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.
A few minutes ago, my jaw just dropped to the floor. On my phone was a notification that said the Astros had a blockbuster deal in place at the non-waiver trade deadline. It was a Tweet from Ken Rosenthal, who suggested that the Astros had a deal for a stud outfielder from the Washington Nationals. But similar to what happened in 2017 with the Orioles, the trade was nixed by ownership.
By now you have seen the Tweet that said the Astros had a deal in place to acquire Bryce Harper, but the Nationals' ownership group canceled the deal. That could have been the deal that could have given the Astros the extra hitting to possibly beat the Red Sox in the ALCS. On Talking Stros, we talked about how the Astros were trying to make a blockbuster deal. Now we know...
This was an instance of the Nationals thinking about their pocketbooks and not what was best for the team. They knew that if they traded Harper, people would have stopped coming to games with the move signaling a rebuild. Rosenthal hinted (subscription required) that they also feared that trading him would have made it less likely that he would re-sign. However, the writing was on the wall that he was going to leave.
Could the Astros land one of the top catching free agents this offseason?
As of right now, the Astros catcher for the 2019 season would be Max Stassi. He would be backed up by either Chris Hermann or Garrett Stubbs. Even though Stubbs is one of the Astros top 30 prospects, he has no MLB experience but could win the job with a hot spring training. However, the Astros are not really in a position to give kids a chance to play unless they have no other options.
When you are competing for a championship, you need to add to the depth of the roster. This is the problem; they have no proven option in the system at the moment. They have traded away Jacob Nottingham and Jake Rogers over the past three seasons. They were both labeled catchers of the future, but so was Stassi at one point.
Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are now free agents. The Astros declined the 15 million dollar option on McCann after an injury-riddled season. With that move, they have decided to move on from McCann, but they would be interested in retaining Maldonado for the right deal. Until then, they will look what’s on the catching market and monitor the J.T. Realmuto market.
One intriguing name who the Astros could be looking at is Yasmani Grandal. Yes, the Dodgers catcher. The same one whom Dodgers fans have soured on with his hitting and defense in the World Series. Grandal was offered a qualifying offer worth about $17.9 million. Should he decline and sign with another team, that team would have to sacrifice a draft pick. This is something that the Astros don’t like to do, give up draft picks.
We finally get the news that we have been dreading since Lance McCullers left that game with what was called a strained forearm. According to Chandler Rome, McCullers had Tommy John surgery today, meaning he would miss the entire 2019 season. This was a highly rumored, so this doesn't come as a shocker. We have been discussing this on Talking Stros since the final out of the ALCS.
We had Rome on our show Sunday, an he mentioned that the Astros don't report surgeries until after it happens. This confirms that belief, and this gives Jeff Luhnow some extra work to do this offseason. Last year, McCullers had a 10-6 record with a 3.86 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 128 1/3 via Baseball-Reference. While he missed a significant chunk of time towards the end of 2018, that is a significant loss for the Astros.
McCullers along with the possible departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, opens a hole in the rotation. This may make it more likely that they re-sign Keuchel and/or Morton. As Rome said on Talking Stros, fans will miss Keuchel's arm in the rotation. With high hopes, the Astros will likely add another arm.
Look for someone like Patrick Corbin to be a possible target, but another team might outbid the Astros. They could also look to make a trade for Robbie Ray from the Diamondbacks in a trade similar to the Gerrit Cole trade. They will look to make a splash to solidify the rotation after the starting pitchers carried the team last year.
Don't forget about the in-house candidates in Collin McHugh, Framber Valdez, Josh James, and possibly Forrest Whitley. Luhnow even mentioned that McHugh is likely to join the rotation. This void left by McCullers is a big deal that the Astros will now have to address this offseason. Will dig deeper in future posts, but the Astros will play without McCullers in 2019.
The Houston Astros have been really quiet about the status of Lance McCullers so far this offseason.
On Talking Stros, we have been addressing the possibility of him missing the entire 2019 season. The rumors were that Lance McCullers was pitching with a torn UCL in the playoffs. If that was the case, it was an odd decision, but also shows how valuable McCullers is. No matter if he had surgery right after the Astros were eliminated or now, he would still likely miss the season.
