Who closes for the Astros now?
So Jeff Luhnow made his first trade as GM of the Astros and it certainly was a bold one. Whether you think it was a good move or one that may come back to haunt a 106 loss team, he took care of two glaring holes with one move. The problem now is you have, while not glaring, a hole in the back of the bullpen. Mark Melancon was the best bullpen arm last season and helped stabilize the closers role after Brandon Lyon’s injury. So where do the Astros turn and will one of the young arms currently on the club take advantage of the opportunity?
Internally, the Astros have potential candidates to take over Melancon’s role but also unproven under those pressure circumstances. Wilton Lopez would appear to just slide in from his setup role but honestly his stuff doesn’t fit a closer typical description. Lopez might be able fill in during a pinch but he’s not a long term option. Brandon Lyon will be coming off injury and it’ll be unknown how he will bounce back from his surgery. If he shows he is fully recovered then he might be the best veteran option. The wildcard possibilities are Fernando Rodriguez and Juan Abreu, both young and hard throwing righties. Rodriguez came on the scene last year and surprised many with his strong performance out of the bullpen. Abreu came to the Astros from the Braves in the Michael Bourn deal. He pitched well in double and triple A last season with excellent strikeout numbers. His stuff is dynamic but his control is a major issue and putting him in high stress situations may not be the best move. That said, his velocity is exactly what you look for in a power closer. David Carpenter could be a dark horse candidate. He came up last season and surprised everyone. The converted catcher seems to have the fastball and decent secondary pitches to give it a shot, the Cardinals proved that this type of conversion could be done effectively.
The outside options are limited and risky as the closer market has exploded. In part because the market is so volatile, Luhnow was able
to get such a nice return for Mark Melancon. There are free agents who could be low risk high reward type pitchers that Luhnow could seek. Brad Lidge is one of them, our old friend has had his ups and downs since leaving town in 2008. His value could skyrocket if he rebounds after a couple years of injuries as Lidge could be a great veteran presence or be flipped at the trade deadline for prospects. Joel Zumaya is in the same boat, a once dominate bullpen arm that has fallen on hard times due to injuries and is looking for a fresh start. Wednesday afternoon, in Houston, Zumaya had over 50 scouts view a personal throwing session setup by his agent. The Astros were not confirmed to be there but given their current strategy, it would make sense for a Houston scouts to be present in their own backyard. Much like Lidge, in a market where relief pitching is so valuable, both these options could come cheap and be valuable help to the rebuilding process.
While the trade has been mostly praised, it did create an issue but also opportunity for our young arms or veterans looking to re-establish themselves. Given today’s developments, it could be expected that Luhnow will find a creative way to address the closer role just like he was able to do with the shortstop position.