Deep pitching: Are Cosart, McHugh, Keuchel expendable?

Maybe it was Jeff Luhnow’s plan all along.

Trade Jarred Cosart, Dallas Keuchel or Collin McHugh? Talk about pulling the rug out from under a delicate reconstruction project!

Unfortunately, Michael Foltynewicz, Mark Appel, Josh Hader and their friends aren’t quite ready.

Maybe Luhnow is taking a gamble. Then again, maybe it isn’t a gamble at all. At the very least, the odds seem to be on the Astros’ side to make at least a small wager. Trade one of the better pitchers today for an upgrade that matters tomorrow.

After all, the target isn’t 2014, it’s more like 2016, right?

MLB is out with its latest round of top 20 Astros prospects. Six Astros are listed in the MLB Top 100. Four of those six are pitchers. Two of those four are projected to be in Houston by next year.

Now, here’s the downside of the most recent Astros’ Top 20. With the latest draft debacle, only two players — Derek Fisher and A.J. Reed — joined the new list. No Brady Aiken. No Jacob Nix. And, no Mac Marshall.

So maybe those Rusney Castillo rumors aren’t rumors. A signing of the Cuban would certainly turn the conversation.

But back to the Top 20. Here’s some good news: Seventeen of the twenty prospects are projected to be in an Astros’ uniform no later than 2016. So, yes, the Astros have some flexibility to move some of its top echelon pitchers.

Three months ago, most fans — and even the Astros — seemed content with Matt Dominguez, Dexter Fowler, Jon Singleton, George Springer and maybe even Robbie Grossman and Jason Castro as part of the future core of the team. Now, only Jose Altuve appears to be the only sure thing, so exchanging some good pieces for better pieces might make some sense.

To be sure, trading Cosart, Keuchel and/or McHugh comes with a gamble. A huge gamble. It’s the type of gamble that’s all about timing. But, if you think about it, Luhnow has spent three years spreading the risk and preparing for the gamble. At some point, the Astros will need to roll the dice to avoid the major 2017-18-19 bottleneck I projected earlier this season.

For every Cosart, there’s an Appel, Foltynewicz and Nick Tropeano. For every Keuchel, there’s a Hader. And, for every McHugh, there’s a Michael Feliz or Lance McCullers or Vincent Velasquez or next year’s Aiken.

In other words, trade one today and you still have 7-10 top prospects from which to realize only 2-3 decent major league pitchers

Let me digress again. Think about the pitching depth — and the Top 20 — with Aiken, Nix and/or Marshall in the fold. Take just a moment. Drooling is allowed.

So, while a trade of one of the key rotation pieces seems almost preposterous or foolish, it may not be so outlandish, especially if the return adds a guaranteed, key piece to the future and not just a hope-against-hope prospect with a lot of upside and potential.

The Astros have enough of those.


39 comments on “Deep pitching: Are Cosart, McHugh, Keuchel expendable?

  1. ANY trade should be a *NOW* player. No three years away guy….this team needs help right this very hot minute…….or we risk the *4th.* year in a row, losing over 100 games. And that might just push most of us over the mental cliff.


  2. Folty pitched six innings tonight for OKC and lost. The third inning did him in as he walked four and hit a batter, gave up 1 hit and there was a passed ball. All that added up to the 3 runs Nashville got in a 3-1 victory. Steve Webber OKC’s pitching coach got ejected in that inning.
    Corpus Christi beat San Antonio 5-4 tonight and I am happy to report that the hero was Delino Deshields Jr. who hit a walkoff homer to lead off the bottom of the tenth.
    Homers by AJ Reed, Brett Phillips and Chase McDonald provided all the runs(sound familiar, Astros fans?) for Quad Cities in a 4-3 win over Bowling Green. Kevin Comer pitched four innings of relief to save the win for Adrian Houser.
    Tri City got a 1-0 shutout tonight as Troy Scribner ran his record to 6-1 for the year and pitched 7 strong innings. Leadoff hitter Bobby Boyd got the only rbi of the game on a bases loaded walk in the 7th to give Scribner the win.
    Vincent Velasquez pitched five strong innings tonight for Lancaster as they lead High Desert 5-2 in the seventh inning. Jack Mayfield has a home run and a double and 3 RBIs so far. JOSH HADER is on in RELIEF of Velasquez tonight, apparently as a reward for his 9-1 record as a starter this year or payback for his little Appel tweet the other day that quickly disappeared from twitterland.


