The Astros are rumored to be interested in a few quality starting pitchers. I like the sound of that.
At first glance, the Astros do not necessarily have a starting rotation problem for next season. There is quality depth on the major league roster while a few prospects are starting to knock on the door. And the team just won a World Series!
Yet, there could be cracks in the foundation.
For example, Dallas Keuchel has made Scott Boras his agent the season before free agency. Translation: the bearded southpaw wants to get paid. The Astros just may not be the team to pay him one year from now. Justin Verlander is under contract for just two more seasons. He will nearly be 37-years old when the contract term expires. The health Lance McCullers’ throwing arm will be watched closely under a human-size microscope. That may be the most scrutinize arm on the team. Another season interrupted by an arm ailment may be enough to force the Astros’ hand with McCullers’ role long-term. Hint: the bullpen could be a possibility.
The concern about the 2018 rotation is not particularly high. It’s the 2019 rotation and beyond that should have you worry. It does worry me.
That’s why the rumor from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic is something to heed. Warning: subscription is required.
Yes, the Astros are rumored to be interested in the following pitchers: free-agents Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. They are also keeping tabs on the trade market, which may include Chris Archer.
Before you get all worked up about Darvish, well, you shouldn’t. Yes, the Astros offense did chase him twice out a game in the World Series. But Darvish is still a talented pitcher. While he may not be the phenomenon that he was as a Texas Ranger at his peak — 2.83 ERA over 209.2 innings in 2013 — he would be a valuable addition with the right contract. After all, Darvish looked much better in Los Angeles this season — 3.44 ERA over 49.2 innings —following the trade from Arlington. Once again, the contract he received will determine how much value brings to a club. There are red flags due to a notable injury history and his numbers were becoming progressively worse since his Tommy John surgery a few years ago. It may come down to how much a team believes in his second half revival with the Dodgers. And the Yuli Gurriel factor.
Once again, don’t let the two bad World Series starts cloud your judgement about Darvish.
Jake Arrieta is another Scott Boras client who was in a situation similar to Keuchel last season. Though Arrieta has produced quality results since the 2014 season — 2.67 ERA over 751.1 innings — the 31-year old comes with his own red flags. For example, his velocity per Fangraphs was down across the board. Also, the peripherals have looked less and less optimal since his 2015 Cy Young season. Like Keuchel, Arrieta wants to get paid. Like Darvish, Arrieta’s value will be tied to his contract. On the right contract, Arrieta on the Astros roster makes sense. Better pray that he ages well, though. If not, well, ouch.
The last name mentioned was Chris Archer, who is still employed by the Tampa Bay Rays. And he likely possesses the highest upside of the three pitchers mentioned. Unfortunately for Houston’s front office, the Rays would likely demand a premium package of prospects in return for a quality pitcher still under team control through 2021. While a 4.07 and a 4.02 ERA in the past two seasons doesn’t look particularly great, his peripherals — a 3.81 and 3.40 FIP the last two seasons — have looked solid. Plus, he has thrown 200-plus innings the past three seasons. He also threw 194.2 innings in 2014. The point is that Archer has been a durable starting pitcher for a good chunk of his major league career. And he’s only 29-years old on a reasonable contract. It’s sort of the pitcher equivalent of Jose Altuve’s current contract.
To acquire Archer though, you can bet that Forrest Whitley and Kyle Tucker, the Astros’ top two prospects, will be asked about by Tampa Bay.
It would be a shock to see both players included in a deal for Archer, but the Rays surely would demand at least one of the two to be included in any deal. Translation: the price will be steep. Teams just don’t give away cost controlled arms under long-term contracts away for cheap.
At this point, it makes sense why the Astros would inquire about available starting pitchers. The uncertainty surrounding Keuchel’s and McCullers’ health this season is a good reason why to do some homework. Plus, there is no guarantee Keuchel will be in Houston beyond 2018. While Whitley could possibly be ready for a major league debut this summer at the earliest, it is unreasonable to depend on him to replace Keuchel immediately. It could happen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Spotrac and Baseball Reference**