Do the Astros Need More Starting Pitching?

Is an addition to the starting rotation really necessary?

When examining who the Astros should covet this off-season, many fans have considered bolstering the rotation a starting point. 

The Astros had some issues with the starting rotation in 2016. Dallas Keuchel and Colin McHugh both regressed, Lance McCullers and Keuchel both battled injuries all season, Doug Fister collapsed down the stretch, and the rotation was so thin that at points Brad Peacock, David Paulino, Scott Feldman, and Brady Rodgers all received spot-starts.

So with that in mind, do the Astros need to make starting pitching a priority this off-season?

Not necessarily.

Remember that the Astros rotation was one of the best in baseball in 2015, and a down year doesn't mean the talent isn't still there. Injuries and regression were a big reason for the Astros' starting pitching woes in 2016, and that could easily correct itself in 2017. 

Even with the rotation's struggles, FanGraphs still had the Astros as the 9th best-starting pitching team in terms of WAR in 2016. Dallas Keuchel and Colin McHugh could both have bounce back years in 2017, and a healthy Lance McCullers has the potential to be an ace in the MLB. 

Behind that, the Astros rotation isn't as thin as many believe. Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers would fill out the rest of the rotation, with several suitable candidates behind them. Chris Devenski has shown the ability to start, though Astros may prefer to use him out of the bull-pen. Michael Feliz may eventually become a starting pitcher, and the Astros #1 and #4 prospects in Francis Martes and David Paulino could be called up at some point in 2017.

Due to the rotation being deeper than it appears on the surface, if the Astros were to target a starting pitcher I would hope they wouldn't just go for 'another arm'. This team does not need another 'solid' middle-late rotation pitcher. The Astros have plenty of options. If they really want to improve the rotation, the Astros would need to add another ace. 

The problem with that is the market. This year's free agent class of starting pitchers is weak as it's ever been. The best options may either be the veteran pitcher Rich Hill, or heat-throwing Andrew Cashner. I would be interested in giving Rich Hill a long look - he really was one of the best-starting pitchers statistically in 2016 when healthy - but other than that, a real rotation upgrade would likely have to be through a trade.

It's not as if there aren't options out there. Chris Sale has been involved in trade rumors, the Rays could be looking to shop Chris Archer, and the Tigers are showing they are willing to talk trades about any of their veteran players, including Justin Verlander.

The problem is these players would be both expensive in terms of salaries and trade cost. The Astros have many deep prospects that could combine as an enticing trade package, but it would be costly. 

The good news is many of the Astros top prospects are very early in the process, and the Astros could afford to part with some in order to win now. The Astros need to spend with the core in place to vault the team into World-Series contention, and Jeff Luhnow has acknowledged that it was a mistake for the Astros not to spend during the July trade-deadline. 

While the Astros don't necessarily need to improve their starting pitching, an addition of another ace would make Houston's rotation elite. If that is what will get the team over the hump, you have to explore all of the possible options. I'm not generally a fan of trading prospects, but if the Astros can acquire a big arm for the right price, you have to at least think about it. 


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