The headlines in recent days have been horrific.
- Homer Bailey has a potentially serious elbow injury.
- Brandon McCarthy has torn UCL.
- Adam Wainwright out for season with torn Achilles heel.
- Joe Nathan will have second Tommy John surgery.
And, these are only from the last week! Now, as the Astros await news on the Jed Lowrie injury, the team may have suffered its biggest injury in a still-young season that could send the domino effect into motion earlier than intended.
The Astros are 19 games into a 162-game schedule and while the team is off to its best start in nearly a decade, there are clearly holes in the lineup and the rotation. If the Astros reach June or July and still in reach of contention, Jeff Luhnow will have decisions to make. He will obviously need to be a buyer. But of what? With so many injuries to starting pitchers — and even hitters — teams aren’t going to be trading. Or, the available players will be at such a premium, the Astros may have to pay out the wazoo to make it happen.
There is precedent for that, but there are also other avenues available.
Here are three of those possible July scenarios. Some are stretches, some may be very speculative, but this is a weird season. Already. Some of these may even present themselves before the All Star break.
Scenario 1. Add hitter(s) to the lineup.
Correa goes to shortstop, Jed Lowrie slides to third base, Evan Gattis to first base and Tucker slots in at DH. Of course, this all assumes that Correa and Tucker continue to light it up. It also may assume an intermediary jump to AAA for Correa in late May or early June.
Every indication Luhnow has given outright, telegraphed or otherwise communicated is that he will not rush Correa. However, if a player is hitting .350+ and seems to have mastered a level, is that rushing him? Tucker is clearly on a roll at Fresno and mastery it’s only a matter of weeks if not months before the Springer question takes over.
Scenario 2. Yes, it’s Appel Time!
The Astros have treated Mark Appel with special gloves all the way through. He made a stop in Houston to throw a bullpen (remember how happy Bo Porter was with that?). The organization — if you believe some reports — modified the minor league tandem plan in part because of Appel’s input. He’s actually looking the #1 part over the last half of 2014 and the early games of 2015.
While Roberto Hernandez has performed at or above expectations, something tells me that the Astros could experience problems with the back-end of the rotation all season long. Already, two pitchers (Brett Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock) have been hurt and another (Asher Wojciechowski) hasn’t fared well. Of course, one way to transition Appel into Houston is in the bullpen, the same method the Astros used with Roy Oswalt.
Moreover, you can’t overemphasize the injury factor. Every Astros’ fan, onlooker and anyone with even a remote interest has their fingers crossed with Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. Even Scott Feldman.
Scenario 3. Pull off that trade!
Many of you may remember the midnight deal that brought Randy Johnson to Houston. Gerry Hunsicker made one of the most memorable trades in Astros’ history, giving up three huge prospects, but making the Astros relevant in the playoff chase in 1998. In case you’ve forgotten, Hunsicker traded three Top 10 prospects (#6 Freddy Garcia, #7 Carlos Guillen, #8 John Halama). Today, that would be Colin Moran, Brett Phillips and Teoscar Hernandez.
This year, with fewer pitchers likely available, the cost would be high. Extremely high. However, if Luhnow could pull off that trade to anchor the rotation, it could be season-changing. Or perhaps it’s not a pitcher, but a Miguel Cabrera-type middle-of-the-order hitter to play first base or left field.
Certainly the trade dynamics are different from 1998. Virtually every team has a win-now mandate or wish and, as we’ve already seen, most teams are very “proud” of their players and want the moon in return. Still, the Astros could fashion that trade if it meant a big-time player.
You can debate the three scenarios, but as April turns to May, know this: Luhnow and the insiders in the Astros’ War Room have various scenarios of their own. Are they similar to the three listed above? Perhaps, but it’s obvious the Astros have quickly become relevant to the 2015 equation. Becoming relevant to the playoff equation may be a different game altogether.
- What are your guidelines, timelines and markers for promoting Tucker? Correa? Appel?
- As GM, would you trade three Top 10 prospects for the right starter whom the Astros could also maintain under contract for at least three years?
- Outside of Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa, name five players that are absolutely untouchable in any trade scenario.
- What will be the most critical, most pressing question when June and July roll around?