The Houston Astros have many starting pitching options for 2016, even without free-agent left-hander Scott Kazmir. There are currently eight pitchers vying for five spots in the rotation. Four of them are a lock for the rotation, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, and most likely Mike Fiers. The other candidates are Vincent Velasquez, Scott Feldman, and Mark Appel. Some dark horse candidates are Dan Straily, Brady Rodgers, and Joseph Musgrove.
Two players who are starting options, but most likely for another team besides the Astros, are Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock. The Astros have many options, but GM Jeff Luhnow is looking for another veteran arm to compete for the fifth starter. While the Astros have the expectations of winning in 2016, Luhnow seeks an experienced pitcher who will help provide depth in the rotation.
Don’t look for a middle of the rotation guy, they will either go big and get a big name guy or go with a cheap option similar to Fausto Carmona last season. The quote below is a quote from Brian McTaggart’s article titled Astros refining strategy after GM Meetings.
"“We have some depth in terms of pitching options, and then we have younger guys that may not be ready for the beginning of the season but are coming along,” Luhnow said. “At the same time, we have expectations to win a lot of ballgames next year, so having a proven veteran pitcher, whether it’s a trade or free agent, that can plug into our rotation and upgrade, is something we’re going to look at.”- Jeff Luhnow via McTaggart."
Let’s take a look at some reasonable candidates for this veteran arm.
The Most Impact Arm
While most of you would say that David Price or Zack Greinke would be the most impact arm available, these are not likely on the Astros radar because of a hefty price tag. The most likely free-agent target is Jordan Zimmerman, who is coming off a down season with the Washington Nationals. He meets the Luhnow premium free-agent criteria, so he is one of the big time pitchers that the Astros could sign.
2015 Stats via Baseball-Reference: 13-10/ 3.66 ERA/ 164 strikeouts in 201 2/3 innings.
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The Most Likely Signing
The name Doug Fister keeps coming up linked to the Astros this offseason. The former Nationals’ pitcher is coming off a worse season than Zimmerman but at 32-years-old, he still could offer something for the Astros in 2016. He could be done, but could sign a one-year deal with the Astros like Colby Rasmus did, to build his value back up. He could be had for $10 million for 2016.
2015 Stats via Baseball-Reference: 5-7/ 4.19 ERA/ 63 strikeouts in 103 innings.
The Fausto Carmona Signing
Aaron Harang was at one point a target for the Astros at the trade deadline, but he started struggling and fell out of the picture. Harang is not going to generate much interest at the age of 37, but I can see the Astros bringing him in as a non-roster invitee and see if he catches on. That’s all I got to say about that, and it would be a predictable Luhnow type of move till Appel is ready.
2015 Stats via Baseball-Reference: 6-15/ 4.86 ERA/ 108 strikeouts in 172 1/3 innings.
The Trade Target
Andrew Cashner has long been rumored to have the Astros interest; they were rumored to be looking at him at the trade deadline. The 29-year-old pitcher is under contract with the Padres for one more season in 2016 and like most of the Padres pitchers last year, he struggled overall. The Padres are in a semi-rebuilding mode, they need to turn Cashner into a few prospects for the future. A.J. Preller still has some assets to trade, but he might feel the pressure to put a winning product on the field. There is a chance they won’t trade him, but we will see what happens as the offseason goes.
Unless the veteran pitcher is a big name, don’t look for a pitcher that could block Velasquez or Appel for too long. These are not the only options the Astros have, don’t be surprised if the Astros focus on the bullpen and rely on the farm system for the pitchers.