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Starting Nine: Astros starting pitching depth

What should the Astros do in their starting rotation?

Cincinnati Reds v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Houston Astros are easily the hottest team in Major League Baseball. In a perfect world, the Astros don’t have a glaring hole on the roster. But this isn’t a perfect world, Houston currently has three projected opening day starting pitchers on the disabled list with Collin McHugh, Charlie Morton, and Joe Musgrove.

That starting rotation also includes a former Cy Young Award winner that is coming off arguably the worst follow-up season for a Cy Young-winner ever and a young ace-potential pitcher that can’t stay healthy in his young career.

So it begs the question for our starting nine questions of the week:

Has your position changed on the Astros starting pitching needed? Do you think the Astros should add another front of the rotation starter through trade? And if so, who should the Astros target?


My position hasn't changed because heading into the off-season, I was pounding the table for a big-time starter. My position has only strengthened.

Brad Peacock has been a pleasant/interesting/weird/baffling surprise, but I can't say I'm sold on him long-term. Morton is down for who knows how long. McHugh is down for who knows how long. As it stands, Joe Musgrove, Mike Fiers, and Brad Peacock will be making 60% of the starts for this team. Maybe Peacock is real, maybe Musgrove figured something out the last start and will break out, maybe Fiers isn't an utter disaster moving forward...but I wouldn't bet on it. We're sitting on the best start this franchise has ever had, and I'm not willing to look back in a few months and go "boy, if only we didn't squander that by running out those pitchers we knew, deep down, if we're honest, wouldn't get the job done." Because that might be the story.

Martes doesn't look ready. It looks like they've given up on Feliz as a starter. They definitely have on Devenski. Paulino is being recalled to warm the bullpen bench. Brady Rodgers is down with TJ surgery. Things are looking thin, folks. It's time for a trade. Jose Quintana is the obvious target. Gerrit Cole sure would be a nice add. What if the Mets decide to blow it up, how nice would Jacob deGrom look in, well, orange and a darker shade of blue? Toronto is old and below .500, maybe they'll listen on an arm. How about the resurgent Sonny Gray, and we know Luhnow and Billy Beane like to hook up on deals? The Giants look dead in the cove, how about Bumgarner? Or heck, Jeff Samard...j...zz... you know, that guy? The Royals are dead and about to be deader after free agency this upcoming off-season, maybe they go full-on fire sale and Danny Duffy comes to Houston.

Honestly, I almost don't care, as long as we don't have to have 40% of our rotation be Peacock and Fiers. You're practically begging the vengeful sports deities to smite you and make you a "biggest collapse in sports history" footnote.


I've been concerned about the starting pitching since the season began. I just haven't been as vocal.

I do think the Astros need to target a couple of starters. One that can be another ace and another guy who is more of a trustworthy 4 or 5 starter. My picks would be that the Astros target Jason Vargas and Chris Archer.

I think it's a well-known fact that this team is a world series contender. Unfortunately for the Astros, they don't have 4 quality starters like previous World Series champions. They have 1 ace(Keuchel) with the potential for 2 if McCullers keeps it up. 2 aces and a load of garbage generally doesn't win championships... unless you are the San Francisco Giants.


Nothing has changed at all for me, we're basically where I expected to be. Our depth has been tested and we've bent but remain unbroken.

Our starting staff is 2nd in the MLB in ERA, first in the MLB in xFIP by a tenth of a run, 8th in the MLB in K/9 (4th in the AL), 7th in the MLB in BB/9 (3rd in the AL), and our starters' .279 BABIP against is low but not really drastically outside of the low end of what is sustainable for them. Even if we regressed some in that arena and with regards to our 81% strand rate for starters, I still see a rotation that is one of the better ones in the AL *before* we get McHugh back. As far as I'm concerned, the only trade we need is the one the team reportedly (per Jake Kaplan) made tonight: adding David Paulino to the mix at the big league level. I hear that the Fresno Grizzlies are really friendly to trade with...wonder what they're looking for Derek Fisher, while we're at it?

