The 2014 Astros: A Realistic Look at What We Might Expect: Part 3: Pitching

This posting will complete the series with a discussion of pitching, both starting and relief. Let's remember that the rules here are simple. Be realistic. The assumptions are few but important. First is that we will not be discussing signing the top guys with long contracts and big price tags. Second is that we will be operating on an assumed $30M budget for 2014 which has included in it approximately $10M for FA.

In parts 1 and 2 we had a nice discussion of the position players that are likely to see the starting of the 2014 season. Please refer back to those discussions if you are new and need to catch up on the details of what has been said. In short we came out accounting for 13 spots on the 25 MR leaving 12 for the arms, five starters and 7 relievers.

Two more assumptions. 1. When the Rule 5 draft takes place I am assuming that we will at a minimum use our #1 pick and I am further assuming that we will go with a relief pitcher, as that is the most often taken position in the R5. I am also assuming that the R5 pick will make it through spring training and therefore start on the 25MR. In effect that leaves only 6 spots for relievers. 2. Alex White is not going to be ready for the start of the season.

Staring pitching is an area where we need to improve over 2013 and where we may already have the makings of that improvement. In 2013 we had 10 SP with 5 of them starting more than 20 games (Bedard 26, Lyles 25, Harrell 22, Keuchel 22, Norris 21). Our 10 starters pitched 906 innings for an average of 5.6 innings per start rating #27 in MLB. While that is not great consider the fact that the #1 rated starting rotation, Detroit, had their starters go 1023 innings for an average per start of 6.3. It won't take much to really move up this list. Needless to say the longer our starters stay in there the less the workload of the pen.

Looking at our current depth chart the starters listed are in order: Ober, Peacock, Keuchel, Harrell and Clemens. Cosart is not on the depth chart because he was shut down after reaching his innings limit (153) in 2013 but he is clearly in the rotation for 2014 so just within this group we have more SP than spots that can be allocated to them. Cosart (RHP) and Ober (LHP) will probably have an innings limit of around 185 in 2014. If that happens I will be very happy. As they have locks for spots for opening day, we have but 3 spots open. I would expect they would go to Peacock (RHP), Keuchel (LHP) and Harrell. (RHP) unless something happens.

That something is likely to be the signing of a veteran SP much like what was done in 2013 with Bedard. That has been talked about quite openly for some time. The question is who could possibly be the target? There are numerous possibilities. Many are too high priced (Arroyo, Burnett, Garza, Haren, Hudson to mention a few. Here's a group of seven with their 2013 salaries that I consider possibilities: Bedard (1.15M), Feldman (6.0M), Colon (3.0), Maholm (6.5), Hughes (7.1), Chen (4.5M), Hammel (6.75M). No doubt there are others. I doubt that Kazmir could be gotten but he could fill the bill as well.

So bottom line if we sign a FA SP I expect Peacock to be the odd man out. Both Harrell and Keuchel gave us 153 innings. I could live with them as our #4 and 5.

Backing this group up is a wealth of talent on the farm. Appel, Folty, McCullers, Tropeano and numerous others raise the possibility of a big surprise (Wacha style) joining the rotation during the season. How Clemens fits in remains to be seen.

Who will be the closer in 2014? Will it be Fields or Lo or will we go looking for a FA in the mold of Veras or maybe Veras himself? Other FA closer types that are available are Balfour, Benoit, Betancourt, Farnsworth, Marmol, Qualls, F-Rod, Valverde, Oviedo, Thornton, Crain, Gregg and Rodney. I haven't included Nathan, Perez or Mujica as I expect they are too expensive. To say that the position is open is an understatement. Someone will get the job (probably a FA) leaving 5 spots for other relievers (remember the assumption that 1 relief spot will go to a R5 guy).

So who will fill the remaining 5 spots? If I am right and a FA will be brought in to close it seems likely that Fields and Lo will have locks. Exactly where Fields stands is a bit unclear to me. As a R5 pick last year he had to remain on the 25 MR all year to meet the requirements of the R5. He spent some time on the DL so I am not sure if that time has to be accounted for in 2014? Regardless, he is likely to be on the 25MR starting the season.

I can see one spot (long relief-spot start) going to whichever starter does not make the cut (Harrell, Keuchel, Peacock and we should add Lyles to this group). One of the remaining three to a lefty- Chapman and the other spot to Clemens, Cisnero, Zeid, Martinez or Cruz depending on what happens in ST. Needless to say that the depth in the minors is significant so we can be sure that if help is needed during the season it will be there.

Naturally, this is a big area that can be a work in progress as trades come together. But on the assumption that the only thing that will impact the 25 MR is the adding of FA we are about done.

In summary it looks like we are in the market with a budget of around $10M looking for a SP, Closer, Utility Infielder and an outfielder. The utility spot can easily be filled from within but can we find acceptable FA to fill the other three spots that combined with improvements of our returnees. will improve our team beyond where we ended 2013 (51/111)? I hope so.

One final thought. It has been a lot of fun putting together these three Fan Posts. I appreciate all the activity it generated. Hopefully, it made the last two weeks less boring. Now we can sit back and see what happens. Its only about 4 months to spring training and only a few days before the rosters have to be set to protect guys from the Rule 5.

UPDATE: Josh Johnson has signed with SD for 2014 @ $8M.

UPDATE 2: 11/21: Jason Vargas signs with KC: 4 years, $32M.

UPDATE 3: Red Sox trade LHP Luis Ortega for RH reliever Burke Badenhop

UPDATE 4: Astros sign Moylan: Just a minor league deal with an invite.

UPDATE 5: Angels sign Joe Smith: 3 years $15M.

UPDATE 6: 11/25: D. Haren to Dodgers: 1 year, $10M

UPDATE 7: 11/25 SF finalizes 3 years, $13M for J. Lopez.

UPDATE 8: 11/27: Nolasco t the Twins: 4 years, $49M+

UPDATE 9: 11/29:SF to sign R. Vogelsong: 1 year, incentive loaded $5M++

UPDATE 10: 11/29: Rays to sign J. C. Oviedo

UPDATE 11: 12/1: P. Hughes signs with Twins: 3 years, $24M

UPDATE 12: 12/2: Kazmir reported to be signing with Oakland: 2 year deal.

UPDATE 13: 12/2: Detroit trades Fister to Nationals for Lombardozzi, Krol and Ray.

UPDATE 14: 12/3: J. Johnson traded by Baltimore to Oakland for J. Weeks.

UPDATE 15: 12/4: W. Wright signed by Cubs: 1 year $1.425M

UPDATE 16: 12/5: Mujica to Boston, 2 years, $9.5M, Will Smith (LHP) traded from KC to Milwaukee, Philles sign J. Manship to ML deal with invite.

UPDATE 17: 12/5: B. Wilson signs with LAD; 1 year, $10M with option that guarantees 2 years $19M.

UPDATE 18: 12/5: Belisario to White Sox, 1 year, $3M, R. Webb to Baltimore 2 years, $4.5M, C. Papada to Angels, MLWI.

UPDATE 19: 12/6: Astros sign S. Feldman: 3 years $30M. Kuroda to Yankees $16M.

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