In this year's weak starting pitching free agent class, Rich Hill will likely emerge as one of the hottest commodities on the market. Although he may be the diamond in the rough compared of this free agent pitching class, he does come with some blemishes. He is 36 going on 37, has a long injury history, and only started 20 games last season.
But in my eyes these flaws could make him an under-the-radar target for Luhnow come December or January. The Astros would have to give up far less for Rich Hill than any other elite pitching option, and this signing could be a somewhat low-risk/high reward type of acquisition.
I say 'somewhat' because Rich Hill will still be expensive - he is the best starting pitcher in this year's weak class, and could be offered a qualifying offer by the Dodgers - yet he offers the upside of being one of the league's top pitchers.
Hill's stellar 2016 may appear to be flukish, but his advanced stats backed up his gaudy 2.22 ERA. Rich Hill had a 2.39 FIP, 3.36 xFIP, and 3.29 SIERA while striking out 10.52 batters per nine in 2016. Those are some very impressive stats.
The downside, of course, is that he is 36 years old and has a long injury history. Before this past season, the last time he was a starting pitcher in the MLB was 2009. There are questions about his durability, and that will depress his price, which is exactly what makes him an interesting possibility for the Astros front office.
Luhnow could offer Hill an incentivized affordable deal, similar to what they did with Doug Fister. This will help add some insurance to the investment, making it so they have to pay more only if Hill is healthy and playing. I'm hopeful we can expect at least around 100 innings of Hill's pitching in 2017, which has proven to be top notch.
If the Astros want to avoid having to dip into their farm system to pull off a trade for another legitimate ace, Rich Hill is the best available option. He is easily the best pending 2017 starting pitching free agent, and could come at a discounted price due to health, durability, and age concerns. The Astros had the lowest payroll in 2016 despite winning 84 games, and with the core in place the ownership needs to be willing to spend to win now.
As I touched on yesterday, the Astros don't necessarily need to add another starting pitcher. But if they do decide to upgrade the rotation, this sort of low-risk/high-upside signing is one I would endorse.