ARMS RACE

Barry Laminack: Darvish vs. Cole vs. Keuchel vs ??? What Should the Astros do?

Dallas Keuchel will command big bucks. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Originally appeared on houstonsportsandstuff.com. Check it out for a more snarky look at the sports (and stuff) world in Houston.

The so-called hot stove league in Major League Baseball has been anything but hot thus far in 2018. The tepid temperature, however, isn’t the fault of the Houston Astros who have already made a couple of moves to bolster their bullpen with the signings of Joe Smith and Hector Rondon.

With that now behind them, the 2017 world champs have made it clear that they plan to add a top tier starter to their rotation, so it’s no surprise that the two names most often mentioned regarding the Astros this off season are Yu Darvish and Gerrit Cole. And while most people seem to think that it is a foregone conclusion that the Astros should (and will) make a deal for Cole, Darvish is still in play (as are some other possibilities not being mentioned very often).

Option 1: Trade for Gerrit Cole

There are plenty of smart baseball reasons why the Astros should go get Cole.

The first being the fact that he would be under team control for two more years. This means that they would be acquiring a top tier pitcher for relatively cheap. In fact, if this projection by Matt Swarts of MLB Trade rumors is right, $4.2 million in 2018 is a bargain for Cole.

The second reason a trade for Cole makes sense (as pointed out by Fred Faour in this article) is that there is a very real chance that the Astors will lose Dallas Keuchel next year to free agency (more on that in a minute) – not to mention the risk they will lose Charlie Morton (who is also a free agent after 2018).

In fact, of the current 6 man rotation the Astors currently have (Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers, Morton, Peacock, McHugh), only 3 pitchers (Verlander, McCullers and Peacock) will be around for the 2019 season.

A third reason to go after Cole is that of the major players discussed in this article, Cole is the youngest at just 27 years of age.

The biggest drawback to a move for Cole is that you’d most likely be renting him for the next two years at the cost of some very talented prospects (assuming Kyle Tucker and/or Forrest Whitley are included in the trade.) Tucker is the 8th highest rated prospect in the minors; Whitley checks in at 36. And while nobody has ever won a World Series by leading the league in potential, I think it’s worth reminding everyone that that Astros just came out of a rebuild – that saw them post back to back to back 105+ loss seasons – necessitated because of years of neglect and pillaging of their farm system.

Option 2:  Sign Yu Darvish

Even after a down year and a terrible showing in the World Series, Yu Darvish is the top free agent pitcher in baseball this year. Because of that, he also has drawn a lot of interest from some major players, having narrowed his interest down to the Astros, Cubs, Rangers, Twins and Yankees. That is until he dropped this tweet, introducing a sixth unknown team into the mix. (My opinion?  This is a three-horse race between the Astros, Cubs and Rangers – with the Cubs being the favorite).

According to spotrac.com, Darvish carries a market value of about 5 years/$110 million dollar ($22M/yr), the question is, is he worth that?

My answer to you is a resounding maybe.

He’s been an All-Star four of the five years he’s pitched in the majors (having sat out 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery).

The biggest drawback with Darvish is that he’s trending in the wrong direction. If you exclude his first year in the majors, his ERA has gone from 2.83 to 3.86 in 4 years. Don’t get me wrong a 3.86 ERA is pretty damn good, and while he has been able to maintain his control (for the most part) and his velocity, teams will no doubt proceed with caution after his World Series meltdowns. Speaking of, if Darvish’s biggest problem was tipping his pitches to the Astros, that should be easily fixed, restoring some hope that he can be a stud for a few more years to come).

Option 3:  Re-Sign Dallas Keuchel

It feels (to me anyway) that most people think it is a foregone conclusion that Dallas Keuchel will be gone after 2018, especially since he signed with Scott Boras. While it may be more likely he’ll leave, don’t rule out the possibility that the Astros pay Keuchel what he’s worth in order to keep him.

It stands to reason that if Yu Darvish can get $22 million a year, it’s probably going to take around $26 million a year to keep Keuchel. So if the team is willing to pay for another “stud” pitcher now, why not wait a year and pay for a stud pitcher next year instead?

The advantage?

It’s the devil you know vs the devil you don’t.

Other Options?

Wait: As long as you don’t trade him, Forrest Whitley could fill a major void in 2019’s rotation. All signs thus far point to him being a stud with ace potenial.

Make a run at Jake Arietta: At the time of this writing, Arietta has yet to sign with a team. According to Spotrac.com, he’ll probably get in the neighborhood of  5 years/ $130 million ($26M/yr).

Make a run at Clayton Kershaw in 2019: It’s a long shot, but at just 29 years old the best pitcher on the planet still has a lot of baseball left in him. He has two player-option years remaining on his contract for 2019 ($34.5M) and 2020 ($35.5M), so he could opt out after 2018. My guess is that he will, as he’ll be able to get similar (or more) money plus more years as a free agent. Whatever the case, whoever pursues him had better be ready to back up the Brinks truck.

