Astros should look into signing Michael Pineda

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 05: Michael Pineda
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 05: Michael Pineda /
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As the old saying goes, you can never have enough pitching. The Astros know this truthful tidbit as well as any organization in baseball.

The Astros obviously possess a quality team. The starting rotation, in particular, is a solid unit. Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton is a good foundation for next year’s staff.

Alas, it may be wise to invest in another starting pitcher. And I have a specific name in mind: Michael Pineda.

If you can’t recall, Pineda is currently on the mend from Tommy John surgery on July 18th of this year. This essentially means that Pineda probably wouldn’t be able to pitch in a major league game until the latter half of the 2018 season at the earliest. However, the former Yankee will be only 29-years old in January and a free-agent. He’s definitely one of the more interesting free-agents in this year’s class regarding 2019 and beyond.

First, you may ask why I think the Astros should even consider Pineda? After all, Houston’s rotation seems set. When the rotation is near full strength, there are at least three front-end pitchers. And Morton is no slouch. There is depth in the minors. Plus, there is the depth from Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock amongst others. Arguably there isn’t a need for the Astros to spend money on a pitcher who may not even pitch next season due to health reasons.

Well, this is accurate. The Astros don’t have a perceivable need in the rotation. But there is one word I would to emphasize further: health.

The Astros this past season were a great team. They won 101-games and a World Series championship. However, they were able to accomplish this much because of pitching depth and the lineup being historically great. At different points, last season, Keuchel, McCullers, and Morton were out with various ailments. And the results varied upon their return. For example, Keuchel (1.67 ERA), McCullers (3.05 ERA), and Morton (3.82 ERA) had terrific first halves. And while Morton (3.47 ERA) improved in the second half, Keuchel (4.24 ERA) and McCullers (8.23 ERA) struggled. And let’s not forget that all three pitchers have a history of injuries.

Alas, you can’t completely predict injuries.

Or healthy pitchers.

It is also difficult to lean on prospects to provide quality innings, especially in the thick of the playoff race. For example, Francis Martes and David Paulino will provide key depth, but I am not sure how ready they are to be used in high-leverage situations on a consistent basis. I am open to being wrong. However, it is a concern I have. A veteran like Pineda would be a welcomed addition to the rotation in late 2018 for that reason.

That said, I do realize the irony that I’m suggesting the Astros should sign Pineda, who happens to be an injury-prone pitcher himself, for depth. Heck, I think a case can be made for signing Pineda and acquiring another starter through other means. While the Dodgers have way more financial resources, they employ a similar tactic with their pitching staff. I just think that the Astros could implement something similar, albeit on a smaller scale. And the ten-day DL essentially encourages this kind of roster manipulation with multiple starting pitchers under contract.

Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs in a recent post highlighted each team’s disabled list information for this past season. The Dodgers were by far in first place in total trips (27) for pitchers, fourteen of which were for stints less than fifteen days. The days of starting pitchers throwing even up to 200 innings in a season are more uncommon. Preserving arms seems to be the latest trend amongst major league teams. And this could be an area for the Astros, who had fifteen trips to the DL for their pitchers in 2017, to concentrate towards in future seasons. Oh, for comparison sake, the Astros only had two pitcher trips to the DL that went past fifteen days.

Back to the original topic.

Earlier in his career, Pineda has had his fair share of shoulder issues. He’s missed extended time even before his Tommy John surgery. Nevertheless, Pineda in the first two months of the 2017 season looked like a competent major league pitcher with a sub-3.50 ERA. He doesn’t walk many batters, and his strikeout numbers are solid.

Interestingly enough, Pineda’s changeup usage jumped to 13.7% before his injury. In turn, he used less of his cutter and slider before his injury. I wonder if that was intentional to prevent injury? Pineda’s cutter and slider velocity also took a dip before his injury while his changeup climbed by roughly 0.3 MPH. Not much I know, but it’ll be interesting to see where his velocity recovers following Tommy John surgery.

Regardless, Pineda could be a worthwhile lottery pick for a team looking for pitching help in late 2018 and the full 2019 season. In fact, he could be a similar case study to the Charlie Morton acquisition last offseason.

Pineda did implode in June with a 5.35 ERA in 33.2 innings. At the same time, his elbow, in theory, could’ve already been giving him issues by that point. Of course, I am not privy to Pineda’s medical records, so that’s a rather rash presumption on my part. At the end of the day though, his Tommy John surgery cost Pineda a lot of money in his contract year. If healthy, he could’ve been one of the top five starting pitchers on the open market.

Any team who is interested in Pineda can probably sign on a short-term contract laden with incentives. The potential value of a contract could fall near two-years, $18 million, which is fair in my opinion. After all, the cost of a win is roughly $8-$9 million. Paying a player $8 to $9 million per season isn’t a big deal nowadays in baseball in comparison with the current going rate for contracts. Once you account for the incentives, Pineda may not find a better offer. This deal would also allow him to rebuild value and work with a team’s training staff while he recovers. There is a value of players being able to work with coaches, trainers, and doctors that wouldn’t normally be available if he were a free-agent.

Next: Looking ahead to who will be protected from Rule V draft

Essentially any team that signs Pineda to a similar contract that I proposed will not be on the hook for long-term money while hoping he can provide quality innings in the future. For a contender who could always use pitching depth, there is a certain value to that. Remember that pitching depth isn’t a luxury, but rather a necessity in today’s baseball. And starting pitchers are not expected to pitch past the second time of the order much more. Plus, teams want to limit the stress on pitcher’s arms. Times are changing in baseball, and a pitcher like Pineda could be the latest example of such.

**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs**