Our boy Brian T. Smith is on the case:
Lucas Harrell to bullpen.— Brian T. Smith (@ChronAstros) July 7, 2013
Smith follows that up with an article containing quotes from Harrell and Bo Porter.
The too long; didn't read version is that Harrell hasn't pitched well, doesn't know why and is so pissed about it he's not talking about the demotion. Bo Porter says Harrell's return to the rotation will be up to him and how he responds to the demotion.
A replacement for Harrell will be decided during the All-Star break. With two days off this week, Monday and Thursday, the Astros don't need a fifth starter until after the break. There are several candidates who could fill Harrell's spot in the rotation.
Out of the Astros bullpen Brett Oberholtzer and Jose Cisnero have starting experience in the minors and Travis Blackley started 15 games for the Athletics last year. At Oklahoma City, Brad Peacock has pitched much better than he did at the major league level earlier this year. Jarred Cosart and Asher Wojciechowski are two pitchers fans are clamoring to see at the big league level. Harrell also has an opportunity to reclaim his spot in the rotation if he pitches well over the next week.
Last year Harrell posted a 2.5 WAR in 193 and two-thirds innings pitched. This year he's posted a -.2 WAR which begs the question, in hindsight: should the Astros have traded Harrell in the off season?
In hindsight sure but the Astros may have tried and failed to find a partner. Harrell wasn't exactly the most intriguing pitching option on the trade market in the off season. Last year he posted a 6.51 K/9 and a 4.60 BB/9 with a .289 BABIP and a 9.7% HR/FB. With those numbers we expected Harrell to regress this season, maybe not this much but we still expected it. last year was also his first good year in the majors and at 27 that doesn't breed confidence in teams looking to acquire pitching.
We can certainly criticize the Astros for not moving Harrell earlier, in hindsight, but they may have tried and found there was more expected value in keeping him than trading him.
UPDATE: Harrell talked to reporters after Sunday's game about his demotion: http://blog.chron.com/ultimateastros/2013/07/07/shocked-lucas-harrell-discusses-move-to-bullpen-future-with-astros/