As the Houston Astros approach the dog days of summer while still holding a strong lead in the A.L. West, it is obvious the team is in need of starting-pitching help if they want to get to the playoffs and make a run.
There are plenty of options the Astros could visit, including adding an arm via the trade market. If that’s the path they choose, trading for a one-year rental like Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto makes more sense for the team’s future than going after player like Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, who has three years left on his deal.
Many people outside of Houston fans didn’t project the Astros to be this good this soon, which still has some analysts skeptical as to how serious of a contender they truly are. That’s understandable. However, with Dallas Keuchel performing at a Cy Young level as the team’s ace, Lance McCullers Jr. bursting onto the scene with authority and the team calling up phenom shortstop Carlos Correa to give the offense much-needed depth, the future is now in Houston and it is clear the front office is all-in moving forward.
What the Astros don’t need to start doing is shipping out the gems of a farm system they spent the better part of the last four-plus years rebuilding. It took a lot of losses the fans had to suffer through to get to this point of having one of the better systems in baseball, and there is no need to start trading away valuable pieces just as the team is tapping into it.
This is why Cueto makes more sense to me as a trade target.
With Vincent Velasquez up from the farm and getting major-league experience, another sign the front office is serious about winning, the Astros are looking to have a solid crop of young pitchers for the foreseeable future in Keuchel, McCullers Jr. and Velasquez. Unfortunately, Velasquez seems to need a bit more seasoning as he doesn’t seem quite as ready to be relied upon in big spots as McCullers Jr. does, leaving a spot in the rotation that will need to be filled come playoff time.
Worth noting as well, both pitchers are going to be seeing more innings this season on the mound than they ever have in their careers. Their innings will be monitored and it wouldn’t be surprising if they both aren’t pitching in mid-September.
With a bright future on the horizon for the rotation, trading for a one-year arm and limiting the amount of talent in terms of prospects you would have to give up in a deal is what it boils down to. With Hamels, you are going to have to ship out higher-rated prospects and more of them because of the fact he has three years remaining on his deal. Cueto won’t cost nearly as much with the chance he walks to another team in the offseason and he would supply the Astros with exactly what they need this year… a veteran pitcher that can win them a playoff game.
Of course, Cueto isn’t the only option for the Astros, but he is probably the best. The team has been linked to Chicago White Sox’s Jeff Samardzija as well as Oakland Athletics’ Scott Kazmir, who has expressed an interest in wanting to stay in Oakland, for whatever that is worth. Either would cost the Astros less and are probably Plan B if they can’t obtain a front-line starter.
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In most cases, one-year rentals are a gamble for a team in the playoff hunt. With the Astros competing for the division crown with a youth-filled roster and a loaded farm system that looks to continue to produce for a long time down the road, giving up as few of prospects as possible while still adding someone that can help is their ideal scenario.
By trading for Cueto, it could help the Astros achieve their goal this year until the younger guys are ready to make that leap themselves. This is what the plan should be for Houston at the trade deadline.
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