We had Chandler Rome on this week’s Talking Stros and he said that the Astros have a weird policy. They don’t announce that a player is having surgery until it is over. Rome also said that McCullers was a little coy when he was asked about his elbow.
That could be a Jeff Luhnow thing, especially with news that could lead to a search for a starting pitcher. Knowing that you are losing possibly Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, losing McCullers could lead to a perception of desperation to make a trade. Maybe that is why we didn’t hear of any official announcements.
Rome told us on the show that once the GM Meetings began, Luhnow could no longer dodge the issue. He was right, as Luhnow offered up something yesterday. Via Rome, Luhnow finally admitted that there was an issue about McCullers’ elbow. But he then gave a maybe, maybe not answer.
Via Rome, McCullers “has been seen by some doctors and I think we’re going to know more shortly.” When asked if he will pitch next year, he replied, "If he has surgery, no. If he doesn't, yes,"
So, we are back at square one. We have confirmed that there is an injury, but don’t know if it’s Tommy John surgery. Now, Luhnow has to alter his offseason plans for the rotation, if he has surgery that is. Instead of two openings in the rotation, they could have three of them.
They could always re-sign Keuchel or Morton, but the later will want a longer contract. They can sign or trade for someone outside the organization, but it’s hard to replace what McCullers offers. You have Collin McHugh who could move back to the rotation. Youngsters such as Framber Valdez, Josh James, and Forrest Whitley could fill in the back of the rotation.
We still continue to wait for word on McCullers’ elbow. This announcement could change the focus this offseason. Anytime you hear about elbow injuries to pitchers, it makes you worried.
Dallas Keuchel is surprised that he was the only Astros player extended a qualifying offer.
The Houston Astros have made their final decisions on whom they offered qualifying offers to before last Friday's deadline. A qualifying offer is similar to a franchise tag in the NFL, a one year deal for $17.9 million. The team can extend a qualifying offer to the player who can either accept or decline the offer. If he accepts, the player would be awarded the one year deal, but they can still negotiate an extension. If the player declines, he is free to sign anywhere.
The player can sign anywhere, but the team extending the qualifying offer would receive a compensation pick should that player sign elsewhere. There lies the problem. Teams are hesitant to sign players knowing that they will have to give up a pick. Last year, we saw players like Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas struggle to find a team. With the way the Astros value draft picks, you would think that they would extend their three eligible players the qualifying offers.
Instead, the Astros only extend a qualifying offer to Dallas Keuchel and not Marwin Gonzalez and Charlie Morton. The qualifying offer is a gamble because $17.9 million is a large number, so they look at it as a player by player basis. Last year, Keuchel made $13.5 million through arbitration. His projected market value is more than $20 million per season via Sportrac, so if he accepts the offer, the Astros will get a great deal.
Should Clayton Kershaw leave the Dodgers, there is a chance he could join the Astros.
The Red Sox have won the World Series. Congrats to Alex Cora, I’m sure he’s one of the few first-year managers to win the World Series. That team played better than the Dodgers and unfortunately the Astros in the ALCS. It was long expected that whoever won the AL crown would be the likely winners of the World Series. Now that the season has finally drawn to a close, it’s time to start talking about the Astros options for the starting rotation in 2019.
We know the Astros will be losing Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton potentially to free agency. Also, it is rumored that Lance McCullers could need offseason surgery. Nothing has been named officially, but it could be Tommy John surgery. The were some reports out that McCullers pitched in the playoffs with a torn UCL. Can you imagine having that pain in your elbow and throwing a power curve that Martin Maldonado misses, it had to be frustrating. It could also explain why he struggled in his last appearance.
Filling in the holes.
With three potential holes in the rotation, we spent almost the entire episode of Talking Stros last night discussing the options for the Astros. While there are several in-house options, like Collin McHugh, Josh James, Framber Valdez, and Forrest Whitely, they could be looking for some options. They would want to get a number three to fit behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. As we discussed, there are a few free agent names that could be intriguing.
