Monday, June 17, 2024

Where Astros can turn for pitching help as rotation injuries pile up: Call-ups, trade candidates and more

The Houston Astros announced Wednesday morning that both Cristian Javier and José Urquidy are scheduled to undergo season-ending elbow surgery. With Lance McCullers Jr. recovering from elbow surgery and Luis Garcia recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Astros are one pitcher short of a stellar rotation…on the injured list. 

What remains: 

Let’s keep in mind J.P. France is also injured. The club’s depth is totally depleted. What happens if someone else gets injured? Further, Brown (6.18 ERA, 5.01 FIP) and Arrighetti (5.79 ERA) haven’t exactly been reliable. Verlander is 41 years old, and already started the season on the IL after offseason shoulder issues. Blanco has already set a career high for innings pitched in a season at 59 (he worked 52 last year). 

On top of all this, the Astros’ awful 12-24 start means they are working uphill in order to make the postseason again. At six games out of a playoff spot and seven games out in the AL West, this is too close to consider an ALCS mainstay a seller. 

Where can the Astros turn for help? 

Within the organization

There’s hope that the top four spots in the rotation hold up. Valdez is an established frontline starter. Verlander can gut through a season with his pedigree. Blanco has been a revelation. Brown has been much better since the beginning of May. They certainly could use more depth, though, and things don’t look good at the upper levels of the minors. As noted, France is hurt. It’s a shoulder injury and he’s shut down completely, which means he’s a long way away. 

Some minor-league options: 

  • Righty A.J. Blubaugh has a 3.67 ERA in 49 innings this season, 45 of which have come in Triple-A. He’s struck out 50. Maybe he’s an option. 
  • Right-hander Blair Henley had a disaster of an MLB debut earlier this season and is inconsistent for Triple-A Sugar Land. 
  • The other two starters with the highest Triple-A workloads have ERAs over 7. 
  • Lefty Colton Gordon has a 4.35 ERA, but allows far too many baserunners with a 1.55 WHIP. 
  • Would they jump Jake Bloss from Double-A? He was a third-round pick out of Georgetown last year. It would be quite a rise. The 6-foot-3 righty started the season in Class A. He’s now made six starts in Double-A and sports a 1.93 ERA and 0.83 WHIP with 28 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.

Nothing here is a sure thing at all, which means they likely need to scour … 

The trade market

Given that it’s only June 5 and that there are so many teams still within striking distance of playoff position — a losing record holds the last NL wild-card spot — you might be shocked how many viable starting pitchers there appear to be tradeable from the non-contenders. 

The Marlins could deal Jesús Luzardo and/or Braxton Garrett. Erick Fedde of the White Sox has been great this season and it’s plausible they could also deal Garrett Crochet. The Angels could dangle Tyler Anderson and/or Reid Detmers. Luis Severino and Sean Manaea make sense as trade candidates from the Mets. Paul Blackburn of the A’s is dealing with a foot injury and won’t return until after the All-Star break, in all likelihood, but he could make sense down the road here. 

For expanded breakdowns on each trade candidate, R.J. Anderson did so while examining possible trade matches for the Orioles. Just send the plane to Houston instead of Baltimore.

That group gives the Astros multiple paths of attack. There’s the veteran rental route (Severino, Manaea), tinkering at the margins options like Fedde and players with multiple years of control like Garrett, Detmers and Crochet. 

Hold and wait

This doesn’t seem like the best plan of attack right now, as the Astros flail right on the periphery of contention. If they believe they can continue to play well here in the short term, however — remember, they are now 16-10 in their last 26 — things might get a lot more interesting on the trade market. Remember, at this time last season, no one would have expected the Mets to trade Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and they both ended up pitching in the ALCS. 

What if the Blue Jays change course and decide to sell? Yusei Kikuchi is a free agent after the season and maybe they’d be willing to shed salary by dealing Chris Bassitt and/or Kevin Gausman (Gausman is signed through 2026, so it’s a major longshot; I’m only pointing out sometimes things change).

On the flip side, there’s always the possibility that the Astros go on another run where they lose 2/3 of their games and fall completely out of it. That could put Alex Bregman (free agent after the year), Justin Verlander (vesting option for next year) and Ryan Pressly (mutual option for next year) on the block. 

I’d bet on them trying to add and do anything in order to remain a playoff contender, as GM Dana Brown insists will happen, but anything is possible and things can change in the matter of a few weeks.

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