Max Scherzer (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
The Astros have a plethora of top pitching prospects. But what they are missing is that one proven, veteran arm.
Jarred Cosart certainly had success after his promotion last season, but you cannot expect him to anchor the rotation next season. The same goes for Mark Appel whenever Jeff Luhnow deems him ready for the major leagues.
The free agent market for starting pitchers is mediocre at best, and the options are limited even more with the fact that Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez received qualifying offers and would then cost the Astros a draft choice. There are other starting pitchers that are available with some talent and upside, but they also come with question marks. The best way for Houston to give the starting rotation the veteran upgrade it needs, is through the trade market.
From the start of this offseason, it was not a secret that Max Scherzer and/or Rick Porcello were available. However, if there was any doubt regarding Detroit’s plans for next year’s rotation, they put those to rest today.
Last season Scherzer went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and .97 WHIP while striking out 240 batters in 214.1 innings. That came on the heels of a 2012 season that saw the right-hander strike out 231 batters in 187.2 innings. The 29-year old is eligible for arbitration this season and is likely to see a big payday before he becomes a free agent next year. And it must be noted that his agent is the notorious Scott Boras.
Porcello is also eligible for arbitration this year, and he has another season before he becomes a free agent. The 24-year old is talented, but has not had the success Scherzer has. Aside from his rookie campaign of 2009, last year was Porcello’s best. He was 13-8 with a 4.32 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with 142 strikeouts in 177 innings.
Without a doubt Scherzer is the better pitcher, but Porcello is more affordable both financially and on the trade market. So with both pitchers available, who should the Astros trade for?
The contract situations, both current and future, of the two starters would draw me towards Porcello. It would also cost the Astros less in terms of prospects to acquire him.
But Houston needs to make a splash here. At first my answer was Porcello as I just thought it made more sense, and he is a pretty good pitcher who will likely continue to improve. However, I’m not sure he will ever be a number one or two starter. But the more I think about it, Scherzer has to be the answer here. Detroit will not be able to retain Scherzer after this season due to their present financial commitments. Plus they could use the dollars freed up to improve other areas of their team, so he is certainly available.
Houston will not be able to sign a pitcher of Scherzer’s skill level on the free agent market. While Cosart and Appel in a few years could reach his level, they are not there yet. And the Astros need an anchor and a dominating starter in their rotation.
The cost might be painful here in prospects, but Scherzer is still only 29 years old, and there is a clear need. This is the perfect chance for the Astros to show they are serious about being winners.