Are the Astros looking at the wrong end of the rotation?
It’s fair to say there are more in-house solutions for the #5 slot in the rotation than there are for the #1 (or even #2) slot.
To be sure, only Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh can lay any type of claim on the ace role for the Houston Astros. You have to get one of those Texas-size cowboy hats to hold all the names who could fill the last spot for which we’re told Jeff Luhnow is searching.
So maybe, just maybe, the Astros have been looking at the wrong end all along?
Which brings me to James Shields, the former pitcher for the Rays and Royals. Should, would, could the Astros be interested? Jon Heymann even suggests the Astros as a possible landing spot for the just-turned-33-year-old. To be sure, it’s unlikely, but as the asking price drops, many teams have been added to the mix.
However, with some of the normal leading contenders out of the mix (read: Yankees, Angels, etc.) and Houston having expressed an obvious interest in heavily improving this season, well, you draw your own conclusions. Even if the Astros could sign him, is it a good move for the reconstruction project? Does it make sense for the over-hyped 2017 season?
Here are some pros and cons to signing the last, big free agent pitcher on the market.
- It instantly transforms the Astros from an 80-83 win team into a solid contender.
- Instant credibility, as if other recent moves haven’t moved the team in that direction.
- The move puts other pitchers (Feldman, Keuchel, McHugh) into more of their more realistic middle tier roles. With Keuchel at #3 and McHugh at #4, wow, just wow!
- It relieves some of the “regression” pressure for Keuchel and McHugh.
- Shields is one of the most consistent pitchers — if not the most consistent — in baseball the past five years.
- He hasn’t pitched less than 200 innings since his rookie year in 2006. Most recently, 227 (2014), 228 2/3 (2013) and 227 2/3 (2012).
- Allows the natural progression for Mark Appel, Asher Wojciechowski and Alex White. Wojo and White are quickly pushed to the pen to start the season and strengthen that area of the team as well.
- Provides a proven leader and veteran to mentor others and set an example.
Yes, there are cons.
- Shields is 33 and would need at least a 4-year contract, meaning he would pitch into his year 37 with a big deal.
- A big contract that fails (because of injury or under performance) could set the organization back.
- How many of those four years will he continue to be good-to-great?
- The Astros may have to over pay to convince him to play in Houston.
- If this long-term deal doesn’t work out, will Crane approve others?
- The deal would require the Astros to surpass the $80 million mark on payroll. Will Crane do it? If so, how much pressure does that mean to win this year?
- With Feldman, Keuchel, McHugh already in house, would this slow the progression of Appel or the other kids (Josh Hader, Michael Feliz, Vincent Velasquez et al)? Probably not, but could be a factor.
- Believe it or not, it will be Shields’ largest contract, biggest payday. Can he handle that pressure?
And the questions.
- Go for broke for Shields?
- What is your year and $$ limit?
- Does a 4-year signing make either Keuchel or McHugh (or Appel or Feliz or Velasquez) expendable this year or next?
- Would a Shields signing clearly — clearly — make the Astros a playoff contender?