In light of Josh James now out of the running for a spot in the rotation and Forrest Whitley declared not ready, should the Astros consider free agency?
Oh, how one player suffering a quad strain can change the landscape of the Astros’ 2019 pitching staff. The 5th spot in the rotation is still up for grabs, but the number of candidates for the job has shrunk considerably. This is due to the recent news of James‘ injury and A. J. Hinch declaring Whitley and a couple of other prospects “not ready”.
The field has been narrowed down to basically Brad Peacock, Framber Valdez and Brady Rodgers. But even the consideration of these three raises a few questions to ponder. Can the Astros afford to take both Peacock and Collin McHugh out of the bullpen to resume their starting roles? Is Brady Rodgers ready for a full season of starting as he returns from Tommy John surgery? Will Valdez be able to gain command of his pitch control, and like Rodgers, is he ready for the load of starter over a full season?
All of the questions above lead us to one other big question. Is considering one of the unemployed pitchers still available through free agency the safest route for Houston right now? There are three intriguing names still out there looking for jobs, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and Clay Buchholz. They might even be more open to negotiating this late in the offseason.
Gonzalez, a two-time All-Star, had a less than stellar season last year. In 2018 his won/loss record was 10-11 and he had an ERA of 4.21, well above his career 3.69 ERA. But he was instrumental in the playoffs, helping the Brewers sew up their division title by going 3-0 and compiling a 2.49 ERA in the five games he pitched after acquiring him late in the season.
The left-handed Gonzalez has had a successful 11-year career and had one of his best seasons as recently as 2017. He ended that season at 15-9, recording an ERA of 2.96. He was also 6th in the voting for the Cy Young Award that season.
Keuchel’s performance also dipped some in 2018, when compared to the seasons he had in 2014-15 and again in 2017. They were still respectable numbers posting a 3.74 ERA and winning 12 games. Keuchel still maintained an above average 108 ERA+ and 2.6 WAR. His postseason experience is also something that shouldn’t be overlooked. He has a .667 winning percentage at 4-2 and a 3.31 ERA over three years of postseason work.
Buchholz seemed to have revived his career last season. He started 16 games last year winning seven, against only two losses. He ended the season with an ERA of 2.01 and a 3.2 WAR. He maintained a strikeout ratio of 7.3/9 while walking only two batters per nine innings. His career ERA is 3.86 with a .579 winning percentage.
There so many questions about this seasons pitching staff and even more questions next season, considering four starters are set to become free agents in 2020. Bringing in a veteran now and allowing a few of the prospects to gain more experience may be the best option for the Astros.