Keuchel and Patrick Corbin could be the top free agent starting pitching options going into the offseason. That is, unless a certain Dodgers ace decides to opt out of his deal. Clayton Kershaw still has two years remaining under his big extension he signed with the Dodgers back in 2014. He signed a then-record seven-year deal worth $215 million. That leaves him with two years of player options remaining for $34.6 and $35.6 million respectively for 2019 and 2020. Why would he want to opt out of that deal worth $34 million plus?
At the conclusion of that deal, Kershaw would be 32-years-old.
He missed a significant amount of time in 2018 due to an injury. This was the third consecutive season where Kershaw could not get close to 200 innings pitched. During that time, his high innings pitched was in 2017 with 175 innings pitched. He still won 18 games in 2018 but took a step back only pitching in 26 games. The biggest red flag with Kershaw in 2018 was only 155 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings pitched. His 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched was his lowest since his 8.4 back in his rookie year in 2008. Stats from Baseball-Reference.
So, an aging pitcher who has trouble staying healthy and his strikeout rates are decreasing, why would he opt out of the guaranteed money? It makes no sense unless he is looking for a longer deal beyond the current deal. It’s not out of the realm of possibility; we saw that with Zack Greinke, who opted out from the Dodgers and ended up with the Diamondbacks. Kershaw could probably see his value take a nose dive if he can’t stay healthy in 2019 and 2020.
The odds are...
After the game last night, he said it will be an eventful three days before he can opt out of the deal. He said that he would be open to having some conversations with the Dodgers, but who knows where this goes from here. Kershaw could opt out an become a free agent, shooting him to the top of the free agent class. According to OddShark, Bravado has the Astros tied for most likely if he leaves the Dodgers.
The Astros are tied at +375 with the Texas Rangers. The Dodgers are of course the favorite to re-sign Kershaw if he opts out at -150. You could understand why the Astros, a chance to possibly win a championship. You would get to pitch with Verlander and Cole. However, you can’t help to notice the Texas ties for Kershaw, which could explain why the Rangers are the co-favorites. Texas is a big state, but if it puts him closer to home.
Would the Astros sign Kershaw for what it would take would be a better bet? When is the last time they gave a starting pitcher a long-term deal? He would be an upgrade over Keuchel as the lefty in the bullpen. The next most likely are the Cubs and the Giants at +800. This would be a surprise for the Astros, but would be a bold move to make one of the best rotations in history.
Listen to Talking Stros below where we look at all the options for the rotation.
It is unlikely though that Dallas Keuchel will accept the qualifying offer from the Astros.
The Houston Astros are watching the World Series from home this year. After winning the World Series last year, falling short of that goal was disappointing. They look to return to the World Series again in 2019, but there could be some fresh faces next year. As soon as the final out of this year's World Series is recorded, players will file for free agency. The Astros will be stricken by the departures.
We will talk about many of the options for the Astros as the offseason progresses. One of the players the Astros are not likely to retain is Dallas Keuchel. He may be willing to sign with the Astros, but this is his best chance to maximize his value long term. In other words, he wants to test the free agent market.
With the number of young teams looking for a top of the rotation pitched, he will get more value elsewhere. With that in mind, the Astros would like something in return for their former Cy Young Award winner. Unlike the teams who were tanking, the Astros did not have an opportunity to trade him. This is why the MLB has the qualifying offer system in place.
The qualifying offer has become somewhat of a stigma for players seeking free agent deals. Last year, we saw players like Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas struggle with finding a new home. While they may be worth signing, teams don’t want to give up the pick in compensation.
For a player like Bryce Harper, the pick is irrelevant, because you are getting potentially one of the best hitters in the game. For people like Keuchel coming off an healthy, so-so year, it could limit the teams trying for him. On the other side, it could prevent Charlie Morton from signing with another team.
The Astros are almost guaranteed to offer Keuchel a qualifying offer.
According to Joel Sherman, the qualifying offer is $17.9 million. If they do extend the offer to Keuchel, two things can happen.
- He accepts the 1-year deal for $17.9 million and will return to the Astros for 2019. (They could still work on an extension)
- Should he reject the offer, he will be able to sign with any other team for as much/long as he can. That team would have to give up a first-round pick in the 2019 draft to the Astros.
