Houston Astros: Can They be Best in the AL?

The Red Sox and Indians have both made big moves this offseason to improve their team. Can the Houston Astros leap over them in 2017 anyway?

Everyone expected the Houston Astros to be very good last year. In 2015 they unexpectedly broke out, similar to the 2015 Cubs, and were predicted to only improve in 2016. Instead they had an incredibly poor start to the season and were left fighting to even get close to playoff position all year long. Their horrendous record against the division-winning Rangers didn’t help either. By the end of the season they had failed to reach the playoffs and were left wondering how they could reach the top of the AL ranks.

While the Astros offense did take a little while to get off the ground, it was the pitching that hurt them the most. Coming off his Cy Young winning season, Dallas Keuchel struggled brutally. He had a 4.55 ERA with just a 20.5% strikeout rate and 1.29 WHIP. Instead of performing like the ace they expected him to be, he completely faltered at the top of the rotation. Free agent signing Doug Fister didn’t help much either. Collin McHugh, ace in waiting Lance McCullers, and Mike Fiers rounded out the rotation with unspectacular play.

Heading into the 2017 season, they have made some big improvements. The Astros signed Josh Reddick, traded for Brian McCann, and signed Carlos Beltran. Although their offense wasn’t entirely to blame for their failures during the 2016 season, they clearly made it a point to get better in ways the market allowed. Pitching has been barren throughout the market, and the cost to improve there is much greater this offseason.

With that said, the Astros are still in need of some sort of pitching boost. Adding Charlie Morton to the rotation will be a helpful depth addition, but they would be wise to improve even more. While Boston and Cleveland both have flashy position players, their true strength is in their respective pitching staffs. Cleveland will see the return of Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to the rotation this coming season, which rounds out an already good rotation with Corey Kluber at the top and Trevor Bauer in the middle. The Red Sox made a huge move to improve their already impressive rotation, containing the 2016 Cy Young winner, by adding Chris Sale to the fold.

Adding pitching to the Astros roster isn’t necessarily a must, because they have improved elsewhere. However, if they want to give themselves the best shot to overtake both the Indians and Red Sox during the coming season they’ll want to make a move to add more pitching. They could do this in two different ways.

The first option would be to go all in like the Red Sox and get a top of the rotation starter from the White Sox by giving up some of their top prospects. It wouldn’t cost anyone of Moncada’s caliber, but their farm system would take a hit. In return they would get a reliable top of the rotation starter in Jose Quintana for the next four seasons. That’s not a horrible trade to make.

The other option is to sign the best remaining pitching free agent. This year that pitcher is Jason Hammel. Hammel pitched in front of an incredible Cubs defense during a mostly good 2016 season, so perhaps teams are a bit wary of regression. However, Hammel appears to be the best option on the market. He would provide innings in the middle to end of the rotation, which, if nothing else, would push Fiers out of the rotation. That in itself could be valuable for the Astros.

After a disappointing 2016 season, the Astros are certainly well on their way to returning to excellence in the coming season. The Indians and Red Sox have both made big moves to improve their rosters, so the Astros would have to do similarly to keep up. If they can add a pitcher, they have a chance to sneakily be the best in the American League in 2017.

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