#5 Lance McCullers Jr.
And in a bit of a surprise, the Astros should roster the second-most expensive reliever in the MLB in 2024. No, they aren't going to sign Josh Hader. Lance McCullers Jr. should come out of the bullpen once he returns in 2024.
Houston is targeting a July return for McCullers. Since McCullers five-year extension went into effect, he has made eight regular season starts and two playoff starts. 2024 is year three of the deal. McCullers simply can't stay healthy.
Unless the Astros trade Jose Urquidy this off-season, they'll have Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, J.P. France, Urquidy, and a returning Luis Garcia and LMJ to find starts for.
Injuries can always happen, as the Astros found out the hard way in 2023, but they have eight starters under contract. Sure, France could find himself in a middle relief role, but the Astros would be wise to get everything they can out of McCullers in 2024 while the title window is open in hopes he is fully healthy for 2025, likely their last shot at a title barring some truly stunning contract extensions and roster shakeups.
McCullers body simply hasn't been able to handle the workload of a starter. He's not a particularly efficient worker, and he throws a ton of breaking balls, putting a great deal of strain on his arm.
So let him tap into the 2017 playoff run and work in relief. McCullers could be a truly dominant leverage arm with the filthy breaking stuff he possesses. It would be a shocking development if the Astros tried it, but it's a move they should do in 2024.
JV, Valdez, Javier, Brown, Garcia and Urquidy/France form a formidable rotation. Houston needs McCullers health and contributing. The best way for Houston to do that in 2024 is to bring him out of the bullpen as a leverage arm.
If the Astros do that upon his return, they will once again have a dominant bullpen.