WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros figure to be in the market for a starting pitcher all season after their winter quest to land another starter, notably Jose Quintana of the White Sox, was fruitless because of their unwillingness to give up top prospects.The pursuit of a starting pitcher would
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros figure to be in the market for a starting pitcher all season after their winter quest to land another starter, notably Jose Quintana of the White Sox, was fruitless because of their unwillingness to give up top prospects.
The pursuit of a starting pitcher would only intensify into the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline if any of their starters get injured. Dallas Keuchel missed the final month of last season with left shoulder inflammation, Lance McCullers sat out the final two months with a right elbow sprain and Charlie Morton made only four starts for the Phillies after tearing his left hamstring.
All three pitched through Spring Training with flying colors and were on track to open the season in the rotation, so the Astros can breathe a sigh of relief. Even if all of their starters remain healthy, however, Houston will be on the lookout for pitching. Adding Quintana or, say, Sonny Gray or Chris Archer to its rotation would boost its chances in a year the club is expected to contend in the American League.
On paper, the Astros' rotation doesn't match up against the Red Sox or the Indians, who won the AL in 2016. Houston, with Keuchel battling injury all season and McCullers starting and ending the year on the disabled list, ranked eighth in the AL in starter's ERA (4.37). In '15, with the same collection of starters headlining the rotation, Houston ranked second in the AL in ERA (3.71).
Still, the Astros' inability to add an impact starting pitcher last season was one of the reasons why they fell short of a postseason spot. The Rangers, who landed Cole Hamels at the Deadline, won the division while the Astros gave meaningful starts in September to Brad Peacock and David Paulino because Keuchel and McCullers were hurt.
It's unlikely the Astros would want to put themselves in that position again this year, but for now, they're content to begin the season with a healthy Keuchel, McCullers and Morton leading the way. Collin McHugh, a 19-game winner in 2015, will start the year on the DL but should be back soon.
The Astros have prospects to make a trade if they wish. Top-ranked prospect Francis Martes, a hard-throwing right-hander, and their second-ranked prospect, outfielder Kyle Tucker, would likely have to be given up to get a significant arm. Third baseman Alex Bregman drew interest at the Deadline last year, but that was a non-starter.
Houston has built up some position-player depth at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, with outfielder Derek Fisher, infielder J.D. Davis and infielder Colin Moran all having strong camps. Their paths to the big leagues are blocked for now. Could they be trade chips?
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.