ARMS RACE, PART 2

Barry Laminack: Looking ahead to the Astros' future pitching rotations

Justin Verlander wil be a staple for the next couple years. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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.

Future rotations

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). 

Astors Rotation NOTE: R = Rotation Spot, B = Bullpen Spot

2018

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.

2019

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. 

2020

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.

2021

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. 

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Another tough loss for the Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans started fast but faltered late as the New York Jets hand Houston their ninth loss of the season 21-14. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Starting safety Justin Reid was benched for the game. David Culley said after the game it was his decision as head coach and he would keep the matter internal with Reid.

2. This is the third defender benched for disciplinary reasons this season. Reid joins Zach Cunningham and Desmond King as players who missed time for discipline.

3. Justin Reid told Fox 26 he was benched because he had a disagreement with the coaching staff. He also said he was shocked the Texans benched him. You have to wonder if the “culture” the team is building is right when one of the more likable and personable players falls victim to their rules. Reid, who is a free agent this offseason, could leave the Texans.

4. Tyrod Taylor had a couple of nice plays early on for the Texans. His willingness to take some shots downfield was refreshing and led to a touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.

5. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan found the end zone. He has played well in recent weeks after finally getting on the field. Jordan is playing over Jordan Akins as Akins was a healthy scratch again this week.

6. Tytus Howard started at left tackle with mixed results. Howard has struggled to find his way at guard but could be a long-term option at tackle if given the chance.

7. The offensive line overall played poorly after some early success. The pass rush of the Jets got going and the run blocking was poor again. Lane Taylor played at left guard some, with Max Scharping also playing some at that spot.

8. The offense was horrendous after the two scoring drives. The Texans amassed 202 net yards with 91 yards coming on those two scoring drives. Houston gained just 49 net yards after their opening three drives.

9. After the game, I asked David Culley if he would be making a change with his play-caller. Culley stood behind offensive coordinator Tim Kelly and said he would remain the team’s play-caller.

10. Second-year defensive lineman Ross Blacklock had two horrible errors that handed the Jets a chance to turn three points into seven points. Blacklock got a personal foul on a field goal attempt giving the Jets a first down. The very next play his offsides penalty erased a sack. Each week Blacklock falls even more behind a bevy of players drafted after him who contribute positively on a regular basis.

11. The loss to another bottom-dweller has the Texans back in the second spot in the 2022 NFL Draft order. It also feels like the deflating nature of this loss erased some of the good feelings after the victory over the Titans. The Indianapolis Colts come to Houston next week to begin December’s portion of the schedule.

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