DON'T PANIC

Paul Muth: Time to pump the brakes on the 'trade Keuchel' talk

Dallas Keuchel is struggling, but trading him makes no sense. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last week during the Astros latest homestand a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go catch a weekday game either Tuesday or Wednesday. I said sure.

“Dallas Keuchel is pitching Tuesday, Lance McCullers Wednesday. Which one?” He asked.

“So my options are: watch Keuchel implode and go 3-8, or watch McCullers sling filth?”

“Wednesday it is.”

Ironically I ended up going to the Tuesday game with another friend. Before we had entered the ballpark Keuchel had already served up four runs.

This isn't the first time this season - or most of the second half of last season for that matter - that I've actively avoided Keuchel games. Much like his signature “Keuchel’s Korner,” fan support has gone the way of the buffalo this season for the Astros former ace.

And it's not without reason, mind you. To say he's been bad would be an understatement. Keuchel has gone from Opening Day starter to flat out liability dating back to last season. He currently sits at 3-8 on the season with a 4.45 ERA. Keuchel has never surrendered more than 20 home runs in a season, but at 69 games into 2018, he's already allowed 12.

Things don't look good for the Astros’ hurler at the moment. Factor in that he's in the last year of his contract (and that neither side seems interested in the other's idea of a fair offer), and suddenly you have a recipe for finding out who started watching Astros baseball on November 1, 2017.

“Trade Keuchel!”

“Get him out of here!”

In the words of that same friend that I never went and saw a game with last week:

“Easy, Farva.”

Let’s pump the brakes on all of this trade talk. Do I think he’s going to turn the season around and give us all a reason to don our fake beards and rekindle the fire that once was Keuchel’s Korner? No, not exactly. But there are still plenty of reasons to keep him on the staff.

First off, no one is going anywhere in mid June. The trade deadline isn’t until July 31, which suggests that Keuchel has at least six more starts to show us something that might assuage the angry mob. No team ever won the World Series in June, and we’re not even halfway through the season.

Even if they did start to shop Keuchel, what value would a team like the Astros who are in “win now” mode receive in return? Prospects? They have those in spades. What return would possibly yield any more production than what they are already getting? A 30 year-old low velocity pitcher who has lost his location and is in the final year of his contract isn’t going to cause the phone board to light up. So as it stands, even if they wanted to trade him, it wouldn’t be worth it more than likely.

The most critical reason for retaining Keuchel is this: He’s an innings sponge.

Astros fans seem to be a little too quick to forget just how decimated the starting rotation was due to injuries last season. With so many starters sidelined, the Astros were compelled to slide relief pitchers Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock into the starting rotation alongside a carousel of AAA pitchers. Keuchel, no matter how bad he may be or good he may get, represents 6-7 innings of baseball that Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers don’t have to pitch. It represents just a few more extra innings off for the bullpen as well. And while none of this matters in June, it will be easy to spot the exhausted pitchers in the postseason. Keuchel keeps them fresh.

On this date last year, Francis Martes (Franky Tuesday as my friends and I lovingly referred to him last year as) was starting baseball games for the eventual World Series champs. For perspective, Martes began this season on the Astros AAA affiliate, and shows no sign of being called up. Fast forward to last night and you have one of the Astros two potential Cy Young candidates, Gerrit Cole taking the mound with a now 8-1 record and a 2.40 ERA. Even if Keuchel is stinking it up every fifth day, who cares? The Astros have an embarrassment of riches at starting pitching, even in spite of Keuchel.

The bottom line is, it’s worth it to keep Keuchel. Who knows? Maybe Astros pitching coach Brent Strom wakes up from a fever dream with the solution to his maligned pitcher’s throwing woes. Maybe Keuchel injures himself (again), but this time it has a Henry Rowengartner, Rookie of the Year effect and he suddenly throws 100 mph fastballs. In that case we can all just sit under the shower of pitching glory wait for another World Series title. But even if it doesn’t they will be fine. The Astros have more pressing issues in their bullpen that need tending to before addressing an issue that will be a non-factor in the postseason. Most teams only run a 3-4 man rotation then, and you can safely assume that Keuchel would be the odd man out.

Everyone just take a deep breath and put the pitchforks down. They are going to be ok.

 

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Let him cook! Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of a rebuild. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr are studs. KPJ just signed a four-year extension with the team. Other guys like Jabari Smith Jr, Kenyon Martin Jr, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, and Jae'Sean Tate are really good pieces to surround Green and KPJ with. The only issue with this group: they're REALLY young! Tate is the elder statesman at 27 of the young nucleus. Most are barely old enough to buy a drink. Some still aren't old enough! They're a bunch of green bananas waiting to turn yellow to slightly brown and be ripe enough for consumption.

We need to give it time. Just like bananas, they take time to ripen. Coach Stephen Silas is known for developing young players. His most prized student is the star player for that team in South Oklahoma up 45. Number 77 for that team credited Silas with helping him realize his All-Pro potential while Silas was a part of the coaching staff there. To a man, all his former players credit him with being a positive influence on their careers. So why are fans in a rush to get rid of him?

When you look at the Rockets' record over the last few years, it's gross. Sure, they've been a lottery team the last couple of seasons, but that was by design. As part of the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades, they gave away pick swap rights. Had they not been that bad, they wouldn't have been able to draft Green or Smith Jr. Those two guys are building blocks for the future, along with KPJ. Giving those picks away would've put this team further down the totem pole of developing themselves into a contender. Losing pays off when you can hit on high lottery picks.

If you give a chef dirt, bread, ham, molded cheese, and spoiled mayo, can you expect anything else but a nasty ham sandwich? How about if the chef was given a steak that is almost rotten, potatoes with root growth, and spoiled butter? Could you expect a better meal than the sandwich? Yes! However, that meal may still cause a stomachache. Now, give said chef a full complement of gourmet groceries and guess what you'll get?

This is why I say let Silas cook. He's the perfect coach for this group of kids. He can teach them all the fundamentals of the game at this level and help them grow into their full potential. If there's a change to be made on the sidelines, move Silas into a front office role, but DO NOT get rid of him! Guys like him are too valuable. Why do you think Mark Cuban hated losing him, but knew he couldn't retain him because he had a head coach already? Cuban knew what he had in Silas and what Silas did for Luka Doncic. He can do something similar for the Rockets if given the time to work his magic.

Should Tilman Fertita find the need to move on, I'd look for a more experienced coach who can guide them from bottom of the playoff ladder into top four in the West and real contenders. For now, Silas is the head chef. Continue giving him the groceries he needs, and he'll continue giving these kids the lessons they need to develop. Changing the coach now could stunt their growth. Let him cook!

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