Another day, another bad update on the Lance McCullers Jr. rehab front. Astros GM Dana Brown shared today that LMJ experienced discomfort during his latest rehabilitation rehab session. As Dusty Baker shared last night, McCullers is no longer throwing off a mound but is back to exclusively throwing off of flat ground.
Brown went on to say the team will know more about McCullers in about a week.
So what do the Astros do with McCullers? They're paying him $17 million a year to start less than half of the games in a season and give Houston related soundbites in the postseason.
He's probably not a DFA candidate. When he plays, McCullers is still really good. He's an established regular season stalwart with a reputation for big performances in October.
In his last full season, McCullers finished top-10 in Cy Young voting. In his eight regular season starts last year, McCullers finished with a 2.27 ERA. He started Game 3 of the ALDS on the road in Seattle and threw six scoreless innings.
A mediocre start in Game 4 of the ALCS and a brutal start in Game 3 of the World Series notwithstanding, he's been a great playoff performer, posting a 3.47 career playoff ERA even with two stinkers in his last two starts.
So what do the Astros do? We listed LMJ as a potential deadline trade candidate yesterday. His injury history and inflated contract will keep the Astros from receiving anything meaningful in return, but he could be a salary dump on a team willing to take a chance on him. Maybe he gets packaged with some prospects or one of the depth outfielders on the big league club.
Do they simply continue waiting and let Lance rehab this season in hopes that he can make a return down the stretch headed into October? He may be a boost this season, but they can't continue to pay him close to $20 million a year not to play.
Do they let the continued emergence of Brandon Bielak and JP France carry them through the regular season and let LMJ return as a reliever for the playoffs? It may sound crazy on paper, but the Astros still have one of the best pitching staffs in the game.
Valdez, Javier, Brown and Urquidy are great options for a four-man rotation in the playoffs. JP France, Brandon Bielak and a potential arm acquired at the deadline could help keep them afloat until then. If LMJ can throw his best breaking stuff as a leverage arm, he could make up for the diminished Rafael Montero this season before the Astros go back to the drawing board next year.
Whatever they decide, the continued setbacks of McCullers continued to put the Astros between a rock and a hard place, with no good answer anywhere in front of them.