ARMS RACE, PART 2
Barry Laminack: Looking ahead to the Astros' future pitching rotations
Last week I took a look at the various options that the Astros had when deciding how to bolster their starting rotation.
Of course they ignored my advice (thank goodness) and went out and traded (Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz, Colin Moran and Jason Martin) for Gerrit Cole.
The Cole trade makes the bullpen better
The trade for Gerrit Cole gives the Astros one of the best rotations in baseball, and they did so without having to give up their prized prospects Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley. The Cole trade was also a shrewd move because along with strengthening the rotation, it also added significant depth to the bullpen (a bullpen that faded down the stretch and in the playoffs).
With Cole set to join the rotation, and the other four spots presumably being filled with the likes of Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers and Morton, this trade left no space for McHugh and Peacock in the rotation (barring injury or if Hinch decides to utilize a six-man rotation for some reason), so they will both be moved to the bullpen.
I made this handy chart to show what the rotations could look like from 2018 to 2021. Each spot that has an R or B is a year that the Astros have the player under contract and are thus guaranteed to have the player here and pitching (unless traded or hurt).
It's worth noting that all of the slots for Forrest Whitley are my projections and not based on any current contract (or inside source).
NOTE: R = Rotation Spot, B = Bullpen Spot
As you can see, 2018 is solid with McHugh and Peacock both sliding to the bullpen. Fans can look forward to a dominant five-man rotation of:
Verlander, Keuchel, Cole, McCullers and Morton.
In 2019 both Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton will be free agents.
Keuchel will command in the neighborhood of $23-$25 million/per year on the open market, a price range the Astros probably won't be able to afford because of the Justin Verlander contract.
Morton will require far less per year, but Peacock could provide just as much (if not greater) value in the rotation, and for a much cheaper price tag; so Morton is probably gone as well.
(I also predict 2019 will be the year that Forrest Whitley earns a spot on the team, but more on this later).
So unless the Astros decide to re-sign either of their pending free agents, and assuming they don't go out and get a free agent arm, the 2019 rotation is still a very respectable one consisting of:
Verlander, Cole, McCullers, Peacock and McHugh.
By the time 2020 rolls around things will start to look drastically different for the Astros. Cole will probably bolt for free agency, and McHugh will have the opportunity to do so as well. It wouldn't surprise me if the Astros let McHugh walk and save the money they would spend on him to resign Brad Peacock in 2021; unless of course they can get McHugh on the cheap.
Verlander will be 37 years old, and now that he has a ring, will no doubt be ready to retire. Peacock will be in entering his final year of arbitration.
I predict this will also be the year that the coveted Whitley finally cracks the rotation for this team, but again, we'll discuss this in a bit.
So if my psychic skills are right, the 2020 Astros rotation could be:
Verlander, McCullers, Peacock, Whitley, and TBD.
The only player currently on this team that occupies (or in the case of Peacock and McHugh, is worthy of occupying) a spot in the rotation that is guaranteed to be in the rotation four years from now in 2021 is Lance McCullers.
Everyone else COULD be gone.
But again, if my psychic skills are on point, and the moves I predict in 2020 happen, then the 2021 rotation should be:
McCullers, Whitley, Peacock, TBD, and TBD.
The wild card
The wild card in all of this, besides the Astros potentially resigning any of their pending free agents in a given year, is Whitley.
Depending on when Whitley comes up will determine how soon he can carve out a spot for himself in the rotation. My estimation is that he'll be up in 2019 at some point (perhaps as soon as early May) and pitch out of the bullpen. Then, with a year in the majors under his belt, he should fight for and probably win a spot in the rotation in 2020.