(Editor’s note: This article covers much of the same territory as the one published by Clack yesterday. However, it was written before Clack’s was published. We publish this article for the sake of editorial diversity.)
Can the Astros live without Justin Verlander? Short answer: Yes, they can!
But in a bit longer explanation, in my opinion, they need someone to back them up in the rotation. As owner Jim Crane recently said, you can never have enough pitching – and the Astros have just lost the AL Cy Young award winner to the Mets. Somehow, that needs to be alleviated.
Jim Crane: "We have to look at the catching, maybe another outfielder, and you can never have enough pitching."— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) November 29, 2022
Crane adds "we certainly have the ability to go at or over" the competitive balance tax.
Right now, the Astros have plenty of options to start. Framber Valdez will be the ace, followed by Lance McCullers Jr. and Cristian Javier. For the final two spots, one has to think they will be for Luis García and José Urquidy or vice versa. Then, youngsters Hunter Brown and Forrest Whitley can start at some point – especially after what Brown showed in 2022.
But the Astros won in 2022 because they had depth everywhere, including their starting rotation. It’s a long season where there will be injuries and underperformances, you can never know when it’s a 162-game, six-month campaign.
Also, here are some things that might result concerning for you too…
- Lance McCullers Jr. has always struggled to stay healthy during a full season – he’s never made 30 starts, for example.
- Cristian Javier pitched a career-high 148 2/3 regular-season innings this year, and he will presumably open the 2023 season in the starting rotation for the first time.
- José Urquidy ran out of gas and allowed 12 home runs in his final 50 innings of the 2022 regular season (4.68 ERA).
- Even though he showed some good signs, I remain worried about Luis García’s stamina. Hopefully, it will keep increasing in 2023.
Looking at free agency, there are some interesting names on the open market. Before knowing who they are, I have to say that we’re not looking for stars here but for someone who can be a backup, can alternate between the bullpen and the starting staff, and can eat innings.
That said, we can find veteran, interesting pitchers like 36-year-olds Corey Kluber, Wade Miley, and Johnny Cueto, besides 33-year-old righty Ross Stripling, who could fit nicely into the Astros’ pitching staff and is coming off a great year with the Blue Jays (3.01 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 1.02 WHIP, 1.3 BB/9, 7.4 SO/9 over 134.1 innings).
If you ask me, I’d stick with Stripling. He’s been an underrated jewel with postseason experience and could be pretty affordable for Houston. As a starter for Toronto, Stripling pitched well enough for a 2.92 ERA across 24 outings (123.1 IP). If he comes at a good price, I’d get him right away if I was Jim Crane. Even though the other names are good options too, Stripling is exactly what I think the Astros need to begin the upcoming season.
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