It’s almost universally accepted that the Astros will need to swing a trade for a starting pitcher before the July 31 trade deadline.
General manager Jeff Luhnow could opt to trade for an ace, and it’s almost certain he will explore the possibility. The Pirates’ Gerrit Cole, the Athletics’ Sonny Gray and the White Sox’ Jose Quintana are all potential targets. All three would provide a big boost to a thin Astros rotation.
However, the price for an ace will also be sky-high. If the team would prefer not to deal a wealth of young talent away, it could opt to trade for a mid-rotation starter to slot behind Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers.
Which path should the Astros take? Let’s examine the arguments for each.
Trading for an Ace
The potential to grab an ace to join Keuchel and McCullers could simply be too good to pass up. The Astros would have their own “Big Three” to start in the postseason and would be backed by the team’s deep and prolific lineup. That combination would make them clear World Series favorites.
It helps that the three aforementioned aces won’t be rentals. Cole and Gray have two more years of team control after this season. Quintana has one guaranteed year with two club options. A trade like this could serve as insurance if Keuchel departs via free agency after next season. Likewise, it would be insurance in case of an injury to Keuchel or McCullers, which the Astros experienced last season.
Yes, the price would be exorbitant. But if the team wins the World Series this year or next, it will be more than worth it. Adding another ace would push the Astros closer to that goal.
Bring in Rotation Depth
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Adding an ace will hurt the organization in terms of its minor league talent. To acquire one, the asking price will likely start with Francis Martes and either Kyle Tucker or Derek Fisher. And the price will go up from there.
Yes, having another top starting pitcher will give the Astros a better chance of winning a championship. But is it worth the sacrifice? Keuchel and McCullers are both pitching like aces. Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh are expected back sometime in July. Bringing in a No. 3 or 4 starter and hanging on to the team’s top young talent could be better in the long run.
Plus, there’s no guarantee a trade for an ace would work out. The team gave up a haul for Scott Kazmir in 2015, and Kazmir struggled down the stretch and in the playoffs. I won’t even mention the disaster that was the Carlos Gomez trade. With such a large division lead and an already strong roster, playing it safe may be the best way to go.
Fortune favors the bold. The Astros are arguably in the best position in the history of the franchise to win a championship. They’ve spent years building up the farm system to be in this very position. The future is now, and they should run with it.
Of the possible targets, there is one they should target above the others: Gerrit Cole. Quintana is having a rough season with his 5.60 ERA, while Gray’s history of inconsistency is troubling. Cole has a more consistent track record and is the youngest of the three.
Yes, the trade will be costly. It’s possible one or more of the players the team gives up will become successful big leaguers. But the time to win is now, so there can’t be any holding back for the future. The more this team wins, the more it becomes World Series or bust.
**Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference**