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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans out-Patriot the Patriots

Texans take down the Pats. Photo by Getty Images.

Every dog has its day. A broken clock is right two times a day. All the clichés about it being better to be lucky than good can apply here with the Texans 27-20 win over the Patriots. In a matchup that broke a record for the oldest combined age for opposing head coaches, 141 years old, Romeo Crennel beat his former boss Bill Belichick. There were other narratives at work here, as well as a few things (good and awful) that the coaching staff did.

First thing I saw that I liked was the spread and no-huddle on offense. If you've been following this series of articles, you know I've been on this train quite a while now. This allows Deshaun Watson to find the matchup he likes, exposes the defense because they can't sub, takes advantage of Texans' speed at receiver, and creates a tempo most defenses can't keep up with. Not to mention the spread is the offense Watson operated in at Clemson. 28/37 for 344 yards and two touchdowns of production from Watson was enough for me to say they need to have this as their M.O. moving forward.

Tim Kelly called a great game. He used the short, quick pass game in lieu of the run game. This also helped since Laremy Tunsil was out and Roderick Johnson had to play at left tackle. This offensive line is not very good at run blocking. Hence, why Watson was again the team's leading rusher with only 36 yards. Almost all of those were on scrambles. By going spread and no-huddle, Watson can take advantage of man and zone coverages to extend plays or scramble because most teams won't spy him. Even when they do, he makes them look silly.

Not everything was on the up and up. The defense continued to look like booty juice. Cam Newton threw for 365 yards and Damiere FREAKIN Byrd torched them for 132 of those yards! When I heard the quote from Crennel that defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver is getting the most out of his guys, I found it laughable. To double down on that, Weaver was quoted as saying, "This narrative that's being painted like my guys aren't disciplined and running around blocks, quite frankly and to put it bluntly, is bull---t!" Sorry guys, but you're both wrong. This defense can't fight its way out of a wet paper bag if you gave them knives. The worst part about it is that the offense's best chance at success sets the defense up for failure. Their hurry up scheme leaves little time for this porous defense to catch its wind. If they could get some turnovers or just off the damn field and get stops, it would help the offense.

With six games left, their three games outside the AFC South (Bengals, Lions, Bears) are all winnable. The two matchups against the Colts and the season finale against the Titans will prove to be their biggest tests. However, this is the same team that has four one possession losses. 3-7 could look a lot different if the offense stepped up against the Browns, or the defense made stops against the Steelers, Vikings, or Titans. Let's hope they can build off this win and salvage whatever they can of this season.

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