  3. My thinking on trading a starting pitcher is this. If somebody wants one of those three guys so badly that they give us a major league caliber player to plug into our lineup in 2015, I say go for it. We are thin in AAA in ready position players.. That’s all there is to it.
    We will have a choice of Weiland, Nitro, White and Wojo to fill that slot next spring. I fully expect Strom to work with Folty between now and next April to try and correct his wildness with an adjustment to his mechanics and Folty may need to start in AAA again to work on that. He will be 23 next season and that is young. He is averaging nine hits per nine innings and 4.5 walks per nine innings in AAA and that would eat him up in the majors. He needs more time. We thought Wojo might be ready this year, so if he’s healthy next spring he might be ready as well as Nitro. I can’t make a choice which of the three to trade, so it’s whoever brings the most.


  4. Maybe not completely on point but I was at the game tonight and made a number of observations but first I want to give a big shout out to Scott Kazmir. My son Liam played high school ball with Scott and they were good friends. My son was surely not the player Scott became and took another path. Scott and Liam stayed in touch when Scott was rolling at Tampa Bay and when he was scuffling with the Skeeters. Liam has three sons of his own now, two of which are pretty good players on select teams in central Texas. Last winter during a casual conversation Liam mentioned to Scott that the teams were needing sponsors and Scott volunteered to speak with the folks at Marucci who essentially ended up equipping both teams with bats, uniforms, equipment bags and some coach’s gear. The kids were thrilled and very thankful. Tonight a bunch of them came to the game and Scott spent a lot of time talking to them after batting practice, signed baseballs and other stuff and took a bunch of baseballs into the A’s clubhouse where a number of other players signed them too. Scott sure would have looked good in an Astro uniform but I think at this stage of his career he wants to be with a contender and who could blame him. I think I will be rooting for the A’s this season when they’re not playing the Astros.

    Now my observations. The outfield we put on the field tonight is barely competent but at least they did not make any glaring errors. Grossman has perhaps the worst arm of any right fielder in the game. Kike has a decent arm but zero accuracy. The A’s first run came on a double by Josh Donaldson and a single up the middle by Derek Norris. Donaldson is not fast and Kike got a nice jump on the ball, charged it agressively and missed the plate by 15-20 feet. With Springer or Fowler in center I don’t think Donaldson even attempts to score.

    The infield play was solid if not spectacular but they made all the routine plays and really didn’t have the opportunities to make anything flashy. Castro was good behind the plate and did a fine job of blocking a number of pitches in the dirt.
    Oberholtzer is definitely a keeper IMO. He does not have overpowering stuff but he gets the other team to put the ball in play. Unlike Cosart, Peacock and Feldman who can put the fans and their defense to sleep with incessant deep counts and walks and high pitch counts Obie gets the ball and goes to work. His pace is crisp and you can tell the defense is on its toes.

    As for the bullpen and its management I’m not so sure. I think it was fine to bring in Fields for the final out in the seventh and to have him start the eighth. He was not as dominating as in recent outings but he was throwing easy. With a four run lead and a runner on with two outs in the eighth I would have let him pitch to Brandon Moss and finish the inning. After all, he handily disposed of Steven Vogt to end the 8th and right now Vogt is much more dangerous than Moss. Sipp did get the out but here again you have a short reliever having to get outs in multiple innings. Sipp got the first two outs in the ninth but you could tell he was losing command and ended up walking the next two hitters and wasn’t close doing it. He then proceeded to go 3-0 on Vogt with the very real and ugly possibility of walking the bases full for Yeonis Cespedes. Fortunately on a 3-2 count Vogt hit one to the deepest part of the park and Kike ran it down for the final out. Why take Fields out after he had only thrown 11 pitches and then leave Sipp in to get four outs but use 31 pitches to do so. I doubt he will be available tomorrow.

