By now, I'm sure you've heard the Astros raised eyebrows throughout the majors a week ago by trading four players to Pittsburgh for starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran and Michael Feliz are ready to contribute with the Buccos from Day One while none of them were of key importance to the Astros defending their crown. Prospect Jason Martin has plenty of tools but lacks power so his big league timetable is questionable.
Hinch greets Cole at presser
(c) Michael Giaglo/Houston Chronicle
Brad Peacock is likely to fill some of the bullpen gap at the loss of Musgrove and Feliz. Houston also added Joe Smith and Hector Rondon in free agency while filling the loss of Luke Gregerson. Despite a fantastic campaign in 2017, the addition of Cole most likely kicks Peacock back to the bullpen as a long reliever and spot starter.
That still leaves the Astros with six starting pitchers who would all deserve the job on a normal roster. Barring injury or trade, the plan might be to start Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Cole, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh in a six-man rotation thus reducing the wear on each.
While the addition of Cole is a bit of a luxury for the regular season, the front office is clearly thinking about how to improve their odds once the playoffs arrive (and they will arrive even with a World Series hangover that prevents them from getting off to the fast start they had last year).
The Astros want to trot out a three-card monty of aces against whatever the Red Sox, Indians or Yankees send out. Morton and McCullers both came up big in the postseason and Manager A.J. Hinch shouldn't be shy about handing them the ball this year if needed.
Further down the road, Cole, who has two years of arbitration eligibility left after this season, stabilizes the rotation further should Keuchel opt to pitch elsewhere in 2019.
Cole is expected to begin in the third slot of the rotation but they could also move him to where each series is guaranteed to feature one of the three aces.
The Astros have had great pitching trios before. Nolan Ryan, Joe Niekro and J.R. Richard (1980) was short-lived. Ryan, Mike Scott and Bob Knepper (1986), along with Mike Hampton, Jose Lima and Shane Reynolds (1999) were special. Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt (2004-05) was perhaps the most heralded. Can Verlander, Keuchel and Cole live up to expectations?
Unlike previous Astros teams, they can count on a top offense to help them out.