Today marks the fifth anniversary of an important date an Astros history. On December 7, 2011, the Houston Astros hired Jeff Luhnow as their general manager, marking a completely new age in Astros baseball. Luhnow had his plans for getting the Astros back to contention in the American League, but told the fans that it certainly would take time. Back then, Astros fans did not know whether to trust this new guy from St. Louis, but now we are beginning to see why Jim Crane hired him.
On December 7, 2016, Luhonw is faced with an important decision that could completely change the results of his five-year plan. Just yesterday, the Boston Red Sox traded arguably the best prospect in baseball (Yoan Moncada) in order to acquire Chris Sale, a true ace starting pitcher. With Sale off the board, the "true ace" probably no longer exists in the current 2016 offseason market.
But, this is not an excuse for the Astros to simply remain content with their starting rotation. Will having a healthy Lance McCullers and 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel help the cause? Absolutely. Is it enough? Probably not. Right now, the Red Sox and Indians, the two premier contenders in the American League, have devastating pitchers at the top of their rotation. Their "three-headed monsters" of Chris Sale-David Price-Rick Porcello and Corey Kluber-Danny Salazar-Carlos Carrasco are formidable rotations to trot out in a five-game or seven-game playoff series.
If the Astros want to catch up to the Red Sox and Indians, they need to make a move within the next few weeks. I trust Keuchel and McCullers to bounce back and have strong 2017 seasons, but I still do not believe that is enough. Now, Luhnow needs to solidify his starting rotation by adding Jose Quintana to the mix from the Chicago White Sox.
Earlier this morning, it was reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports that the White Sox have now moved on to dealing Quintana, and that the Astros were certainly in the mix. While Nightengale certainly has taken some flack on Twitter during these Winter Meetings, his claim was further substantiated just a few hours ago by Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.
Quintana, a 27 year-old left handed hurler, has now five full seasons of pitching in the American League under his belt and has been productive for nearly his whole career. He is coming off his best season in 2016, when he pitched 208.0 innings for the White Sox with a 13-12 record, 3.20 ERA, 1.163 WHIP, and fantastic ERA+ of 125. Along with those numbers, Quintana fanned 181 batters while only walking 50. His 5.2 WAR was 4th best among American League pitchers, only behind Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, and Masahiro Tanaka.
While Quintana does not project to finish with a 3.20 ERA every season, he certainly projects to be in the 3.30-3.50 range for the foreseeable future. What makes him valuable to the Astros is not only his skills as a pitcher, but also the fact that he is under contract through 2018, with club options in 2019 AND 2020. His club options are not cheap, but they are certainly well below market value for a pitcher of Quintana's caliber at only $10.5 million after 2019 and $11.5 million after 2020.
While giving up Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker or Derek Fisher would certainly be a sizable blow to the farm system, the Astros would be able to replace their talent in the upcoming MLB Amateur Draft in June. The club certainly is not willing to deal Alex Bregman or George Springer to the White Sox, so these prospects would be the next best available. While Martes is the best prospect the Astros have right now, he has had his fair share of struggles in the minor leagues, especially at AA Corpus Christi. Martes figures to be at least a middle of the rotation staple for a team in the future, but he certainly has not proven all of his worth yet in the minor leagues.
I have to believe right now that Luhnow would find a way to get this deal done without dealing Kyle Tucker, a prospect that many believe the Astros regard as untouchable in trade talks. Tucker has had a promising minor league career, and was a top 5 pick in the draft for the Astros in 2015. Personally, I believe a trade between the Astros and White Sox would look like this:
Astros Receive: SP Jose Quintana
For the Astros to acquire a premier starting pitcher with four years of control left, it will take a pretty big haul. In this deal, the White Sox would acquire Houston's #1 and #5 best prospects in Martes and Fisher while also getting Reed, a former top prospect for the Astros. I think the hold up in this deal is that the White Sox would need pitchers to compensate for losing Quintana and Sale, but the Astros need to be careful before giving away too many minor league pitchers due to the Brian McCann trade, as well as the Ken Giles trade last winter.
Martes is certainly a valued commodity on the trade market right now, and the White Sox would do well to pry him away from Houston in this deal. However, Quintana's presence in the rotation would solidify a major league roster in 2017 for Houston that already includes a stacked lineup filled with veterans and a young core. It will be interesting to see what the Astros do in the next few days as the Winter Meetings wind down and perhaps even later into December and January. This offseason is far from over, folks.
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