The Houston Astros rode a dominant rotation and elite bullpen to a World Series title in 2022. They chose not to address their rotation in 2023, letting Justin Verlander walk and signing no veteran free agents. Three months of missed time for José Urquidy and season-ending surgeries for both Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia later, their rotation was taxed and depleted.
Even trading for Verlander again couldn't save their rotation.
Here are 5 Astros starting pitching targets that need to be top priorities
The Astros would be wise not to repeat their mistake this offseason. The free agent class isn't incredibly deep, but there are some arms available that would go a long way towards giving them a World Series caliber rotation again. Let's take a look at who they are.
#1 Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Let's be clear: the likelihood of Houston signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto is roughly the same as the chances of Aroldis Chapman retiring Jose Altuve with a playoff game hanging in the balance. Slim to none.
But the title of this article is pitching targets that need to be at the top of their wishlist, not will be. And Yamamoto needs to be.
Yamamoto is the pretty consensus #2 free agent behind Shohei Ohtani. Houston signing a player of his caliber would be totally unprecedented. The Astros have never made a splash like that in franchise history, and Jim Crane avoids both long-term contracts and free agent splashes.
It's time he make one. The prospect cupboard isn't totally empty, but especially with regards to pitchers, there are more risks to be taken and bets to be made than there are can't miss arms.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the epitome of a can't miss arm. He just won the pitching triple crown (ERA, strikeouts and wins) in Japan after going 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA for the Orix Buffaloes. 1.21. That's laugh out loud good.
In seven seasons in Japan, Yamamoto is 75-30 with a 1.72 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.2 SO9, and comically good 2.0 BB9. His resume is eerily similar to what Yu Darvish did in seven seasons in Japan: 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.9 SO9 and 2.4 BB9.
Darvish of course came to the bigs and in his first five seasons experienced great success. He was an All-Star four times and posted a 3.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 11.0 SO9. He was the runner-up for the AL Cy Young in his second year.
While they aren't the same pitcher, the Astros need an arm like that. Yamamoto has the potential to be even better than Darvish. He can be a franchise altering arm.
Houston can't just continue to count on Justin Verlander until he's on the wrong side of 50, and no matter how admirable a job players like Brandon Bielak and Ronel Blanco did this year, they can't bank on fringe prospects keeping their rotation afloat in the big leagues.
Yamamoto is projected to earn over $200 million. He'll likely sign a seven-year deal.
The Astros for once need to pony up, go over the tax to begin the season, and land a top free agent. There's almost zero chance they even consider signing Yamamoto, but if they do, they very likely have the best rotation in the MLB and are again the team to beat in the AL.