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


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. 

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Keep an eye on Tank Dell this Sunday. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

I remember thinking how in the world can these little frail guys survive at the NFL level? I mean, I saw Joe Theismann and Ed McCaffrey's legs snap. Drew Bledsoe got his chest caved in. Seeing 300-plus pound men cry when injured is humbling. So when a guy like Tank Dell comes along, I'm always a bit apprehensive. Especially when they come with a ton of hype.

For every eight to ten big strong players that get hurt, there's one or two little fellas that have relatively healthy careers. The comp that came to mind when looking at Tank was DeSean Jackson. Listed at 5'10 and weighing a heavy 175 pounds, Jackson was arguably the best “small guy” in NFL history. Dell being about two inches shorter and about ten pounds lighter, while also playing a similar role, is in line to be a similarly electrifying type of player. I put my assessment on the line and doubled down with my predictions on what his, and others' season totals will look like last week:

Tank Dell: 68 catches, 1,105 yards and 6 touchdowns- Dell will be a really good slot, but has some outside skills. Namely, his speed. He's more slippery than if Mick had greased that chicken before Rocky tried catching it. I could see his production going up as the season gets longer because Stroud will begin to look for him more and more as they build chemistry. Yes, I know I only have him with six scores. Keep in mind this is a run first offense. At least that's what we can deduce from looking at where it came from in San Francisco.

In his debut game last week vs the Ravens, he notched three catches for 34 yards on four targets. He was tied for third on the team in targets with Noah Brown and Mike Boone. While Robert Woods and Nico Collins were one and two in targets last week, I think Dell will ascend that list starting this week. Word came down that Noah Brown is headed to IR, meaning he'll miss at least the next four weeks. The chemistry he and fellow rookie C.J. Stroud have developed is palpable. From working out together, to attending UH games together, these two seem to have a nice bond already.

Woods is a solid vet two years removed from an ACL injury. Collins was a third rounder with size who hasn't done a whole lot. Dell is easily the most exciting option at receiver this team has. John Metchie III was expected to be the next guy up. Unfortunately, cancer had him take a backseat, until now. Metchie is back at practice this week, so a debut is imminent. He could potentially challenge for more playing time, but it may take him some time to get used to things and get going again.

As far as my statistical prediction for his season, he only needs to average four catches for 67 yards per game, and get a touchdown every two to three games for the remainder of the season. Given Brown being out the next few games, Metchie not quite being up to speed, Woods being an older player on a short-term deal, and Collins not really being what everyone thought he could be, it leaves things wide open for Dell to step up.

Playmakers come in all shapes and sizes. Levon Kirkland was a 300-pound middle linebacker in a 3-4. Doug Flutie led teams to playoff wins as a 5'9 quarterback. In football, size matters. The bigger, stronger guys normally win out. When it comes to receiving and returns, you want speed, quickness, and agility. Dell has that in spades. Add his competitive nature and chemistry with his quarterback and you have a recipe for a star in the making. I know I'm not the only one hoping the Texans continue Tank-ing.

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