Astros could look to bolster bullpen instead of the starting rotation

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 08: Zach Britton
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 08: Zach Britton /

The trade market for starting pitchers will likely cost the Astros farm system an arm and a leg.

As the baseball world reels from the startling Jose Quintana trade to the Cubs, the Astros now have one less trade target. The team’s next course of action could very well impact the foundation of club for years to come.

Undoubtedly, the asking price for a quality starting pitcher remains high. In fact, quite high. Unless general manager Jeff Luhnow and his front office decide to part ways with multiple top prospects, the chances of the Astros netting another starter will likely be low.

In turn, the Astros may be better off concentrating their efforts on the bullpen.

Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Astros could look to improve their pitching staff via the bullpen.

"The Astros balked at the White Sox’s asking price for Jose Quintana, and now with a limited supply of starting pitchers on the market, some Astros people are weighing whether to go after a big-time closer to augment their already strong bullpen. Word is, they’d look at Zach Britton should he ever become available. There’s been no word of a call to the Orioles yet, however."

If the Astros are serious about improving the bullpen, then Zach Britton of the Orioles would be a logical place to start. After all, Baltimore is currently 42-46 with a -78 run differential. They also find themselves seven-and-a-half games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox and four games out of the final AL Wild Card slot.

Britton, when healthy, has been one of the best relievers in baseball.

2014-16 statistics: 209.0 IP, 55 BB, 215 SO, 1.38 ERA, 2.40 FIP, 298 ERA+

Did I mention Britton is a left-handed pitcher? Last I checked, the Astros wouldn’t mind another of those. He is also under club control through 2018.

Of course, you should expect that the Orioles would be asking for large package in return.

The question becomes once again how much the Astros are willing to part for a reliever when their bullpen already ranks within the top five in FIP (3.41). But you must consider the bullpen has a 4.01 ERA, which is ranked 18th in baseball. The innings pitched (308) is also the eighth-most in the game.

Adding another quality pitcher for the bullpen does make sense to a certain degree.

Another name which wasn’t mentioned in Heyman’s report which I would like to bring to light is Padres reliever Brad Hand.

Like Britton, Hand is a left-handed reliever on a team with a losing record. You must remember that the Orioles are more competitive than the Padres and Baltimore’s ownership may be willing to let the season play out. On the other hand, the Padres are definitely a rebuilding team who should be looking to deal for prospects.

Hand, who is in his age-27 season, was a relative unknown till last season. In his first season with the Padres in 2016, the left-hander posted a 2.92 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 89.1 innings. The season before with the Marlins in 2015, Hand had a 5.30 ERA and 4.08 FIP.

The obvious concern is removing Hand from Petco Park in San Diego, which has been as pitcher friendly to a certain measure. Ironically in 2017, Hand has posted better numbers away from home.

2017 Home statistics: 3.23 ERA/3.32 FIP in 23 innings

2017 Away statistics: 1.50 ERA/2.27 FIP in 24 innings

Here are Hand’s home-and-away splits from 2016 and they were somewhat similar to his current season statistics.

2016 Home statistics: 3.33 ERA/3.48 FIP in 48.2 innings

2016 Away statistics: 2.43 ERA/2.58 FIP in 40.2 innings

The Astros could use Hand, though, as he does generate a ground ball rates between 46% to 50% the past four seasons. And we all know Houston has a fondness for ground balls from their pitchers. He could also serve as a decent complement to the hard-throwing Ken Giles late in games. By the way, Hand is under team control through 2019.

Oh, did I mention the fact that Hand is also a left-hander?!

At this point in time, I consider Hand to be a more likely trade target than Britton. You also have to factor the likely package it would take to pry Britton from the Orioles. A trade for Hand would require a highly regarded prospect or two, but the cost is likely less.

Next: Astros: Finding an equivalent trade value for the Quintana haul

Or the Astros could still acquire a starting pitcher? Perhaps Jeff Luhnow acquires both starter and a reliever? Now, that would be a story.

**Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs and ESPN**