Pitching depth may be key to the Astros’ hopes of repeating in 2018.
If you have yet to hear, Collin McHugh came out victorious in his arbitration hearing against the Astros. He will now earn $5 million in 2018, which is a $1.15 million raise over his salary from last season.
Good for Mr. McHugh. And this was the second consecutive year that he won over the Astros in arbitration. A bit surprising, no? But McHugh’s arbitration case isn’t the main point, although he’s earning more money. Compared to the current cost of a win – roughly between $8 to $9 million – McHugh at $5 million is still a bargain. In fact, he’s a bargain that the Astros should retain for the 2018 season and the next season.
As Eric Huysman and I discussed in Episode 5 of the CTH Podcast earlier this week, McHugh brings quite a bit of value to the Astros’ pitching staff.
Like we explained in the CTH Podcast, McHugh provides another level of quality depth to the pitching staff. He and Brad Peacock will likely start the season in the bullpen, yet both may start on occasion. Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Charlie Morton are not exactly known for durability in recent years. It may behoove the Astros to give Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole a start or two off if circumstances allow it. The 10-day DL adds another layer to roster management. And pitchers are fragile beings. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if McHugh, Peacock, and Francis Martes are all on the active roster at the same time during some point of the 2018 season.
At this time, there have been rumors floating about McHugh and the possible availability of his services at the right price.
Organizations like the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins have been mentioned. Even the Milwaukee Brewers are an intriguing option. And the fit with all three clubs makes sense for McHugh as he would be automatically placed in the starting rotation. The return would have to clearly benefit the Astros since they would be trading away from a strength. And contenders should accumulate as much pitching depth as they possibly can.
If the Astros retain McHugh, like they should, then quality innings will be expected. Last season, McHugh made only twelve starts, which broke down to 63.1 innings pitched. He missed the first half of the 2017 season working his way back from a “dead arm”, which hinder McHugh’s progress throughout the first half. When he did return, though, McHugh posted a 3.55 ERA and 3.82 FIP while striking out nearly 23% of batters faced. McHugh’s role has yet to be determined, yet he is preparing to start.
If the season started today, McHugh would likely find himself in the bullpen in a similar role he assumed in the postseason. It remains to be seen how the role would resonate with McHugh long-term, but it’s an option worth exploring for the Astros.
Like I previously remarked, McHugh is heck of an insurance policy if injuries ravage the starting rotation. Say if the transition doesn’t work out, though, the Astros still have a solid trade asset in McHugh. It would take a notable return to pry him away. And there won’t be a shortage of suitors for his services.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and Spotrac**