With David Price hitting the $30 million a year level on his latest free agent contract, and Zack Greinke shattering that number, there has been much discussion on where the Houston Astros path forward should be on taking or not taking the plunge into the deep end of starting pitching free agency. The Astros have a low-end payroll and obviously have room to grow so why not go grab a #1 or 1A starting pitcher and dominate the AL next season? A look back at 2015 and a couple of team examples might turn this into a more cautionary tale.
Which team in the AL had the best ERA in 2015? The Houston Astros. How much did the Astros spend on their whole pitching staff in 2015? Right around $40 million, even with spending the biggest chunk of that ($10 million) on Scott Feldman who missed about a 1/4 of the season due to injury.
Which team in the AL had the worst ERA in 2015? The Detroit Tigers. How much did the Tigers spend on their whole pitching staff in 2015? In the neighborhood of $75 million. In fact two of the Tiger pitchers, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander made more money, around $47 million, than the Astros whole staff. The addition of a high-end rental (David Price) during the season did not pull the Tigers ERA out of the gutter.
The Astros obviously are riding the tide of having three good to great starting pitchers, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers Jr. making between $500 and 525 K last season. This is a big economic advantage, similar to what the Seattle Seahawks experienced when paying QB Russell Wilson 3rd round money (about $500 K) to lead them to the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
Yes MLB teams do not have a salary cap like their NFL brethren , but they do have budgets and every chance to save money in a crucial spot is good for the team. Frankly, there can not be any spot more crucial than starting pitching in this free agent market.
What makes sense for the long-term sustainability of a good Astros pitching staff?
- Signing Dallas Keuchel this season to a fairly long-term, but not ridiculous contract and following it up with another next season to Collin McHugh.
- Being willing to part ways with these pitchers when it does get ridiculous.
- Filling in as needed with mid-season rentals like Scott Kazmir.
- Keeping the faucet flowing by promoting a Joseph Musgrove or similar prospect.
- Being very selective in trading away top pitching prospects.
- Continuing to collect and develop your own pitching prospects – picking up Akeem Bostick and James Hoyt as almost throw-ins on trades are examples of smart trading.
- Having a balanced pitching staff that includes mostly home growns with filler from trades and selective free agent signings.
So, where do you fall in looking at the longer view for the Astros’ pitching?
- Do you want them to stretch out and buy a big name FA?
- Do you want them to trade 3 or 4 prospects including pitchers for a top end starter or reliever?
- Do you want them to fill mostly from within the organization?
- Do you care about budget at all?