Astros 2019: About that fifth starting spot


The Astros knew heading into 2019 that decisions about the pitching rotation could be the most critical to their success this season and heading into the future.

They would be without injured starter Lance McCullers Jr., and new Tampa Bay Ray Charlie Morton and likely without former ace Dallas Keuchel. They would be facing the possibility of losing future free agent starting pitchers Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh, and Wade Miley after the 2019 season. How could they play things to give them a shot at another World Series in 2019, while also helping them bridge to an uncertain future?

The steps they first took were to move McHugh into the rotation and signing Miley, thus hopefully filling the 3rd and 4th spots in the rotation. This allowed them to change their focus to picking a 5th starter from candidates like Josh James, Framber Valdez, Cionel Perez, Brady Rodgers, Rogelio Armenteros and Brad Peacock. James just went down with a quad injury and was basically removed from the 5th spot conversation as skipper A.J. Hinch also told the masses not to expect youngsters Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin or J.B. Bukauskas to fill that 5th spot. So what are the options for that last spot, assuming that JV, Cole, McHugh and Miley fill the first four spots?

1) Go with what you know. As a fill-in starter in 2017, Brad Peacock was a strong contributor going 10-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 21 starts.

Plus. He’s here, he’s done this before in a World Series season and he is under team control through 2020 giving the Astros part of the bridge to a pitching future.

Minus. As good as he was in the rotation he has been even better in the bullpen and with McHugh in the rotation and Chris Devenski struggling, he is one of the few multi-inning options the Astros have.

2) Go with what else you know. Dallas Keuchel is still not signed. His asking price and years may be headed for the sales rack. He was brilliant in 2015, very good in 2017 and good in 2018 for the Astros.

Plus. Signing him for 2 or 3 years even at a fairly high annual cost would not cost the team any prospects and he would give them a much more solid rotation. He could also give them a veteran presence as they roll youngsters into the rotation with the expected losses after 2019.

Minus. Exactly how long and how much would they be investing in DK? Does this preclude them from extending Verlander or Cole? Does this delay them from finding out about some of their younger pitchers who need to be the backbone of the future? Does this put them up against the luxury tax and handcuff them on other moves in 2019?

Note: a twist on this option would be to sign a known veteran FA still available like a Gio Gonzalez.

3) Go with what you know some things about. Framber Valdez and Cionel Perez are young lefties who pitched for them in 2018 and were decent or better in fairly small samples.

Plus. They are cheap help, who did not meltdown in a 2018 pennant race and either one could be a long-term, left-handed anchor to the rotation’s future. They both might be better in a starting role than a bullpen role.

Minus. They are young, fairly inexperienced and will hit more speed bumps along the way than a more veteran choice.

4) Go with what you suspect. Though Armenteros has never been to the majors and Rodgers has just one appearance, the team has seen them enough to at least suspect if they have what it takes for the next step.

Plus. Again they would earn MLB minimum and would give the team a lot of economic flexibility and the potential for a lightning strike out of the blue.

Minus. There is a good chance that if either of these guys were all that, they would have already had a shot at the big show.

5) Play the short game. Start off with an in-house choice like 1), 3) or 4). Then heading towards the trade deadline and decide if you need to trade for big help down the stretch.

Plus. This gives the team a lot of economic flexibility and allows them to make a move or not. They could pick up someone on a rental at the deadline for just a little investment or try to pick up another JV with a couple extra years control for more for a much bigger investment.

Minus. There might be someone available now who won’t be available at the deadline (though if a team falls out of the race someone not available now might be available later).

6) Play the short game with a twist. Start off with an in-house choice and then if need be call up a Whitley, Martin or Bukauskas.

Plus. Flexibility now and it lets you get a good look at a solid future asset under the big lights later in the year.

Minus. I guess the big prospect could pull a Kyle Tucker and not be a lot of help down the stretch.

So…..what are your thoughts about that 5th spot in the rotation?

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52 comments on “Astros 2019: About that fifth starting spot

  1. “Dallas Keuchel is still not signed. His asking price and years may be headed for the sales rack. He was brilliant in 2015, very good in 2017 and good in 2018 for the Astros.”