    Offensively I am first going to eat some serious crow and say that tonight for the first time ever I was impressed with Chris Carter, not just for the three run bomb but every one of his at bats. He did not strike out once and his swing tonight was controlled and balanced and productive with lots of good contact. I am now hopeful that his July numbers are not a complete fluke. Jose is so good – enough said. The other homers from Castro, Krauss and especially Dominguez were eye poppers.

    So do we trade pitching for a bat? I vote yes and would look for a couple of results. I would be interested in the on field performance of whoever we get and also what happens with the arm we trade away. If our pitcher goes to another system and flourishes then despite our apparent depth we better do some serious introspection on how we are developing our pitching. If the guy goes and remains the same or gets worse then perhaps we are on the right track. I think it is an experiment worth doing. Nitro really can’t prove much more in AAA. Let’s get him up here. Could he be worse than Peacock?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the good story on Kazmir. It’s always nice to hear the local guys aren’t jerks, but rather are willing to go the extra mile for the fans and especially kids.

      The MLB crew pointed out that Carter has been laying off the off speed pitches below the zone and forcing pitchers to give him something to hit the last month. I hope he continues to stay confident and rakes for the rest of the year.


  5. DrBill……What a *great* story! Those kids who benefited from Scott Kazmir will never forget him! Glad you were able to give us some reflections on the game, since most of us can’t see the game, and are left listening to the radio. I agree with you on trading a pitcher, only to see him get a LOT better with another team.
    Something the Astros are doing ain’t quite right if that comes to pass. Bud Norris hasn’t turned into Roy Halladay in Baltimore, but he HAS pitched better since he left here. If this team trades a starting pitcher………it *has* to be for a good bat. PERIOD. Losing is depressing……….. and I’m already on anti depressives.


  6. ERA 28th
    BAA 27th
    SAVES 30th
    WHIP 28th
    K/BB 28th
    B/SAVES 1st
    SAVE % 30th
    OPS 27th

    Depth? We have indisputably the worst pitching staff in the major leagues. And we have no apparent ready solutions in the system. Appel is just one small example of how things can go terribly wrong when you are discussing prospects. Prospects do not qualify as depth in my book. Depth is when you’ve got a loaded staff at the major league level and guys in the minors who are deserving of a promotion. We also have one of the most anemic offenses in MLB. So it really does not matter. Trade a starter and get a bat. Our lack of pitching depth becomes more lacking. On the bright side, maybe we’d at least see Tropeano get a shot. If Luhnow really uttered the word “depth” when speaking of the pitching in our organization, well then, he loses further credibility with me.


    • Devastating numbers, daveb. Someone please slap that bottle of anti-depressants out of Becky’s hands right now, please! No Astroholic friend left behind around here!

      But the funny thing is that the case you present is actually so devastating that it cuts both ways. If the guys we have are really doing that badly why on earth would we worry about keeping them? What good are Cozart and Keuchel and McHit&Miss and Obeiwankannobe and Sipp and Qualls really accomplishing for us?

      But perhaps it is not as bad as it looks. Are we as bad RIGHT NOW in pitching as we were earlier in the year? It would be interesting to see those figures for games played since the release of Jerome Williams [the last of the several catastrophic imploders, including Harrell, Valdes, Chapman, P. Clemons, R. Owens, Peacock and Farnsworth, to name a few], and to see such placements vis-a-vis the league all the way down the chain, at least from OKC to CC to Lancaster. That would be the tell for me as to whether we presently have real pitching depth in the organization as Luhnow boasts – or if we are all just old fools who desperately need to find a new hobby.


