Now that the Astros have added Gerrit Cole to the staff, what will happen to starter Collin McHugh?
Jeff Luhnow and company struck fear into the hearts of the fourteen other American League teams on Saturday. With the addition of Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, the Astros now have arguably the best starting rotation in the game.
A rotation of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Cole, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton could be historically great if things break right. It also strengthens the bullpen, as Brad Peacock will certainly find himself pitching in relief. But what of Collin McHugh?
McHugh had been in line to be the fifth starting pitcher, as I noted last week. Barring an injury, however, there’s no starting spot for him. Peacock was stellar as a long reliever in 2017, so does McHugh even have a role on the 2018 team?
Solid to this Point
In his four seasons in Houston, McHugh has pitched to a 3.70 ERA in 102 starts with a 48-28 record. Any team would be happy to have that kind of production at the back of the rotation. It should be noted that McHugh has never pitched in relief for the Astros in the regular season.
The Astros could certainly look to trade McHugh, and he should fetch a decent return if they do so. I’m a bit surprised he wasn’t included in the Cole trade, as he could admirably fill that rotation spot for the Pirates.
But you can’t ever have enough pitching depth, especially with the injury concerns the team may have. Keuchel, McCullers and Morton all missed time last year, so having McHugh on hand could prove highly beneficial. Plus, Keuchel and Morton are free agents after next season.
Sending McHugh to the minors really isn’t an option, even if it could actually be done. It simply would not be a good look for the team to send an established starter to Triple-A for anything other than rehab. So if the Astros are to keep him, they’ll have to have a bullpen spot.
With Joe Musgrove’s departure in the Cole trade, there may be a place there for him. Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Joe Smith, Hector Rondon and Peacock are all locks. If the Astros again carry 13 pitchers, that leaves two remaining bullpen spots. One would assume that a lefty will occupy one. That leaves one remaining spot for McHugh.
A.J. Hinch could utilize McHugh as a traditional long reliever. He could make spot starts, pitch when a starter leaves early, and be a safety net for extra-inning games. Peacock could be used in a Devenski-like role, which seemed to work well in the postseason. With that setup, the bullpen could be better than most people realize.
The only concern might be that McHugh would be a highly-paid long reliever, depending on how his arbitration hearing goes. But the Astros, for the time being, can afford it. It makes too much sense to keep McHugh and enjoy the enviable pitching depth. If I’m Luhnow, that’s exactly what I’d do.
***Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference***