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).