On Wednesday, Houston Astros fans got a few moments of excitement when MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi broke news that the Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates reached an agreement that would send Pirates ace Gerrit Cole to Houston.
Not long after, other reports, which included comments from Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, trickled in stating that no deal was imminent, dousing some cold water on the hot stove rumor.
Whether or not a trade that brings Cole to Houston will eventually come to fruition is unclear. What is clear is the fact that the Astros are intent on adding another high-end starting pitcher to their rotation.
In Cole, the Astros would be getting a former No. 1 overall draft pick (2011) and soon-to-be sixth-year professional, who has flashed potential but struggled some in recent seasons. He could be the next reclamation project for Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, following in the footsteps of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton.
Other potential pitching targets rumored to be on the Astros’ radar include Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays, as well as free agent and Astros World Series whipping boy Yu Darvish (hey, if you can’t beat them, join them).
If the Astros are successful in their quest for a new arm, then it will create an interesting opportunity to reshape their pitching staff.
While the Astros’ relievers were decent last regular season, they struggled mightily in the postseason. Will adding a reliable new starting pitcher mean one or more of the Astros’ starters from last season will now take on key roles in the bullpen?
A pair of playoff heroes in Morton (World Series Game 7 closer) and Lance McCullers Jr. (ALCS Game 7 closer) would be excellent candidates to take the closer role away from Ken Giles, who came unglued in the playoffs.
While both showed the ability to close out games with those impromptu relief appearances, McCullers seems better suited for the role. As a starter, McCullers has had issues with durability, but closers rarely throw more than 70 innings in a full regular season, which would significantly reduce the wear and tear on McCullers.
A move to closer could extend McCullers’ promising career and could instantly give the Astros one of the most dynamic bullpen weapons in baseball.
With a big three established at the front end of the starting pitching rotation, Morton would slide in as the No. 4 starter. Brad Peacock pitched more than admirably during the regular season when injuries forced him out of the bullpen and into the starting rotation, but the potential he flashed as a top-level setup man makes him more valuable in that role than as the No. 5 starter. And with other solid No. 5 starter options like Joe Musgrove, Collin McHugh and Francis Martes, the Astros can afford to add Peacock to the bullpen.
Bullpen pitching is clearly the biggest weakness for an Astros team hoping to repeat as champions in 2018. While the pursuit of a new starting pitcher doesn’t bolster that weakness directly, hopefully it creates a trickle-down effect that will.