The Astros are atop the American League West as we head toward the end of May, but, based on the tenor of the questions received this week, many believe the sky is falling. I guess winning spoils you. Anyway, let's open the Inbox and address some fans' concerns.
Should the Astros trade Dallas Keuchel, and if so, what for?
-- Birdy, Houston
I'm so glad someone asked this. I don't know why there are so many people who want to trade Keuchel, so here's why it shouldn't and won't happen.
There is no way a team in contention would trade away one of its starting pitchers, especially a quality left-hander with a track record of success. Keuchel has a 3.43 ERA, which isn't bad, and a 1.14 WHIP that's nearly identical to Lance McCullers's and a tick higher than the WHIP Keuchel finished with last year. Keuchel has also worked at least seven innings in five of his last seven starts. Starting pitching is this team's strength, and trading Keuchel only weakens it. And who are you going to trade him to?
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Because Keuchel is a free agent at the end of the year, you're going to be able to trade him to a contender only. Why would the Astros bolster another team's chances of winning it all by giving them a quality starting pitcher? Plus, the Astros can give Keuchel a qualifying offer at the end of the regular season and possibly get a Draft pick in return if he signs elsewhere.
Can we please put this topic to bed once and for all?
Is Max Stassi looked upon as the future catcher? Personally, I like what I see, but I'm curious about his role in the future with [Brian] McCann unlikely to meet vesting options. Will McCann consider a one-year contract? A smaller role?
-- Justin T., Port Arthur, Texas
I'd be surprised if McCann comes back, but the Astros don't have much catching depth at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. Stassi has a future with this club, but I'm not sure he's going to be the starter going forward. The Astros might have to trade for a catcher or try to sign one in free agency this offseason to pair with Stassi if they're sure McCann isn't coming back.
Since left field is a rotation of mediocrity, when are we going to see [Kyle] Tucker called up or a trade initiated?
-- Michael B., Baytown, Texas
I think it's clear Tucker will be up at some point this year. Tucker -- the Astros' top position-player prospect and the game's 16th-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- has made a nice transition to Triple-A Fresno this year, hitting .292/.361/.447 with four homers and 31 RBIs through 39 games. The Astros are in no rush to call Tucker up, considering they'll have to wait until later in June to postpone his service-time clock and ensure he won't be a Super Two player, costing the club an extra year in arbitration and potentially millions of dollars down the road.
If [Tony] Kemp plays like he is now, will [manager AJ] Hinch keep him in left? [Jake] Marisnick and [Derek] Fisher strike out half the time and neither is hitting over .200. Time to give Kemp a chance?
-- Susie Y., Houston
As long as Kemp hits, he'll get a chance to play every day. Marisnick brings speed as well as defense that Kemp doesn't have, and Fisher brings speed and power better than Kemp's. That's why the Astros have given Marisnick and Fisher every opportunity to see if they can get it together at the plate. Kemp doesn't have much power and plays defense well enough, but as long as he can put the bat on the ball, he'll play.
Just to minimize chances of DL stints or getting tired late in the playoff run, shouldn't AJ start cutting back some innings pitched for the starting pitching staff?
-- Rob S., Princeton, N.J.
It wouldn't surprise me if we see some of that later in the season, but the extra off-days that are built into the schedule this year mean the starters are routinely pitching every six days instead of every five. A couple of weeks ago, the Astros flip-flopped Justin Verlander and Keuchel to ensure that Verlander stayed on four days of rest because that's what he prefers. Even so, the extra days off are helping to keep these guys fresh.
With a quarter of the season in, how concerned is the staff with the performance of the offense overall? Are there any players who are underperforming that raise concerns? Could there be thoughts of trades/acquisitions needed to solidify the squad in preparation for another deep run into the playoffs?
-- Roel A., Corpus Christi, Texas
Almost every Astros player has underperformed across the board offensively (compared to 2017), even Jose Altuve, who is hitting .316 with two homers. The Astros' only everyday players with an OPS higher than .800 are Carlos Correa (.858) and George Springer (.846). Perhaps that's a good thing for the Astros, who led the Majors in nearly every offensive category last year.
Why's that good? Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez and Evan Gattis -- all of whom were key contributors to the offense's success last year -- have room for improvement. If a couple of them get hot, the Astros could take off, considering the starting pitching they're getting.
If the Astros are going to add anyone to their offense later in the year, I think it will be Tucker.
What is Forrest Whitley's situation? When will he be back? What team will he be on?
-- Carl E., Pasadena, Texas
Whitley suspension ends before the end of the month, and he's been getting stretched out by pitching games in extended spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla. When the Astros deem him ready for game action, he'll likely start the season in the rotation at Double-A Corpus Christi.