Astros slow start has some wondering if adding Dallas Keuchel would help solidify the rotation

Is Houston good or do the Astros need more Dallas in their life?

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Astros fans know the team is not off to the start they wanted or expected, but there is no need to push the panic button. It's a long season, 162 games to be exact and there is going to be plenty of ups and downs. The bad news has been the teams' inability to get key hits with runners in scoring position, as well as struggling to put together big innings that break close games open and build momentum in close games. The starting pitching, for the most part, has been pretty good and is only going to get better. It's fairly typical for pitchers to start slow and work out the kinks with every start in the first month of the season. As they continue to develop new pitches they added to their repertoire in spring training, fine-tune their control locating pitches and stretch out their endurance and arm strength, things will only get better.

Pen pals

Justin Verlander has not been as sharp as he would like in the early going this season

Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The bullpen has been strong and the 8th and 9th inning assignments are a virtual lock with Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna looking to be lights out if they get the ball with a lead. So a few tough losses on the road to start the season are nothing to worry about as this team is too good and too talented to stay down for an extended period of time.

Smart roster management

A.J. Hinch and Roberto Osuna

Roberto Osuna has solidified the back of the Astros bullpen

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Jeff Luhnow and his staff have done an outstanding job managing salaries and extending players on the roster that have outperformed their contract and have proven to be worthy of a fair deal that locks them up for the foreseeable future. The savvy GM has also avoided the temptation of overpaying for talent that may not be as good as what they once were, even if those players were proven veterans that contributed to the teams' recent success, including helping to guide them to their first-ever World Series victory. Evan Gattis, Charlie Morton, and Dallas Keuchel were important cogs in the well-oiled machine that steamrolled to Houston's first baseball title and will always be remembered for all they did while in an Astros uniform.

Adios, Charlie

Charlie Morton Astros Houston Astros/Facebook

Gattis is still unsigned and there isn't really room for him on the roster with the addition of Michael Brantley and another year of Tyler White and Tony Kemp. Morton got a great deal from Tampa Bay for more money than the Astros were willing to give and with uncertainty about his arm after a few flare-ups last season, the smart move was to thank him for all he did here and wish him well with his future with the Rays. The only guy that Luhnow has left the door open for has been Keuchel, allowing him and his agent Scott Boras to test the market and see what offers they could cultivate before deciding on any possible move to bring him back in the fold.

Soft market

Astros Dallas Keuchel, Jeff Luhnow

Jeff Luhnow has options, including bringing Dallas Keuchel back

Composite photo by Jack Brame

So far Dallas hasn't gotten the big, long term deal he coveted when free agency began and the rumored 5 years, $100 million dollar offers that were expected and virtually promised by Boras have not materialized and panic may be settling in. With the regular season in full swing, the clock is ticking and he needs a team and contract for this year, if not for years to come. Pitchers have to pitch and the best way he can prove he is worth the long term commitment he didn't get this offseason is to get back on the bump and impress the decision makers across the league that were too skeptical and leary to open their checkbooks. What better way to do that and ensure he will get ample opportunities to stack up wins and rack up stats, than with a proven team that features a potent offensive lineup, above average defense and a bullpen capable of holding and saving winning opportunities.

Bring him back?

Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel

Would bringing Keuchel back solidify the Astros starting rotation?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With all that said, as an Astros fan, would you be willing to take the former Cy Young Award winner back and pay him some pretty significant money for one year or a short term deal of 2-3 seasons? He is looking for $17.5 million for this year and is said to be willing to take a little less per season on a long term agreement. Would he be worth the money? Would he bolster the rotation that much, considering what they already have on the roster? Would he be worth the money or would the team be better off waiting to spend and seeing what needs arise as the season rolls on? I tend to think they are good with what they have and can wait to see what they need, but I know there are others out there who think the experience and veteran leadership Kuechel brings to the table are too good to pass up as long as the price is right. What do you think? Should he stay or should he go? After all, it's always good to have options.

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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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