Astros: Acquiring rental like Wheeler would give offseason flexibility

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 26: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets pitches during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on July 26, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 26: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets pitches during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on July 26, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The Astros have been connected to Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler, who is a free agent at season’s end.

With the trade deadline just a day away, fans wait with bated breath for news of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow making a move to bolster the pitching staff. Most recently, rumors have connected the team to Mets righthander Zack Wheeler, with the Astros seen as a frontrunner to acquire him.

Although the Astros would understandably prefer a pitcher with additional seasons of team control, they would probably be happy to come away with Wheeler, who is a free agent after this season. They could also acquire him without giving up a top prospect like Kyle Tucker, which would make Luhnow happy.

CTH noted recently that Wheeler could be a good fit for the Astros and pitching coach Brent Strom. His 7-6 record and 4.71 this season are unimpressive, but there’s potential there to be unlocked; after all, he posted a 3.31 ERA last season. He could slot in the middle of the rotation alongside Wade Miley, giving the team a reliable arm they badly need.

The team is also rumored to be looking at fellow rental Madison Bumgarner. We also took a look at Bumgarner recently, and while a deal may not necessarily be likely, it’s noteworthy that there are ongoing discussions. This could provide an even bigger boost to the rotation this season.

On the other hand, acquiring Wheeler or Bumgarner would do nothing to help the uncertainty surrounding the team’s 2020 rotation. While that may seem like a bad thing, it could actually be a positive in that it gives the Astros plenty of flexibility in their offseason maneuverings.

Plenty of Options

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With Miley, Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh all set to hit free agency, only Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr.appear to be locked into the 2020 rotation. While McCullers should be ready for the start of the season, he could be on an innings limit coming off Tommy John surgery. This leaves plenty of spots to fill.

Youngsters Corbin Martin and Forrest Whitley can’t be counted on for 2020 at this point thanks to injuries and other struggles. Brad Peacock could take up one of the rotation spots, but he might be better off in the bullpen. The same could be said of Josh James.

Many fans want the Astros to re-sign Cole, but let’s be realistic here. Some team (like the Yankees for example) will dangle $200 million in front of him, which the Astros probably can’t afford to match. If they did, they would have little to no room to make any other additions, leaving the rotation perilously thin.

Some have suggested trading Josh Reddick to clear his $13 million salary off the books next year and open up a spot for Tucker, which could be an option. I wouldn’t suggest trading him now and disrupting the team chemistry any further, but an offseason trade would be a possibility if the Astros want to allocate that money to free agents.

If Cole leaves for a huge payday, the Astros could sign two or three mid-rotation starters, such as Miley or Wheeler, to fill out the rotation with quality arms. This would make them less top-heavy than if they simply backed up a Brinks truck in Cole’s driveway. Plus, Max Scherzer is about the only free agent pitcher to sign a mega-deal that actually has been worth it.

Trading Tucker would also be an option if Cole leaves and the Astros want a No. 2 starter to slot in behind Verlander. By getting a rental like Wheeler, they would save their best prospects to make a big splash in the offseason if they so desire.

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Therein lies the point. Acquiring Wheeler or another rental wouldn’t directly help the team out for 2020, but it would leave plenty of options on the table for Luhnow to fill out the rotation before Spring Training. And it would give them a boost in their quest to “Take It Back” this season.