    Not to keep bringing this up, and forgive me if this comes out wrong (I cracked my tooth and half of it decided today was a great day to go ahead and mostly fall off…aside from the now exposed nerve/root, so I’m not exactly the little beacon of sunshine I normally am)…but I noticed everyone pretty much says this…and forgets that he was way better in 2014 than he was last year! In 2017 his numbers looked good at the end of the year but he finished poorly mostly due to injury, so I’d say his 2014 was better than that year too!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What are my thoughts about that fifth spot in the rotation?
    After McHugh and Miley were inserted into the rotation, the fifth spot in the rotation came down to James, Valdez, Perez and Peacock. James now has an injury and it is down to Valdez, Perez and Peacock.
    Nothing has changed with Keuchel. He has a set value in this team’s eyes and James’s injury does not change that value. He is not an improved pitcher because of an injury to James. I would be so surprised if Luhnow let this affect his plans to stick to his system.
    Does anyone think that Boras and Keuchel are now going to lower their price because Josh James has a strained lat?
    If there is a fourth pitcher to insert into the mix for a fifth starter it better be Armenteros. Nobody, and I mean nobody in this organization, has beaten AAA like Rogelio. He’s the guy to take James’s place in the playoff to make it to the rotation. He, at least, deserves a chance to get in the race.
    I just can’t see Martin, JBB or Whitley getting their clock started early by getting added to the 40-man out of ST. Luhnow has said that they expect Whitley to pitch for the Astros this year. That should not happen early in the year, especially if MLB owners cave in to the players and allow clubs only five years of club control after the CBA expires. The Astros need Whitley for as long as they possibly can have him. And they definitely will need him more after this year is done.
    I have always thought the Astros were going to go after another big arm at the deadline this year. I feel even stronger about that now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My Keuchel comment was not tied to James’ injury – I just meant that I’m guessing his salary and years may be lower now especially since unlike Machado and Harper there are no rumors that anyone has offered him anything.

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      • Dan, my comment was not in response to yours. It was a response to some people at other sites who think that James’s injury suddenly makes Keuchel look better. It doesn’t. What is going to make Keuchel look better is when he drops his price to within reason.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Oh brother not only is James shut down ,but McHugh has a “sore” back.
    Devo gave up 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning. OP I don’t know” who” that big arm is, but I don’t see anyone wanting to give up that big arm right now. I hate to sound pessimistic….but I was thinking these guys had a real shot to get to the World Series this year. The car is REALLY leaking oil right now. Becky⚾

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    • Becky, do you remember in 2017 when our pitchers got hurt and we put Peacock in the rotation? He was fantastic!. Then we went and got that big arm. Do you remember whodat?
      Don’t you panic, young lady!
      Now go get some chocolate and get that streaming service cranked up and let’s prepare to do battle. Saddle up, Pilgrim!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to agree with Billy. Keuchel’s best years are behind him. I still remember those dreadful first innings last year.
    Yes, we need a dependable arm but if I comes down to Keuchel or one of the youngsters. I vote for the kids.

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  5. You tell me who the umpire is behind the plate for at least 20 of DK’s starts, and I will tell you my opinion of his value. He HAS TO have the low – inside and outside – strike to be effective. Between knee and waist, and over the plate he is very hittable. (Which is not even a word per spell check.)

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  6. To respond to the question, I think Round Rock is the answer. They can yo-yo players within hours. If they get a few starts from several, they will be fine. We don’t have to have a 30 start pitcher in the 4th or 5th spot. Gio Gonzalez made $12 Million last year. He is probably worth that for a couple years, but stats show his is losing speed on his pitches. Not a good sign for someone turning 34.

