Before the 2021 season, the Houston Astros were left without Justin Verlander, who was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but in the midst of not having their Cy Young winner again, they also lost their minor-league rotational depth.
Forrest Whitley underwent Tommy John surgery at the start of spring training, Tyler Ivey’s season was over after his debut, Kent Emanuel’s season was quickly shut down after a few appearances and Josh James never returned to his regular role on the staff, respectively.
A handful of injuries affected the Astros’ rotational depth last season, leading to the signing of Jake Odorizzi after Framber Valdez’s finger injury. Now, the rotation is jam packed even without Zack Greinke, who is unlikely to return as a free agent.
The Astros’ rotation’s depth goes beyond the major-league names, but what happens next with an abundance of starters at disposal?
The Astros could be expecting a healthy crop going into the ’22 season with Whitley, Ivey, Emanuel and Peter Solomon all being contributors during the regular season.
But at full strength, Houston has seven pitchers that have starter-caliber arsenals behind them: Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, Odorizzi and Cristian Javier.
There is no reason to fret when you have seven major-league arms capable of starting games this early in the offseason or ever, but with minor-league depth eager for a spot, do the Astros explore trades for at least one of their arms?
For Javier, a starting role in 2022 will probably be out of reach just like this past season. The right-hander struggled with walks and pitch efficiency, a year after finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. But now, Javier could remain as the long-reliever the Astros need, after having an resurgent postseason
The case is different for Jake Odorizzi. The veteran is making $8 million for the ’22 season, and while never living up to his ability eat innings in 2021, the right-hander is still battling for a last spot in the rotation.
As it stands now, this is what a regular five-man rotation could look like for the Astros:
- Justin Verlander
- Lance McCullers Jr.
- Framber Valdez
- Jose Urquidy
- Luis Garcia
Odorizzi isn’t included in a regular five-man rotation, and with Verlander and McCullers coming off injuries, the Astros could turn to a six-man rotation again to provide more off days to two arms that could be on pitch restrictions.
With a six-man rotation in mind, the Astros can keep all seven of these arms, or they could look to trade one of them. Of Valdez, Urquidy and Garcia, Valdez could have the most value while being a left-hander and going through arbitration, but he is also the only lefty in the Astros’ rotation.
Urquidy and Garcia have yet to strike arbitration, so there is value in longer team control. While there are a few routes the Astros could take, the franchise has starters on the rise in Triple-A that will likely pick up spot starts this season.
Moving forward, most of the Astros’ minor-league depth is coming off injury, so a quick remodel might not make the most sense right away. As the 40-man roster sees an update this week, we will know which minor-league pitchers the Astros could be leaning on in the near future.