Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session – The Rotation

Larry The GM on Nov. 20, 2018

It is the offseason. When every hardcore baseball fan transforms from Manager of the Year (in their mind) to Executive of the Year (again in their mind.) We will continue with the Off-Season Strategy Session.

MLB Free Agents- Pitching

With the announcement that Lance McCullers has indeed had Tommy John surgery the Starting Pitching is now ranked fourth by WAR in the MLB by Fangraphs.com. The Depth Chart projections assume the following stats by starters.

Potential Starters via Baseball-Reference

If these projections are right, 2019 will indeed be a significant transition year for the starting pitching. In 2018, the Astros had 165.2 innings pitched by starters 26-years-old and under, and 126 of those innings were by Lance McCullers. The 2019 projection here is for 380 innings with McCullers giving them ZERO. Will the Astros do that? I do not think so.

The assumption at this point is that the Astros will turn their starting pitching over to the next generation of young talented pitchers including James, Valdez, Whitley, and Bukauskas. While I believe this is likely partly true, I believe Valdez will be working from the bullpen with Cionel Perez as a Sipp replacement. Also, I do not believe Bukauskas, who pitched six innings in AA in 2019, should be counted on for eight starts and 46 IP. As shown in the Rule 5 draft section, I am not sure Brady Rodgers is on the roster for this team.

What is also interesting in this projection for who is NOT in this list- Colin McHugh. Depth Charts continues to list McHugh as a relief pitcher. I believe McHugh will win the starting pitching spot over Peacock and have a season similar to 2016 (assuming he stays healthy.) I believe Peacock will continue to have a long relief role. Therefore, I think the real state of the starting pitching looks more like this.

Larry 11.png

This would mean there are 25-30 starts and 130-150 IP available. Given the other starters, this would ideally be an LHP. The profile for the ideal LHP in Minute Maid Park is one that tends to keep the ball in play and have a high ground ball percentage. With the Crawford Boxes so close an LHP with a high GB% is really best. This is the Dallas Keuchel formula. Following the same deep strategy analysis we did for catcher earlier, what are the Free Agent options?

Top LHP FA options

I am showing eight options for a left-handed starting pitcher free agent signing. Shown here are their stats in 2018, their Fangraphs Depth Chart projections for 2019. Also shown here are several sources projecting what their contracts will be and an average of these projections.

Finally, a “Value Assessment” is done. This is asking how much is each WAR likely going to cost the Astros. Obviously, the smaller the number; the better the value for the Astros.

Who is out there?

The options are numerous depending on how much the Astros are willing to spend and if they are willing to sign a player who has received the qualifying offer. With the new CBA, if the Astros sign a player who has received the qualifying offer, they would lose their second-round draft pick. Remember; when someone signs Dallas Keuchel (assuming it's not the Astros), the Astros will receive a pick in the 75-80 pick range. For this reason, I suspect the QO penalty will not deter the Astros from getting the player they want.

None of this data is my own, and the projected statistics are not mine. Which option would you pick?

There appear to be three groups

Go Big- Keuchel and Corbin. Both of these players would be at least a four-year commitment and most likely a five-year contract at roughly $20MM/yr AAV. If the Astros go this route, it will likely be because they were unable to find a willing trade partner for a number 2/3 starter.

Go Small- Garcia, and Holland. These two players are the reclamation- risk/reward option. These two are likely to get no more than a two-year contract and may get a one year deal only. If the Astros go this route, they are willing to risk if this signing does not work out that the prospects will.

Just Right?- Happ, Gonzalez, and Miley. With these three it is imperative to understand the final contract parameters. If the predictions are right, Gonzalez and Miley are not likely to be a good investment. J.A. Happ is an interesting option if he can be signed for two years, the Astros are confident he will not drop off dramatically at age 36, and if the AAV is kept at a favorable level.

I am going to say other teams spend the stupid money and the Astros, if they do sign a Free Agent Starting Pitcher, sign J.A. Happ for two years for $25MM total ($12.5MM AAV.)

The trade options are also too numerous to analyze in this space. As shown in the Rule 5 Draft roster listing, the Astros have various trade chips of varying value that could be pooled for a number 2/3 starter. This is a very likely scenario.

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