The Astros are better and deeper with a healthy Framber Valdez than not in 2021. There is nothing controversial about that statement. When it was reported earlier this month that last year’s breakout could possibly miss the entire 2021 season with a fractured ring finger on his pitching hand, it only intensified the bright light already on the club’s obvious weakness. By the way, that weakness is still present even with newcomer Jake Odorizzi on the roster, especially if Valdez is out for any length of time.
But the latest news about the southpaw’s injury does provide some optimism for the Astros, at least for the latter half of the upcoming season.
Framber Valdez's fractured left ring finger showed "significant healing" and surgery has not been recommended, according to the Astros. Valdez is returning to West Palm Beach, but there is no timetable for his return.— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) March 17, 2021
The question at present is how long will Valdez ultimately spend on the IL in light of this encouraging development. If he is sidelined for only the first month or two of the season, the Astros can better withstand his absence once Odorizzi is game-ready. But any longer than that will only lead to the club’s lack of established depth to rear its ugly head in a more significant manner. In fact, only three starters on the 40-man roster have more than 500 innings pitched in their major league career. The next closest pitcher on the list is Austin Pruitt and he may not be ready until later this season as well.
Astros - 2021 Starting Depth
|RH||Lance McCullers Jr.||508.2|
Thankfully, the schedule to start the season — minus the first six games — will grant Dusty Baker an opportunity to arrange the rotation to largely avoid using his fifth starter much in April. In that case, with both Valdez and Odorizzi presumably unavailable on Opening Day, we’ll probably see plenty of Cristian Javier exclusively as one of the primary four starters in the season’s first couple of weeks. If so, Luis Garcia or Brandon Bielak might be the favorites to claim the fifth starter role that may also include time in long relief when their turn in the rotation is skipped.
Although the club hasn’t released any information about a possible timetable for Valdez’s return, the latest development is clearly a win for the Astros. At this point, barring anything unexpected, it is within reason to expect the age-27 lefty to make a return by this summer. With Justin Verlander already sidelined for the entire season following Tommy John surgery, the club needs their 2020 breakout starter to help steer the way through a full season when pitching depth is a valuable commodity.