I digress. No, I see no changes currently needed for a team that is 20 games over .500 and beating good teams. I would anticipate a "but what if Keuchel or McCullers get hurt" rebuttal, but as far as I'm concerned, every team has that concern. If David Price went down for a few months...say, to start the season...the stacked Red Sox might struggle some early. If Mike Trout suddenly had to, I don't know, get surgery on his thumb...the Angels would be screwed. If the Astros lost one of their rotation anchors, yeah, they'd be in a lot worse shape. Not sure how that changes if we go out and add a starter. Even proven, durable guys have bad years; bad results - just look at Jose Quintana so far this year.

It's not that we couldn't USE a guy like that...obviously, any team could USE that. The real issue is that the cost is not matched by our need...not even close. The cost far exceeds our need.


I hate to respond in Starting 9 articles, letting each person's response stand alone is preferable, but for every recent playoff team that runs out four deep like the Cubs did last season in the playoff rotation, there are several more who come out with MAYBE a one-two punch like the Diamondbacks had in 2001 or the Royals had in 2015. Can anyone name another starting pitcher besides MadBum on the Giants since 2010 that scares/scared them? Maybe recently, when they haven't won the series, but Cueto has been there. But...when they were winning?

Or, going back to 2005, we had a Hall of Famer in Roger Clemens along with Roy Oswalt sandwiched around the most successful starting pitcher in postseason history in Andy Pettitte, and we got swept in 4 despite four well-pitched games.

All I'm saying is that there's more than one way to skin a cat. There are a lot of off days in the playoffs, you can get away with things you couldn't in the regular season. I don't pay the silly asking price for a top-shelf starter if it's me. The need just isn't great enough to justify it.


I still view the overall state of pitching staff as above average. With the offense and bullpen, this rotation can play.

I don't think they need to make a flashy move. Something like Jaime Garcia, Archie Bradley, or Jason Vargas could play.

Astros Future

I think the easy answer is yes, they should trade for a starter. The hard part about it is finding out what a certain ace will cost in terms of prospects. I still think Quintana, while maybe not an "ace", is a reasonable target. He has struggled a little this season so hopefully, the White Sox will lower they demand just a bit.

I still have hopes for Martes contributing this season. I found this interesting:

Francis Martes first 6 outings:

2016: 7.06 ERA, 21.2 IP, 16 BB, 17 K (AA)

2017: 5.25 ERA, 24.0 IP, 23 BB, 27 K (AAA)

Since I posted this tweet originally he had a solid start. Maybe he is a slow starter, maybe he needs an adjustment period, but if he gets rolling he could be another option.

But with the team the Astros have, the offense the Astros possess, I would be behind ponying up and trading legit prospects for an ace as long as he has a few years of control left. Archer, Cole, etc. all sound good to me.


(In response to name other teams that won the world series with 4 quality starters)

2011 Cardinals, which with the exception of game 3, the Cardinals starters held the Rangers to 4 runs or less.

2013 Red Sox- They held the Cardinals to 2 runs or less in the first six innings of each game.

(Teams that lost that had stellar to really good 3-4 man rotations)

2015 Mets

2011 Rangers

The 2017 Astros have 2 pitchers that can do deep into games, much like the 2016 Indians. The bullpen will get as overused as James Harden was for basketball's Houston Rockets if the Astros don't get one more guy that can regularly go 6 or 7. McHugh might be able to when he comes back but that puts a lot on the shoulders of a guy coming back from a long injury.


It's now June, which is the first month that it's even reasonable to discuss trading. Major League teams rarely make trades before June--so rarely that it's not even worth talking about it.

Yes, the Astros should trade for a starting pitcher, but not for an ace. Any trade for a top-of-rotation pitcher is going to require parting with Kyle Tucker, and the Astros long-term outlook in the outfield is extremely iffy. They're going to need Tucker to keep developing and reach close to his potential because they won't have the cash to sign meaningful free agents in two or three seasons.

So a few names on struggling teams that should be chased: Daniel Norris (DET), Jharel Cotton (OAK, and also ask about Sonny Gray, because the A's have made some odd trades recently, you never know what they'll accept), Jerad Eickhoff (PHI), Ivan Nova (PIT), Tim Adleman (CIN...should be cheap and would be better than Fiers), Clayton Richard (SD), Matt Moore (SF, or Matt Cain).

