Baseball

Brown: Astros Prioritizing Rotation Help

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Astros general manager Dana Brown hasn’t been shy about his desire to add a left-handed bat to his lineup, publicly calling that his front office’s focus as recently as two weeks ago. However, asked this morning during his weekly appearance on 790 AM’s Sean Salisbury Show where he’d make an upgrade if he could only improve at one spot on his roster, the first-year GM changed course and suggested it’d be in the rotation (link contains full audio of the 11-minute interview).

“With the pitchers that we’ve had going down, it could put us in a situation where we come up short or we don’t get to that next round of the playoffs,” said Brown. “A good arm would be really, really helpful. … The problem is, there are not many good arms out there.”

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Houston has seen more than its share of rotation injuries in 2023. Lance McCullers Jr. won’t pitch this year after undergoing flexor tendon surgery, and the ’Stros have also lost fellow righty Luis Garcia to Tommy John surgery. Jose Urquidy has been out since late April due to a shoulder injury. And, since Brown’s last comments about prioritizing a bat, he’s revealed that ace Framber Valdez has been pitching through an ankle sprain. Meanwhile, right-hander Cristian Javier has been slumping (22 runs in his past 21 1/3 innings) and had his spot in the rotation skipped over leading into the break. Brown indicated this morning that Javier simply “needed a breather” and gave no indication that the right-hander is dealing with any sort of injury.

As it stands, the Astros are leaning on Valdez (ostensibly at less than 100%), Brandon Bielak and rookies Hunter Brown and J.P. France. Presumably, Javier will slot back into the rotation early in the second half. Houston has taken a look at right-handers Ronel Blanco and Shawn Dubin in the rotation, too. By and large, it’s a group of inexperienced starters. Outside of Brown, none of the rookies were considered particularly high-end prospects. Each of Brown, Bielak, France and Dubin is already approaching his 2022 innings total; Blanco has already exceeded last year’s workload. Urquidy has not yet begun a minor league rehab assignment.

Even with those injuries and workload concerns, Houston starters rank fourth in the Majors with a 3.74 ERA. Valdez’s outstanding year plays a large role in that collective figure, but Houston’s in-house rotation reinforcements have undeniably done a nice job in keeping the team afloat. With each rapidly approaching last year’s innings tally and with Valdez at least somewhat banged up, it’s natural to hear Brown express a desire to bolster the group.

In prior comments, Brown made clear that he’s not interested in parting with the top prospects in his system in exchange for rental players. Pitchers controlled beyond the current season could potentially fall into a different category, and if there are teams willing to put controllable arms up for sale, the Astros could be more apt to part with higher-end talent. Lucas Giolito, Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty and Michael Lorenzen are among the rental arms expected to be available, while more controllable trade candidates include Shane Bieber and Paul Blackburn. Righties Kyle Hendricks and Lance Lynn both have team options for the 2024 season, though Lynn could be trending toward a buyout. Marcus Stroman and Eduardo Rodriguez have opt-out opportunities this winter, so they’ll be treated as rentals, at best, by interested parties.

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