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?