      • Taking your great points further: Jarred Cosart is 24 years old and has made 30 starts in his major league career. He is 10-8 in that career for a team with the absolute worst record in baseball during his tenure. He’s hard headed like a 24 year-old pitcher, but what can he be when he learns how to pitch with his movement. He is under team control until 2020. Cosart is the kind of pitcher you want to refine his talent during the rebuild, so that when you are good, he is even better. He is a home town guy.
        Collin McHugh is 27 and has exactly 24 major league starts. His record is 4-9 this year and during his innings pitched in his 9 losses, the Astros have scored a total of 11 runs. He hardly ever gets to pitch with a lead. Because of his age, people seem to think he doesn’t have it, but with a decent team this guy might have a winning record the way he has learned to pitch this year. We have team control of him through 2019. This is a guy who might be a good starting pitcher by 2016 when we start to contend. He eats up RHB, and in MMP, that is a good thing.
        Dallas Keuchel is only 26 and has 57 major league starts, as many as the other two combined. His free agency in 2019 makes him more attractive to other than us because we’re comparing him to the two guys who have more team control for us. His leftyism is more attractive to others because no other team has the Crawford boxes. But he is still young, is still learning, and is devasting to lefties with that curve.
        If we’re shooting for 2016 for a bunch of youngsters to hit the majors and make us better, then we might want to get a starting position player for one of these guys.


    • Those stats imply that we should trade as much pitching as we can, and bring in replacements to see what they can do.

      And, if we get a ML hitter, maybe McHugh can have more runs. I am beginning to come over to your side. I think we should fire Losenow and Porter (can’t you guys find some sort of a play on words for him) and hire the Bizarro oldpro and daveb to set things right.


  7. We might want to trade for Jason Lane, who made his major league starting debut and gave up 1 run in 6 innings. Seriously, what a feel good story this guy is!


  8. I would trade McHugh or Keuchel for the right package.

    Cosart will probably end up statistically looking a lot like Norris, though in practice they are different pitchers. Cosart sets up hitters differently, and depends on an overpowering fastball. Norris had good velocity at Cosart’s age, but his command was suspect on his fastball, nor did it have the same movement. Cosart also owns a tick or two on Norris in MPH on his fastball. Norris was a two pitch pony that lived off having one of the best right handed sliders in all of baseball. Cosart has a little more in the repertoire department, though he doesn’t have the same command on any of those pitches that Norris does on the slider.

    Statistically speaking – they are both 5-6 inning pitchers that once in a blue moon will get 7 or maybe even 8 once or twice a season, but, while very different pitchers, they both will fight bouts of wildness, high pitch counts, and higher BABIP’s against because of lack of command of second and/or third pitches.

    Norris never got better. He never realized his own faults, and continued to just live off his slider (and continues today). The guy still owns 15-17 win potential, but at 24-25 years of age he may have owned Cy Young potential if he cared to work on his fastball command. Pitchers that struggle with command early can still improve – see Randy Johnson as exhibit A – but it doesn’t happen terribly often. I see Cosart’s live arm, I see his stuff, I made a point to go watch him person at AAA and watched him dominant New Orleans lineup for 7 innings – but at this point, if someone puts a major league performer at SS (not another Villar, but a performer), I would be hesitant, given our Norris experience, to not take it.


    • An .804 OPS would suggest he is a lock…especially on this team, but 114 K’s in only 295 at bats suggests there is a potentially fatal flaw to his game. Let me put it this way: Luhnow likes low K, high BB guys and did not draft Springer. The org has also been oblivious to PR disasters, so it’s conceivable they would be willing to sacrifice a fan favorite for what they consider improvements.

      If up to me he is a lock for the next few years and I hang up the phone on any inquiries.


  9. Speed, power, arm, glove and in early 2013 was rated the best Astros prospect for batting avg. He sure as hell better be a big part of the future of this team! Slamming into the CFwall to rob a triple from some guy is an injury caused by courage, not one caused by being prone to injuries. Cannot wait to HEAR this guy back in the lineup, cause I can’t watch him.