Not the most exciting names, but each of these would be an upgrade over what the Astros have been getting from Fiers. With Collin McHugh coming back soon and the Astros not exactly threatened in the division, there is little motivation to overspend in the trade market for a name brand pitcher. They need a guy who will eat some innings and pitch like a useful #3 or #4 type, and one who won't cost them a Kyle Tucker, Franklin Perez, or Francis Martes.


Won't take me long to say what I want. I want a non-ace rental. A #3 that will hold it down and eat some innings while McHugh and Morton recover. I want it to impact the farm as little as possible. Trevor Cahill would have been perfect if he had not gotten injured.


Would a trade for a starting pitcher be useful? Yes. Is a trade for a starting pitcher essential? No. I would guess that the odds of the Astros trading for a pitcher by the July 31 deadline is about 50/50. But I think a June trade is very unlikely, and it's more likely that such a trade might happen in the last week of July. Look at the competitive divisions around the major leagues. Most of the team's people have mentioned as trade targets are well within "contention" distance (for either WC or division) and are unlikely to give up early. A few teams (Marlins, Phillies, Braves, Marlins, and Padres) might think they are already out of it--but look at those teams' starting pitchers and tell me that you are excited. Colon? Hellickson? Strailley? Clayton Richard? Well, maybe worth a look--but I'm not convinced they are better than what the Astros have. And a lot will depend on how the Astros' rotation is pitching in mid-July. Peacock will have shown us more by then. Morton is only on a 10 day DL, and it's not an arm injury--he may be back and contributing. Fiers is likely to have some beneficial regression in HR/Fly rates. We will know more about relying on McHugh by mid-July. We will know whether Paulino can contribute at the ML level.

I think the Astros have to do their due diligence on trading for front line pitchers, but I have my doubts that they will get acceptable trading terms. I'm not excited about the Astros paying an ace level trading cost for Quintana, who hasn't pitched like an ace this year. The Cole rumors are interesting but unlikely to happen. Chris Archer would be a good target, but we keep hearing that the Rays would require an excessive trade return for him. So, I agree with Chris that it's more likely that the Astros will look at trading for less heralded No. 4 or 5 quality pitchers. And, whether they do so may depend on whether they are really an improvement, based on the state of the rotation in July. Maybe the Astros look at making an injury risk pick up (similar to the Morton signing). For example, the Padres' Trevor Cahill will be off the DL next month. I suspect that Nova is more likely to be traded by the Pirates than Cole--and he might be a useful contributor to the bottom of the rotation. Maybe I will be surprised, but don't put your hopes too high for a big name pick up.


Even though the Astros own one of the top team ERA's in the AL, starting pitching still seems to be a legitimate need.

It comes down to injury (McHugh and Morton are still out with unclear timetables) and lack of readiness from the minors (Martes has a walk issue and Paulino is unproven and is coming back from injury himself). Even though the MLB starting pitching has been solid, it looks semi-unsustainable - Fiers' FIP keeps me from sleeping at night, and while Brad Peacock has been a surprise, there's no indication he can pitch into the sixth inning effectively. No one is sure how Musgrove will pitch the rest of the way. The current set-up necessitates a mega-bullpen day twice a week if not more. This squad has few weaknesses, but bringing down the bullpen through overuse could be troublesome as we get into the later months, which we happened in 2015.

I support the idea of dealing for two starters, with one being a more high-profile acquisition. Luhnow got burned in 2015 by acquiring two mid to back end starters. It looked good on paper, but Kazmir wasn't very effective and Fiers didn't start a playoff game. Trevor Cahill is a perfect Luhnow acquisition and I also like Jake Odorizzi from Tampa. I previously liked Duffy as a higher-performing target, but he just went down for two months and probably won't get dealt now. Sonny Gray has pitched his way back into trade talks with a good return from his injury, and the Astros and A's have actually been beneficial trade partners even though they play 18 times a year, so he could be a darkhorse, although there are risks there.

