Hunter Brown gives the Astros flexibility. Composite image by Brandon Strange.
Hunter Brown, Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, Lance McCuller Jr., Jose Urquidy, Framber Valdez, and Justin Verlander. What pitching staff do you know (or have ever known) that has or has had seven starters? Not five. Not six. But SEVEN guys who can take the mound on any given day and get you a win? Some may have their hiccups or experience bumps in the road, but none of them are flaming disasters. Not a single one is to be taken lightly. Every one is a threat to go six or seven innings. All have good stuff. So, is there a such thing as having too much of a good thing? Is too much of a good thing bad for you? Who's the odd man out?
The Astros have an embarrassment of riches at starter on their pitching staff. The bullpen is another story. At least three of these guys will head to the bullpen come postseason. A four-man rotation is pretty common in the playoffs. Next season is a different story. Decisions need to be made. There are only so many starting spots. Even in a six-man rotation, one man is still the odd man out. Typically, there's a five-man rotation and an extra starter in case someone gets hurt, or a long reliever is needed.
One option the Astros have is to trade one of their young, cheap arms for another player at a position of need. A young guy who's ready to come in and play, or a solid vet to add to replace some of the guys they're most likely to lose. Center field, first base, left field, and bullpen are four positions I'd look to upgrade if there's a deal to be made. There's one other option out there I'd like to bring up...
What if the Astros decided to let Verlander walk since they have all these young, talented arms? I'm fairly certain he won't take another hometown/coming off career-threatening injury discount this offseason when he inevitably opts out to become a free agent. $25 million a year won't cut it. Sure he'll be 40 years old when next season starts, but he's also not your average 40-year-old either. Verlander is a rare breed. His skills have gotten better. He's aging like a fine wine. The thing with fine wines, they're terribly expensive. You can usually find a really good wine at a more pocket friendly price.
Letting Verlander walk will free up money to spend on a player in free agency that can fill a hole on the roster. Or that money can be allocated towards resigning Kyle Tucker to a long term deal. "There's so much more room for activities!" I know it's not ideal to think of Verlander finishing his career elsewhere. He won his only World Series here. He and his family love the fact that they can be themselves and not be hounded when they're out and about. However, this sport is still a business. Business decisions need to be made. If he's looking for $40 million plus, that's a bit much. Are Jim Crane and James Click willing to ante up? Or will they stand down and spread their resources elsewhere? This is why they get paid the big bucks. Time will only tell. The Hot Stove League will indeed be hot this offseason!
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.