The Houston Astros have three openings in the starting rotation following Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton hitting free agency and Lance McCullers having Tommy John surgery. While they haven’t ruled out bringing Keuchel or Morton back, they could get better deals elsewhere. Something that we have seen in the Jeff Luhnow era is that they don’t like offering pitchers multi-year deals. They could have extended Keuchel after the 2015 season, but instead, they are letting him test the free agent market.
After reaching a franchise record 103 wins in 2018, the Astros realized how important it is to have a strong rotation. This could lead to them looking at free agent starting pitchers, but they could also explore the trade market. With a strong farm system, we have seen Luhnow fulfill his promise to use prospects to improve the MLB roster. He added Justin Verlander in 2017 and Gerrit Cole in 2018; both are in the final year of their current deals.
The Astros should begin to shift their focus to extending Verlander and Cole, but they need a backup plan. With the previous trades, the Astros appear to be comfortable with trading for a starter with two years of control remaining. Robbie Ray could be a target, but another name has surfaced from an unlikely source. This starter has pitched well in his career versus the Astros and are a division foe.
No, not Cole Hamels, he was traded to the Cubs last year. It seems that whenever James Paxton pitches versus the Astros, he is on the top of his game. According to Baseball-Reference, in 12 starts versus the Astros, Paxton has a 7-2 record with a 2.89 ERA while striking out 69 hitters in 71 2/3 innings. He also fits the mold of a Verlander and Cole as a workhorse starter who got 208 strikeouts last year.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Astros are one of the teams in “active” trade discussions with the Mariners for James Paxton. Rosenthal mentioned the Yankees and Astros specifically, but there are other teams involved as well. Regarding the Yankees, Dan Federico said that a rival executive said Justin Sheffield and Albert Abreu could be included. We already saw that the Astros were willing to trade J.B. Buskaukas for Bryce Harper last July, but would they give up Forrest Whitley to get two years of Paxton?
Adding Paxton to the Astros rotation would give them a dominating top three starters. Paxton could be placed between Verlander and Cole, leaving two spots open. They could decide to resign Morton, leaving the final spot in the rotation as a battle between Framber Valdez, Josh James, and Collin McHugh. McHugh has already volunteered himself for the rotation, and the other two could be backups or long-relievers. This should be an active offseason for the Astros.