A few days ago, Astros GM James Click went a different way in stating that the Astros might be pursuing starting pitching at the trade deadline.
This is not really where the fans’ heads have been in the first half of the season. Early on, as Myles Straw was looking pretty hopeless at the plate, fans were thinking that the Astros needed to steady the outfield situation with an acquisition.
However, the current situation with the outfield does not point to that as an immediate area of need:
- After 33 games, Straw’s slash was a pitiful .204 BA/ .296 OBP/ .546 OPS. But in the last 54 games, his slash has been a more than acceptable .304 BA/ .386 OBP/ .767 OPS with 30 runs scored and 20 RBIs. He won’t hit for power, but with this lineup, he doesn’t need to, and he has done an outstanding job of going the other way like he did on Friday night for a key 3 run double.
- The part-time assistance of 4th OF Chas McCormick has also played into the outfield situation going from dire to acceptable as in only 140 ABs, he has 29 runs scored, 10 HRs (many of which have been critical) and 35 RBIs. His .250 BA/ .315 OBP/ .829 OPS slash has been exactly what the Astros needed after having very weak contributions off the bench the last few seasons.
- It also hasn’t hurt that former Astros George Springer has struggled through an injury-riddled 2021 where he has only played 21 games and is currently slashing .184 BA/ .295 OBP/ .690 OPS with 5 HRs and 11 RBIs. George will likely hit a hot streak along the way, but the Astros have had the best offense in the AL without him to this point.
The next area of concern for the fans has been the bullpen. The strong rookie performances of Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, and Brooks Raley in 2020 covered the fact that the bullpen lacked a veteran presence behind Ryan Pressly. Early on in 2021, the Astros lost veteran free agent Pedro Baez before the season began, missed Josh James and Austin Pruitt due to injury, and saw Joe Smith, Paredes, and Taylor fall victim to injury. Scrubb, Smith and Paredes, along with Brooks Raley, all struggled early with or without injury. Ryne Stanek pitched well early out of the bullpen and then hit hard times due to control and home run problems.
While there are plenty of reasons for the Astros to bolster the bullpen and some trade gossip connecting them to relievers like Richard Rodriguez and Craig Kimbrel, there have been a few encouraging signs lately.
- The most encouraging note would be the start of rehab for Baez, who has yet to pitch for the Astros. As a reminder, this guy was a very good, steady Eddie, late-inning option for the Dodgers for 7 seasons where his ERA ranged from 2.63 to 3.35. If he could slide into the 7th or 8th inning spots in the bullpen after rehab, that would be a huge help.
- Austin Pruitt has been activated from the IL and is set to make his first appearance for the Astros. While his MLB career has been so-so to date, Click does know him from Tampa Bay, and he did show improving numbers year to year with his three seasons with the Rays. If he could come in and be a dependable innings eater out of the bullpen, that would be a positive.
- Josh James has been pitching well in his current rehab, and while he has never shown the form that he had in a cameo in 2018, having a veteran strikeout option out of the bullpen could be a big weapon for the team.
- Bryan Abreu has come back off the IL, and if they can see a little more of what he showed Friday night and a little less of some of his other appearances, he could be a key cog out of the bullpen.
- Joe Smith, one of the best relievers on the team in 2019 before sitting out 2020 and struggling early in 2021, has come back from the IL and had two scoreless appearances in his last couple of shots. Having a solid veteran during a playoff race is always a bonus.
- In his last three appearances since his call back, Andre Scrubb has 6 Ks and, very importantly, no walks in three innings of scoreless work. Scrubb and his big hook could be a nice option out of the bullpen for the Astros.
- Over his last 12 games, Brooks Raley had a 2.70 ERA, a huge improvement over his 7.52 ERA in his first 24 games. Hopefully, he can keep that improved performance going when he returns from the IL.
- Blake Taylor had a terrible appearance in the “Altuve” game against the Yankees. But before that, he had put up an excellent 1.29 ERA in 14 games since his return from the IL.
- Is the Click discussion on starting pitching a bluff?
- Can they go forward successfully without trading for another bullpen piece?
- Do they already have the answer in-house between all these additional options?
- Would you like to see them go after a “leverage” arm for the bullpen?
- How much would you give up?