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  7. This is the old YIE – “Yes it’s early” in Spring Training, but the Astros are giving a big hint to who is likely making this team…..
    https://www.mlb.com/astros/news/hinch-expects-12-pitchers-on-roster

    Of course this puts the squeeze on the pitching side of things

    1) Verlander
    2) Cole
    3) McHugh
    4) Miley
    5) Peacock
    6) Osuna
    7) Pressly
    8) Rondon
    9) Devenski
    10) Harris
    11) James (unless he is on the DL)
    12) Framber Valdez or Cionel Perez – one or the other will likely be back in the minors

    Others – Deetz, Armenteros, Guduan – sent down unless injuries, trades, performance change things

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    • Pretty much agree with your list but I’d like to see both Perez and Valdez make the team. I would think Valdez had the inside track. Next year will be real interesting. I also have a list for the 13 position players.
      Gurriel
      Altuve
      Correa
      Bregman
      Brantley
      Springer
      Reddick
      Kemp
      White
      Marisnick
      Chirinos
      Stassi or Stubbs
      Diaz
      I would think that Tucker, Straw, Fisher, etc. start in AAA.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I feel fairly confident that if Valdez doesn’t win the 5th starter spot he will start the season in Round Rock. They will want him to work as a starter and I don’t think his stuff plays well in the bullpen. Perez is a better option as the LH out of the bullpen.

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  8. They were out of the Top 10 a year ago and were #9 mid season. For the life of me, I don’t know how they managed to keep the Astros out of the top 5. Yesterday, Pena, McKenna and Adolf were graded 45 overall and today they are graded 40. I guess those 3 players had a bad day. They also dropped Rogelio’s grade.

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    • Maybe that’s called doing the math based on the number you want to come up with – we don’t want them in the Top 5 – so if we drop a few numbers here and there…..

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    • While small samples are many times meaningless, small Spring training samples are a double whammy – meaningless information about meaningless games. Pretty sure Diaz won’t bat .100 for the season

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      • I would not expect that low a BA either, based upon his lifetime .275. But after seeing nothing impressive so far, and noting that his OBP the last two years was a paltry.290 and .303 respectively, I am wondering what kind of whiz he will have to prove himself to be defensively, at multiple positions, to justify taking up a roster spot on a team of this quality. I especially question this since we appear ready to carry both T. White and T. Kemp, both of which can play multiple positions in a pinch. I just want to see some evidence that Almedys has the chops to do a better job for us than Tanielu, Mayfield, or Straw. But it’s early – so we’ll see.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bill, I’m pretty certain Diaz gets at least several months to be the main bench guy. But we’ve already seen Tubby (formally known as Nephew) playing third and Yuli over there too. Yuli will also get some time in at second. Bregman plays a better short than most shortstops. Kemp can play a serviceable second. So if the new guy sucks, we’ve got plenty of options.

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      • Can Kemp play a serviceable 2nd base? I really don’t know, but it was very interesting that when Altuve was on the DL last year they didn’t give Kemp even an inning at 2B. It appears the Astros don’t feel he is a serviceable second baseman. I am not disagreeing with you, but I just don’t know and the Astros seem to not feel very comfortable with him there.

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      • It’s a good point Tim – I am putting together an email on Astro Plan Bs where I will be looking at who might be the backups at every spot

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      • Kemp won a MiLB gold glove at 2nd base in his second season, I believe. He still gets some games there but the bulk of his time is in the outfield. At Vanderbilt he was an All-American selection at 2B and my recollection was his defense was considered a strength. My knee jerk reaction is to say that Kemp probably needs to spend a few hours with a fungo partner every morning for a few weeks, but could quickly be playing 2B at the same level that Altuve does.

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  9. In all seriousness, Tyler White is out of shape. He does not have his legs . First to home on a double was very difficult for him. Hard to fathom a guy with his potential to earn a lot of money over the next few years coming to camp in anything but excellent condition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think anyone could have said it better!
      Weirdly, though, it was always going to be the Phillies. They had absolutely no commitments going into the offseason and then said they were going to spend stupid money. They did.

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      • I did too. He’s a little punk and you guys know I hate the Phillies, but I’m glad he signed there. They deserve each other, and this deal will screw them. Just watch

        Liked by 1 person

    • In the eyes of those whiners, baseball will always be broken until all the owners are subsisting on food stamps and the teams are run by consortiums of never-gonna-make it-anywhere-close-to-the-bigs MiLB players.