David Coleman

Joe Musgrove to the DL! Make that trade stat!

Seriously, though. This is why keeping Brad Peacock made sense. He may not be great, but he's going to do better than the random call-up from Triple-A might. That's why pitching depth is so important and why teams try to have as much of it as possible.

If I had to guess about a possible pitching trade this summer (Houston WILL make one), I'd say it would be for someone that fits in behind Keuchel and McCullers instead of the elusive "ace." Part of that is there are not many aces out there and part of that is Houston doesn't need it as badly as last year. The playoffs and regular season are different animals; you have to build your team differently for both. How? By having both pitching depth and those top three guys who can start a playoff series.

Jason mentioned the 2004-05 Astros rotations the other day. Those teams had Brandon Backe playing a prominent playoff role. Of course, he turned into Super Backe once those playoff starts happened, but there's no way of predicting that ahead of time. Instead, you plan on Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, and Andy Pettitte being your big three and having enough depth to sustain the rest.

Who's that third guy? Maybe Collin McHugh, but we can't count on him since he hasn't pitched yet in 2017. That leaves a trade. I still like Tampa Bay as a possibility for one of their starters.

Houston will find some value. None of us expected Luhnow to trade for Scott Kazmir. None of us expected him to sign Charlie Morton. All we know is that pitching has always been a priority for this front office. I'm confident they'll add an extra piece before July ends.

David S.

I came into the season thinking that the Astros needed to trade for a starter for sure. I wasn't sold Keuchel bouncing back as strong as has, nor did I think that Lance McCullers would stay healthy. So far I have pleasantly been proven wrong. Barring an injury, I think I would be pretty okay with the Astros standing pat as is. How many mid-season acquisitions have been making or break for a World Series Championship? Precious few. If anything most has been too costly for any organizations long-term health in regards to prospects.

If George Springer leaves during free agency the future of the Astros outfield depth would look pretty slim without guys like Kyle Tucker. If we could get a guy that's going to contribute and stay with the organization for the mid to long-term then a guy like Gerrit Cole might make sense. I agree with Chris that a solid mid-rotation guy that's not a blockbuster name probably makes the most sense for the team, but the team chemistry is so good right now I'd almost hesitate to bring in anyone else unless a starter goes down with an injury.


I don't understand how anyone can argue for standing pat. This team is positioned to make some noise and solidifying the playoff number three is the quickest way to do that. Having run out to a hot start, the Astros are in a position to struggle through another season of Mike Fiers or shuffle through a series of minor league call-ups in the fifth spot, but when it comes to the playoffs do we really see a reliable option right now behind Keuchel and McCullers? Someone, we feel comfortable with taking the mound in game three of a World Series or ALCS?

The other side of the coin is that your primary competitors (to this point) are not teams that are going to sit out the trade deadline. The Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Nationals and Cubs have all shown the willingness to make moves and are in a position to support huge payrolls. Not saying we need to try to keep up with the big spenders on the open market, but we do need to prepare for Gerrit Cole in pinstripes, Jose Quintana/Chris Archer trotting out as the number two behind Clayton Kershaw and the inevitable Nationals attempted bullpen fix. Not making a move or two to shore up any remaining weaknesses is a mistake that could result in missing one of the best opportunities this franchise has ever seen.

All that is to say, let's make a deal!


Clayton Richard? Well, maybe worth a look--but I'm not convinced they are better than what the Astros have.

The Astros do not currently have any players who played quarterback for the greatest program in the history of college football. Make the deal.

Also, where is Drew Henson right now?


He's a cheap innings-eater who should post an ERA around 4.00 and won't cost Tucker, or probably even Fisher. He's no doubt better than Fiers.


He is "no doubt" better than Fiers? I wouldn't bank on it. wouldn't feel confident that Richards would be better than Fiers if the Astros traded for him. Fiers' career stats are actually better than Richards. But I wouldn't really feel confident predicting which would be better over the second half of 2017, particularly taking into account that Richards would be moving to a tougher batting league from the largest ballpark in baseball.