected to, this will have been a great signing and if he doesn’t then no harm no foul. The Astros are interesting again folks, might want to tune in to find out what happens next.