From the Astros point of view, either way is a win-win. He made $13.2 million last year via arbitration, via Sportrac, and his market value was going up. Sportrac has his average market value at around $20 million, so it would be below market value. If he declines, they get a first round compensation pick, which you know Jeff Luhnow loves those picks.
It would not be wise for Keuchel to accept that offer.
He is coming off his first healthy season since 2015 and pitched 200+ innings, which is rare in this “opener” craved MLB. Keuchel is also 30 years old, meaning this could be his last chance to get that long-term deal. If you take away his stats in the first inning, Keuchel did pitch well in 2018. While is not his 2015 form, his 13-12 record with a 3.76 ERA still qualifies him as a two or three in the rotation. Stats via Baseball-Reference.
When Keuchel tweeted out last week, “I love you Houston,” that could have been his way of saying goodbye. We saw something similar with Marwin Gonzalez this week. As much as Keuchel may want to stay, he knows how the Astros organization works. They assign a value to a player based on the analytics and offer that contract.
The Astros have yet to lock up a pitcher long-term as well under current management. Hopefully the change their philosophies with Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. There are many holes in the roster, but the core players remain intact. Good luck to Keuchel, I would love to have him back, but would like to have money to lock up others later.
The boys at Talking Stros discuss the end of the postseason dreams for the Astros who will retool and gear up for 2019.
8:00 - What went wrong during the Boston series?
8:15 – Injuries update Altuve, Correa, McCullers
8:30 – Looking back at the 2018 season
8:45 – Jeremy Booth (Views from the former scout and front office executive)
9:00 – What’s next for 2019? (Free agents, trades, needs for the team)
9:15 - The outfield picture for next year
9:30 – Kyle Kelly (free agency)
9:45 – Closing thoughts
Astros fans will be waiting for the news of what is wrong with Lance McCullers.
The bitter taste of defeat is still in the Astros mouths as they were eliminated from the playoffs. The Red Sox await their opponent in the World Series as the NLCS goes to Game 7. All we know is that the Astros fell short of back to back World Series. It was still a great season with 103 wins and has fans already waiting for spring training to begin. There are important decisions to make between now and then.
The free agents’ conundrum will be discussed often this offseason as who to retain or add to the roster? Will Jose Altuve need to have knee surgery to fix whatever is wrong with it? Can Carlos Correa fully recover from the back pain that plagued him in 2018? Also, what is really going on with Lance McCullers’ elbow?
According to Brian McTaggart, McCullers would likely need offseason surgery. We don’t know exactly what surgery yet, all we got is speculation and reports.
For what it’s worth, Joe Demayo reportedthat McCullers was pitching with a torn UCL and would have surgery after the season. This is a blow to the 2019 Astros team if true because he would likely miss the entire 2019 season. There are several reasons to not believe Demayo because he is not verified or a big-time name. I’m not going to jump to conclusions based on that one Tweet.
But there is more.
According to Ted Berg, Alex Bregman let something slip out after Game 5.
"We were banged up a bit. Lance McCullers was pitching with -- I don’t know if I’m supposed to say what he’s pitching with, but the guy has some heart."
We have all suspected that McCullers was hurt worse than we thought. When he hit the DL on August 4th, it was due to a strained forearm from swinging the bat. By the way, that is another reason why pitchers should not hit on a regular basis. Getting back on track, McCullers was out most of August and September with the injury. He did return as a reliever before the season ended and pitched five innings in the playoffs.
Then, McCullers’ wife (Kara) posted on Instagram with the hashtag #18monthcountdown. After the game on Thursday, via Chandler Rome, McCullers did say that he has “definitely been throwing through some stuff." McCullers and the training staff will do their due diligence to make sure that he can get healthy.
If it does lead to Tommy John surgery, this will lead to an opening in the rotation for 2019. Collin McHugh will be raising his hands saying put me in coach. If he was pitching in the playoffs with a UCL tear, much respect. But, why did the Astros risk pitching him if they knew what was going on? We will now wait for the news. It won’t be the same without McCullers.