The Astros’ starting rotation appears nearly set for the upcoming 2019 season. Well, set as much as pre-Spring Training expectations go.
Wade Miley is basically a (cheaper) version of Dallas Keuchel, albeit without the track record. If you didn’t already know, the Astros signed Miley, a left-hander, to a one-year, $4.5 million contract late last week. A needed acquisition with little risk and the potential to exceed expectations.
However, the Astros’ rotation is on a clock. A really short clock by baseball standards, which will start ringing its various high-pitched alarms later this year. For Houston, it is well possible that four of the club’s projected starters in 2019 are all wearing different uniforms in 2020.
While the club does have promising arms in the minors, it is a leap to assume a team can replace 80% of a major league rotation from within in one offseason. I’m sure the Astros are already aware of this important detail, but it is worth pointing out. That said, I wouldn’t rule out any of the four resigning with Houston next offseason. Will all four return, though? Likely not.
So, the Astros need a bit of long-term stability in the rotation beyond 2020. Oh, look, there is a familiar face that can help: Keuchel. As noted by Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, the Astros are still hopeful to bringing back the 2015 AL Cy Young award winner.
Before you roll your eyes, there is some merit behind this notion. For one, Keuchel was still a quality starter in 2018 (3.74 ERA in 204 2/3 innings) and he would help bridge the gap into the new decade. He is projected to still be a fairly good starter in 2019. The question is whether the status of his current market and if he will, or has, received any enticing offers from other suitors.
At this point in the offseason, I would be surprised if Keuchel did receive a contract offer larger than three-to-four years from any club. Despite a solid track record from 2014 onwards, it is doubtful that teams are willing to go five years for the 31-year old lefty. If his market fails materialize anything longer than a three-year offer, the Astros may want to make a strong push for the bearded southpaw. After all, a three-year offer for $20-$25 million per season isn’t exactly a long-term budget obstacle. Is it perfectly ideal for the Astros’ budget in 2019? Not necessarily, although the luxury tax remains a constant concern in roster construction.
The major detriment to the Astros resigning Keuchel is the young arms currently in the farm system. Forrest Whitley could potentially make his major league debut this summer while Josh James, Framber Valdez, Corbin Martin, Cionel Perez, and Brady Rodgers are all waiting in the wings. And don’t forget that Lance McCullers Jr. is aiming for a 2020 comeback. With Miley now on the roster, it is more plausible to understand why the Astros let Keuchel walk. At the same time, one team can never have enough pitching.
In any event that Verlander and Cole, the club’s top two starters, leave in free agency next winter, Keuchel, in theory, would provide some stability atop of the rotation while the Astros look to potentially retool the starting staff. Houston ought to remain interested in Keuchel, even if the club starts to flirt with luxury tax territory. Yes, I am already well-aware that its not my money to spend, but Keuchel would bring some long-term stability back to the rotation. And if the minor league arms start making a push for playing time, then that’s a good problem to have. Give me that problem a hundred percent of the time compared to the other alternatives.