  10. What?! The Padres just DFA’d Jason Lane after last night’s gem. Bet he doesn’t make it through waivers! In 3 appearances (10 1/3 IP), Lane allowed 7 hits, NO walks and had 6 Ks. Yeah, so at 37 he has not real long-term expectations, but wouldn’t you think he’d get another start in that rotation? What am I missing?


    • Chip, they brought him up to make a spot start. He has no options left. It was always planned that he would make his first major league start and then go back down and they assumed nobody would claim him on waivers at age 37. it was great for Lane to get his moment, prove he has good stuff and go back down and keep working for another shot. His dream has been realized, kind of similarly to Cody Clark’s dream of getting to the bigs, one time with the Stros last year.


      • oldpro, I get it, but few — if any — expected what he’s done, so wouldn’t be surprised at all if a team picked him up, especially at this point in the season. I mean, you apparently can do much worse and do worse more expensively!


  11. And to elaborate on Keuchel – there isn’t anything in his pitching line that would suggest he is even capable of finishing the year at a 3.02 ERA, much less duplicating it.

    The only place he has improved in over even his minor league lines is how many of the fly balls hit off him turn into homeruns, down an astounding 10% from previous seasons (even minor league ones). He isn’t walking less people, he isn’t strking out more, his BABIP against is about the same – he hasn’t, at least statistically speaking, improved his command, velocity, or movement. He has the signs and symptoms of luck. Lucky that he has gotten a 75% LOB rate, lucky that a few of those fly balls stayed in the yard, and lucky that a lot of those situations worked out in his favor. Again, I am just stating what the stats bear out.

    If I could sell high on him, and McHugh for a lot of the same reason, I would. If I could get some team that isn’t deep in their research, and is desperate, and willing to part with their best infield prospect, I would take it. I wouldn’t just sell since I do think that Dallas can be a .500 pitcher that will be extremely durable for the next 3-4 years, but if a type A prospect is the return, I am taking it.

    In McHugh I just see a guy that got hot but is not any sort of long term solution. I would ask for a bit more than the peanut guy, but would have realistic expectations and way more apt to move him than Cosart or Keuchel.


    • Steven, maybe we’re looking at different numbers, but Keuchel is improved in almost every category, at least year to year (2013 to 2014). His WHIP is down to a respectable 1.257 (from 1.536 a year ago), the FIP is down considerably and while the Ks aren’t up (about the same as a year ago), the walks are down by almost 1 per game (3.0 to 2.1).

      What am I missing? He’s walking fewer, allowing fewer HRs and fewer hits, a positive WAR. Not to mention 12 quality starts. Now, can he sustain it, I dunno. But there’s nothing in the stats that suggest he can’t…or won’t. Unless I’m just missing something or misunderstanding your comment.


      • Chip – looking at his minor league numbers also, and I don’t see them as marked improvement. Yes, his walks are down from last year, but not enough to substantiate an over 2 run decrease in his ERA. The improved WHIP from last year is just that, from last year, and is better because he is walking way less, and his BABIP against is slightly improved. I just think these numbers mean that we aren’t seeing a guy with marked improvement in command, but rather a guy that is walking few people, and been lucky on whats been put in play.

        Makes me think that yes, you are seeing a guy that is better than last year – but isn’t improved to the point that I think he is a top of the rotation guy. I do like him, I do think he can be a 12-12 guy with a 4.00 ERA and give you 180+ innings, and every team needs one or two of those, but if some other team is convinced that he “broke out” than bamboozle them.


      • Steven, I think we both make valid points. And, that’s why this entry is all about the gamble. Indeed, Keuchel may be at the ceiling of his potential. But, on the other hand, if he has begun to put it together as some pitchers do at this age, he could be a solid cog — no, not a top of rotation guy — in the rotation. And, solid lefties, especially those under team control for a while, don’t come around often.

        I’d still say Cosart has the most upside and he’d be the one (out of those three) I’d most hate to see go. Still, if Luhnow brings a solid middle-of-the-order bat and maybe another minor piece in return, I probably wouldn’t object.