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      • I was just trolling Dave and then I got to reading some other reports and they are serious that Trout should get over $500 million. If he gets that much, then Crane can just trade him the team ownership for his contract and call it even,

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  10. If one believes in conspiracies, like the Grassy Knoll and 911 was an inside job, etc. It does appear that IF the Astros and their metrics deem a player to not be worth the market, then all the other teams shy away from that player. Morton being the only exception. DK, Maldonado, Sipp, Gattis, and even Margo would appear to be looking at less than expected or maybe looking at no offers.

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    • Perhaps, it speaks more to how we take average to good players, fit them in as cogs in a well-run system; amass (draft/trade) and develop better than 29 other teams. Loyalty, promotions from within, with a fiscally conservative team, Astros have to make the most of a limited budget. I can appreciate they didn’t give up on Sipp, but accepted the challenge to fix the problem and not abort.

      All the internet jokes were on White yesterday. Recall that I mentioned three months ago that he’s spending lots of time playing golf at Hearthstone over the break — didn’t exactly come in looking svelt, and this year was his big chance to take over DH duties. Doesn’t portend well for my namesake.

      And I’m in full-blown concern mode re Diaz, as well. At least he has an option, imagine we’ll be using it at some point in ’19.

      As predicted, I’m worried about Devo, and now long-term. Can he get ML outs anymore? He has (3) options, and we’ll probably be utilizing one. If not a Spring bounce back, maybe we can watch for him with Smith to build up later in the season.

      Guys I’m pleasantly surprised in; Alvarez, Tanielu, Toro, Dawson, Bukauskas, Whitley, Peacock and most happily after seeing that powdered baseball yesterday … Correa!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. *Think the Nationals didn’t have a idea about where Bryce was going to end up? The first thing they did was go out and sign the best lefty starting pitcher available to a big contract. Patrick Corbin vs Bryce Harper.
    * So Aledmys Diaz has already got people acting apocalyptic after 4 ST games and 10 ABs. Sheesh!
    *I’m just going to sit back and relax and watch Astros pitchers pitch all spring long and wait and see who ends up where.
    * $25,384,615 per year for 13 years! That contract actually extends into the era of no flyover states, because there will be no airplanes. Those road trips from Philly to the west coast on trains are going to be brutal. The Astros won’t have a problem with that, though, because they are already halfway to the west coast and they already have their own personal train.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not to worry on those supposedly long trips. We’ll have Star Trek Transporters by 2029. The question will be, who’s the first one to step into one. I’ve got an idea but we’ll keep it under the hat. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the political temptation.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I think Diaz was an astute aquisition. I still think so. I am pissed at Tubby though. Tim, fair point with Kemp, but maybe they liked him out in left more than Marwin. I do think over the next 30 days, we’ll see something happen that we were not expecting. Hinch can’t be real pleased with White right now and without options, he can’t go over to Round Rock to lose weight and get in shape. I guess as long as he keeps hitting and does not blow out a hamstring, he’s still got his slot.

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  12. This piece does a good job of introducing the technologies the Astros have been ahead of, which explains other teams pilfering our coaches, and the rest of the league rushing to embrace it.

    https://www.mlb.com/news/rapsodo-and-edgertronic-are-changing-baseball

    I recall 2016 Jayne Hanson interviewing Brendan McCurry, where he said, “I don’t look at it, if it’s something that might help me get outs maybe.” So, even though we were the first introducing edgertronic, not everyone was buying into how it could help. Not so for JV Morton and Cole.

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    • When was it that the Astros totally revamped their scouting department in order to facilitate all the technology and weave it into their scouting and the national media had a field day criticizing them for their lack of loyalty to the old guard?
      Now we find out that everyone is going in a new direction.
      I’m sure Jon Heyman and company will find something else about the Astros to hate on.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know, but the Astros should have pointed to their previous decade of first round picks as evidence the scouts needed to go.

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  13. Framber Valdez needs to cook a little longer……I understand it’s early in spring training, but he’s still walking guys all over the place. Did I miss it, or has Hinch put Cionel Perez in a game? His control is sooo much better than Valdez’s. Think his short stature is a draw back for him?
    This is what I think about the deal the Phillies gave Harper: IT’S SICK. 😠

    Like

  14. Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Votto, Bauer, Arenado, Harper, White Sox, Padres | The baseball bats fanatic

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