No matter what, the Astros need to reset their pitching staff before Opening Day and that means adding new pitchers. They won’t have ace Justin Verlander in 2021 and even though the team has pieces such as Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, José Urquidy, and Cristian Javier, there are lots of questions to ask.
I know the kind of busy offseason GM James Click will have in order to put together the puzzle of Houston’s offense, but to me, the most concerning point is the pitching side. With the Astros, at least with their starting crew, could go really good or go reeeeally bad in a nutshell. It’s just there are too many ifs.
That’s why I’ve compiled five low-profile, affordable starters that the Astros might go after in the free agency and just bet on them if their teams let them go.
1. LHP Rich Hill, Minnesota Twins
Hey, I know, this guy will turn 41 on March 11, but he proved once again he still has something left in the tank. Hill doesn’t usually go deep in games, but he can get the job done thanks in part to the marvelous curveball he was blessed with.
In eight starts for the Twins in 2020, he went 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA. Across 38 2⁄3 innings, the veteran lefty allowed 28 hits and 13 earned runs, plus 17 bases on balls and 31 strikeouts (1.16 WHIP). He played under a one-year, $3M deal with Minnesota, so he wouldn’t be so expensive. Besides, he could give some secrets to Framber Valdez to make his curveball even better, couldn’t he?
2. RHP Taijuan Walker, Toronto Blue Jays
Walker threw only 67 1⁄3 frames between 2018 and 2020 due to a bunch of injuries, but he showed everybody he’s healthy after a good campaign between Seattle and Toronto, a season in which he enjoyed a one-year, $2M contract.
The 28-year-old righty didn’t have great numbers in the early stages of 2020 with the Mariners, but let us see encouraging signs with the Blue Jays. With both teams, he fired 53 1⁄3 episodes of 43 hits, 16 earned runs, 19 walks, 50 punchouts, and a 2.70 ERA. His fastball has lost a couple of miles per hour since 2013, but it’s still effective (.156 BA, .344 SLG).
3. LHP José Quintana, Chicago Cubs
Quintana’s seven-year, $46.5M deal finally came to an end, as likely his stint with the Cubs. From 2013 to 2019, he threw at least 170 innings in each of those campaigns while offering solid production from the bump. Even though he’s not an ace, Quintana has an above-average career of 83-77, 3.73 ERA across 254 appearances (247 starts).
He didn’t pitch much in 2020, but knows what it is to pitch for a contender. Besides, he lived his prime in the American League with the White Sox, so coming back to the young circuit might be interesting for him. Another positive point: I don’t see him getting a very lucrative contract (maybe something around five or seven million for 2021).
4. LHP Mike Minor, Oakland Athletics
Minor was absolutely smashed in 2020. Wherever you look, you will see awful numbers. But he’s just a year removed from an All-Star season, a pretty solid campaign in 2019 with 200+ innings and 200 strikeouts. He’ll turn 33 years old on December 26, an age that makes you think there’s a chance for him to overcome his dreadful 2020.
In 12 games (11 starts) between Texas and Oakland, he lost six of his seven decisions and recorded a high 5.56 ERA. Even though he didn’t look good, his FIP (4.64) was notably lower than his ERA and his WHIP was acceptable (1.24).
5. LHP Drew Smyly, San Francisco Giants
Based on what he did in the regular season, Smyly could easily be the most intriguing pitcher of this group. He was off the charts for the Giants in seven games and 26 1⁄3 innings, in which he struck out 42 hitters (14.4 K/9). The 31-year-old fixed his home-run problems (2.5 HR/9 in 2019, but 0.7 in 2020) and even gained 2.7 miles per hour on his fastball: from 91.2 MPH last year to 93.8 this season.
After that kind of campaign, it’d be interesting to see what Smyly can do during a 162-game run. To play in 2020, he was signed by the Giants for just $4M and, despite this great upside, I don’t think he signs for much more than that this time.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments. Would you sign any of these hurlers?