  12. I spoke with Nick Mathews office today about the comments that were made in
    Chronicle about the Appel debacle. I’m done seeing twitter comments about this from Jose Ortiz, and I told Mr. Mathews to ask Jose to knock it off. Seems this whole mess hit Baseball Tonight last night, and it wasn’t well received. Ortiz has done written some other damming articles about this club over the years, and he certainly has the right to publish his thoughts about the Astros. Most of us who read what Evan Drellich writes, know he’s not a fan of this organization. BUT…….I personally think this mess needs to stop, and stop NOW. We ended our conversation on a good note. I wouldn’t have waded in on this, but Ortiz can’t (or won’t) let it go, so I did. Becky:)


    • What needs to stop? Reporters reporting? In the real world, Ortiz would have quoted the names of the players offended by Appels appearance. The Astros get off easy with the few “journalists” working this club.


      • Dave, I haven’t looked lately, but “reporters” should “report”, not editorialize. Too many reporters are turning their own opinions into facts in this day and age. Just report.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fair point Chip. I confess, I don’t keep up with Twitter. I just read what he wrote about Appel showing up on Sunday and his quotes from a couple of unnamed players. But I’m guessing that todays Chronicle likes to have its staff taking to Twitter and adding opinons, no?


  13. On the flip side, if anyone is encouraged by what Cosart and Keuchel have accomplished to date, maybe they remain part of the foundation of what we have to hope will become a pretty good young rotation in the coming year(s), if guys like Tropeano, Foltynewicz and others become part of the mix.

    Sure we need bats, but with just 56 games left, is it all that necessary to get someone now? We’re going to lose 95 to 105 games regardless. What’s the point, unless we get a real talent, a young guy, under team control for the next five years? They don’t grow on trees. There are other ways to improve a club, and that’s by spending wise dollars in the off season. The club contends that attendance is up 24% in 2014. Do we have to have the smallest payroll in MLB again?


    • Right now we have four young guys and Feldman, dave. Probably nobody wants Feldman, so how are we going to get Nitro, Wojo or Folty into the rotation if we don’t trade one of the young guys. If somebody comes in at the deadline and offers us a good trade then, finally, one of or young pitchers get an opening and we get a good player or players for one of our starters. Right now, we’re planning for 2015 and beyond.


      • oldpro, I’m just saying that I think we’ll see quite a bit more improvement from Cosart and Keuchel. They can be part of the equation in 2015 and beyond. I’m not too worried about losing McHugh, although he has surprised me with pretty good ball movement. Oberholtzer, as much as he’s filled a difficult role all year long admirably, is not a rotation guy. Unfortunately, you’re right about Feldman. I think we’re stuck with him until next year sometime when another club has a slew of rotation injuries and the Astros are willing to pay part of his salary.

        I just don’t want to trade one of the first two guys I mentioned for a .260 guy that will give us a .735 OPS. We can buy that this winter and keep the pitching.


      • On Feldman, I think Luhnow positioned his contract to move him next year or during the offseason 2015. He front-loaded the $30 million deal, which could make him ripe for this time next year if he does decently and can stay healthy.


  14. Crap, Qualls! That was a horrible meltdown. He just didn’t look like he had “it” right from the get-go.

    To the question: I think Keuchel and Cosart are part of this team’s five-year plan. McHugh is expendable. While I like McHugh when he’s healthy, I think he’s a fourth starter on many teams. That said, teams need fourth starters.

    I’d demand one MLB-ready bat that could plug in at DH (goodbye Guzman) or left field. And I’d also ask for a throw-in A-ball guy. Something that’s a top-20 prospect.

    McHugh has decent stats (Ks, WHIP, ERA) that would indicate he might succeed elsewhere. I think if a team wants him, you make that team pay.


  15. As usual, I didn’t answer the question either. I would listen to offers for any of the three. I wouldn’t rush to move any as the Astros have them under team control and can wait until the winter if they really want to reduce the number competing for spots in the spring. Luhnow got pretty good return for Lyles and Barnes. Given the Astros should have room to add payroll they may be able to turn more youth into proven players via another team’s salary dump.


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