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Astros Trade Deadline Preview: Starting Pitching

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With the Astros in the thick of the playoff picture and the trade deadline approaching, will they make a move to bolster the rotation?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The All-Star game has passed and the second half gets underway tonight, so with that the attention of the baseball world turns to the August 1st trade deadline. With the implementation of the second wild card in recent years, more teams than ever feel like they have a shot at making the playoffs. In 2014 Kansas City and San Francisco proved that once you get to the playoffs anything can happen, meeting in the World Series as wild card teams. This trade deadline presents an interesting dilemma for Houston and a number of other teams, as almost every team in the hunt could use starting pitching help, the only problem being the apparent dearth of top end options. With the upcoming free agent class not inspiring awe either, it is likely that teams are going to pay up for incremental improvement.

Looking at the Astros, the pitching staff has had an interesting year, opening the season in a real funk. This is highlighted most clearly by Colin McHugh, who took things to the extreme by posting a 135 ERA after his first start. McHugh was not alone though, as Lance McCullers opened the year on the disabled list and the Dallas Keuchel struggled early and often. The top end of the staff has begun to look more like the 2015 version, though thanks to an impressive June and early July run to close out the first half. The back end of the rotation is where the Astros will most likely look to improve in the coming weeks, so we are going to quickly take a look at a few pitchers that should be available.

Drew Pomeranz:

Well, I was going to open this with a look at Pomeranz, but Boston made that unnecessary. The Red Sox completed a simple one-for-one trade for Pomeranz by sending 18-year-old right-hander Anderson Espinoza to San Diego. This trade sets the early rate for starting pitching at the deadline and doesn’t set it cheap, as Espinoza is ranked on all the major top 100 lists and inside the top 20 for both Baseball America and ESPN. Alright, we better move on to the rest of the list before they get traded too.

Jake Odorizzi:

At 26 years old, Odorizzi like most of the pitchers on this list are at a point in their careers where there is still opportunity for growth. The right hander is arbitration eligible in the offseason and not scheduled to be a free agent until 2020. Looking at the repertoire Odorizzi relies almost exclusively on his fastball and a split change. Over the course of recent seasons Odorizzi has experimented with a cutter, a slider and most recently a curve ball, but has not found consistency with any as a third pitch. The upside is here if Odorizzi can develop confidence in a third pitch, but until that happens it is hard to see where his current line of 4.47 ERA, 4.39 FIP and 4.37 xFIP is an improvement over current options with the Astros.

Matt Moore:

Another pitcher in the Tampa Bay rotation, Moore is a 27 years old lefty who has struggled to regain his early career success after 2014 Tommy John surgery. Moore debuted with the Rays in 2011 as a 22 year old and was named to the AL All-Star team in 2013 when he pitched to a 3.29 ERA over 150 innings. Following his return from Tommy John in 2015, Moore pitched to a 5.43 ERA and he is currently pitching to the tune of 4.46 ERA, 4.59 FIP and 4.60xFIP in the first half of 2016. Moore has options in his contract through 2019, so the upside is here if he can move closer to the pitcher he was before injury. The question is whether or not you think Moore will ever be able to reproduce his All-Star caliber 2013 number or if he is just a mid-four ERA pitcher going forward.

Michael Pineda:

Moving away from the Tampa Bay Ray, but staying in the AL East we have a pitcher with a checkered injury history. Pineda, a 27 year old right hander, burst onto the scene with Seattle in 2011. As a 22 year old, Pineda claimed a rotation spot out of spring training and saw immediate success to the point of being named an All-Star as a rookie. In 2012 Pineda suffered an anterior labral tear that caused him to miss the majority of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Currently, Pineda has pitched to a 5.38 ERA, 3.79 FIP and 3.34 xFIP in 95 1/3 innings in 2016. Through his early career, Pineda has only pitched 150 innings twice, 171 in his rookie season and 160 2/3 last year with the Yankees. The question is: can his body hold up and let him get closer to the results the underlying numbers suggest?

Matt Shoemaker:

Shoemaker is a 29 year old right handed pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels. Following his time at Eastern Michigan University, Shoemaker went undrafted in 2008, but was quickly signed by the Angles as a free agent during his time in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. Shoemaker made his debut in 2013 and finished second in rookie of the year voting in 2014 pitching to a 3.04 ERA. Last year, Shoemaker struggled to duplicate his rookie success as he pitched to a less impressive 4.46 ERA. Through the first half of 2016 Shoemaker has accumulated a line of 4.45 ERA, 3.66 FIP and 3.81 xFIP. Shoemaker primarily relies on his splitter, sinker and a four seam fastball sitting in the low 90s. The upside is definitely there, as Shoemaker is only a year and a half removed from his rookie of the year runner up finish and the underlying stats point to better results ahead. Trading within the division is always a precarious  situation though.

Jeremy Hellickson:

With Hellickson we get to our first true rental on this list. At 29 years old, the right hander has pitched to a 3.92 ERA, 4.26 FIP and 3.90 xFIP in 2016 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Primarily relying on a four seam fastball in the low 90s and a low 80s change-up, Hellickson has regained some of his early career success and could be one of the better values on the market. Being a true rental, Hellickson should come at a reduced price and will not block any of the prospects that are getting close to the majors. Further, the Astros and Phillies have connected on multiple trades in recent years, so this may be a name to pay close attention to.

Rich Hill:

Hill presents probably the most interesting name on the market. At 36 years old, Hill has reinvented himself over the past year thanks to a change in the way he utilizes his curve and fastball. Once a top prospect with the Cubs, Hill found success early in his career. Unfortunately, injuries and control problems derailed a promising start to his career as he has bounced around from team to team and struggled to find a long term home. Last year in his time with the Red Sox, Hill changed his approach working higher in the zone with his fastball and increasing the usage rate of his curveball. Basically, Hill transformed into what has been a dominant version of Collin McHugh, just instead of being in his late 20s he is in his mid-30s. For a more in depth breakdown, check out beyond the box scores breakdown of Hill’s emergence. The upside is clear here, as Hill has pitched to a 2.25 ERA, 2.57 FIP and 3.60 xFIP. The downside is that Hill is only a rental and a rental with a very short track record at that.

A quick note on a couple of other pitchers that have been involved in rumors: Chris Archer, Sony Gray and Julio Teheran. None of these pitchers were considered here due to the most likely exorbitant price tag that they will come with if they are actually moved from their respective teams. While it is possible the Astros make a big splash and move for one of these three, it seems exceedingly unlikely that Houston will be willing to pay the high price during a season where they have had to fight just to get back into the playoff picture.

So what do I think the Astros should do? When I sat down to write this piece I was firmly in the stand firm and trust the system camp, at least on the starting pitcher front. Go find a lefty reliever or a lefty killing platoon bat for 1B or DH, but past that I liked the Astros chances just as much or more with some of the internal options already available to the club. Having dug a little deeper for this piece I have softened my view on this point thanks primarily to Pineda and Hellickson. Count me as not interested in trading for any of the options the Rays have to offer or wanting to basically repeat the Scott Kazmir trade, but if one of these two could be had for a reasonable price I just might change my stance.