So what should the Astros do?

I know Cole is the “it” thing for people, but there’s no guarantee that the Astros are going to be able to resign him after his 2 years of arbitration are up.

I think the best play for the Astros is to wait a year and try to re-sign Dallas Keuchel.

While signing with Scott Boras will certainly increase his likelihood of a bigger payday, that doesn’t mean it can’t (or won’t) be with the Astros. In fact, if you believe what he said here, he’d be happy to stick around and keep the core of this team together.

Plus, Keuchel became a star here, he suffered here, and he won a World Series here. He’s bonded with his teammates and has roots in the community.

So no, it’s not crazy that he would chose to stay.

The real question is can the Astros afford Dallas Keuchel? Are they willing to pay him $25 million a year?

That remains to be seen.

The good news is in a couple of years Justin Verlander will be gone and that will free up about $20 million a year to give to Keuchel…

…Or Altuve…

…Or Correa…

…Or McCullers…

…I digress.

Worst case scenario if they try and resign DK and it fails is that they’ll have money to pursue top end free agent pitchers in 2019 (Kershaw, Gio Gonzales, David Price (maybe), Matt Harvey, Garrett Richards) and you’ll still have Tucker and Whitley waiting in the wings (if they haven’t already arrived by then).

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Yordan Alvarez came up big in Game 5. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros can win the pennant Friday night. Can't dangle the carrot any closer in front of the face than that. Taking the last two games at Fenway Park has the Astros in excellent position, but any notion that a third American League championship in five years is now inevitable, is silly. The Astros are probably 80 percent or better to advance, but of course the Red Sox could win games six and seven at Minute Maid Park à la the Nationals in the World Series two years ago. The Astros had all the momentum after winning three straight in D.C., came home for the coronation, and pfffft. You have momentum...until you don't. It's nothing to bank on. The Red Sox had all the "mo" after clobbering the Astros in games two and three of this AL championship series. Then Jose Altuve crushed the eighth inning tying home run in game four, ahead of the seven run volcanic eruption of a ninth inning. Nine more Astro runs later in game five, and here we are.

One key distinction that makes the Astros hand look stronger up 3-2 now than vs. the Nats, the Red Sox don't have Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer ready to pitch. Like Framber Valdez vs. Chris Sale in game five, game six is another starting pitching rematch. Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi grossly outpitched Luis Garcia in game two. We'll see if Sox manager Alex Cora winds up regretting even more using Eovaldi to start the fateful game four ninth inning. Eovaldi only threw 24 pitches, but three nights later we'll see what and how much he has in the tank.

After pitching horribly against the White Sox and then the Red Sox, and then citing a sore knee, Luis Garcia is his own huge question mark. So was Valdez before Wednesday spinning one of the great postseason pitching performances in Astros' history. Framber was awful in each of his first two postseason starts, absolutely magnificent in cruising through eight innings in game five. Should the Sox force Game Seven, Valdez certainly is a relief option on two days rest. Jose Urquidy would start, opposite Eduardo Rodriguez in a game three rematch.

Valdez and the Astros hope his next outing is Tuesday night in game one of the World Series. Ideally, at Minute Maid Park against the Atlanta Braves. Alas, the defending champion Dodgers remain alive and kicking, having won their fourth do or die game already in this postseason to send the National League Championship Series back to Atlanta. Now, if somehow we knew as fact that the Astros are going to win the World Series, I'd estimate approximately 99 percent of Astros' fans would prefer to beat L.A. Since we don't know that the Astros are going to win it all, getting the Braves would be more favorable for the Astros, if for no other reason than the Astros would get home-field advantage. Should the Braves make it, among other factoids Charlie Morton would be in his third World Series with three different teams in the last five seasons (Astros in 2017, Rays last year, Braves this). If the Braves can close out the Dodgers Saturday, Morton is Atlanta's likely game one starter at MMP. Provided the Astros are the AL Champs of course.

Watt a matchup for the Texans

The Texans play at Arizona Sunday. Yeah, and? You imagine that J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins find the two team's current situations amusing? The Texans are a 1-5 stink bomb that will keep on stinking. The Cardinals are 6-0 and an emerging Super Bowl contender. While Deshaun Watson continues collecting about 600 thousand dollars per week to do nothing (and waiting to become a Miami Dolphin?), Kyler Murray has made the leap to upper echelon NFL quarterback.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Decisions, decisions. Astros-Red Sox game 6 or Rockets home opener vs. Thunder. Tough call?

2. The Rockets will regularly be overmatched and probably lose 55 games or more again this season. At least they have young talent to offer some hope. The Texans presently have near nothing.

3. Best 2021 Astros' postseason journey signature food: Bronze-Atlanta/Los Angeles, anything? Silver-Chicago, deep dish pizza Gold-Boston, lobster roll

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