After a bit of an uneven start to the season — not terrible, but not World Champion material really — the Houston Astros appear to have straightened things out, and are proceeding to rip ass through the American League. Currently, they're riding an 11-1 streak in their last 12 games, averaging 8.2 runs per game during that stretch. In short, things are good.
In a sense, the rich got even richer over the past week, as the Astros sent Collin McHugh to the bullpen, and called up Houston area native and former Texas A&M Aggie, Corbin Martin, from AAA Round Rock. Martin made his MLB debut on Sunday, and pitched 5-2/3 innings, giving up two earned runs and getting his first win as a big leaguer.
The reviews on Martin were gushing, first from his catcher, Max Stassi:
“I thought he did amazing,” catcher Max Stassi said of Martin. “He’s wise beyond his years. He’s very level-headed. No highs, no lows. Obviously, he has the stuff to pitch here for a long time. It was very, very impressive.”
And then from his manager, A.J. Hinch:
If there was a knock on Martin in the minors, it was that he didn’t miss enough bats. His 8.4 per nine in Double-A last season doesn’t align with the quality of his stuff. In his month in Triple-A to begin this season, he improved that number to 10.4 per nine. His pitch sequencing was an emphasis in spring training. Against the Rangers, he generated 10 swings and misses.
“His stuff is real,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, “and his demeanor is very advanced for someone who’s only been in pro ball for a short period of time.”
So, for a team that has found its stride and currently sits atop the sport's standings, this is a significant development, a possible solid rotation pitcher under club control for several more years. Sure, it's early. Martin pitches against the Red Sox this weekend, so this could all go sideways. However, let's pretend for a second that what we saw last Sunday against the Rangers was real, and that's going to be Martin going forward. The ripple effects are massive.
Let's list them here:
No need to make any more phone calls to Dallas Keuchel
Amazingly, Keuchel is still sitting at home waiting to sign a deal in free agency. According to Keuchel, he's had offers, offers that his agent Scott Boras has recommended he sign. However, Keuchel seems hellbent on getting a certain market value, and will not budge until he gets offers in that neighborhood. I wish him luck. Reportedly, the Astros had been keeping in touch with him about a possible return to Houston for this season, but if Martin (along with Wade Miley and Brad Peacock) give Hinch what he needs, they can hit "IGNORE" on Boras' phone calls.
Jeff Luhnow can be more measured in approaching Gerrit Cole's free agency
After working out extensions for Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander this past offseason, by my estimation, the Astros have three players for whom contract extensions should be under discussion — Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Gerrit Cole. They can't sign them all, and while Cole's status as a possible co-ace with Verlander intuitively might make him the priority, I think he's going to test the market, and could break the bank. If Martin can continue to develop into a reliable long-term solution, GM Jeff Luhnow can approach Cole's free agency as far less of an emergency.
Collin McHugh can settle into a role for which he's maybe better suited
Give credit to McHugh for handling his demotion to the bullpen with class:
“I was disappointed, mostly that there wasn’t as much time as I wanted to be able to get things turned around from a starting perspective,” McHugh said. “I would’ve liked to have had some more outings to be able to sharpen up and get back to form like I was early in the season. But the baseball decision was made. I think part of it’s probably a factor of the success I had in the pen last year and the versatility I can bring down there.
“But this is a really good baseball team. So, I would just reiterate what I’ve been saying the last two years, that being able to be on this team and help this team in any way possible is a privilege and I’m excited to be able to continue to do that. Obviously, there’s disappointment mixed in. But I know the job I have to do and I know what I can do to help the team.”
Fact of the matter is that this may be the best thing for McHugh, as he heads into free agency this offseason. He was outstanding in the bullpen last season, and I would think that you'd rather be a free agent as a highly functional bullpen piece than you would as a struggling starter. McHugh's last outing on Tuesday night saw him pitch two innings with four strikeouts. I'm rooting for Collin McHugh.
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There's less desperation at the trade deadline
If there's one thing we know about Luhnow, he will turn over every stone trying to make the Astros a better team. The Astros are believed to be among those teams in the best position to add to their rotation before July 31. If Martin can string together a couple good months, Luhnow might hold off on giving up assets for a rental in the rotation. For what its worth, San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, a postseason witch, named the teams he must approve a trade to earlier this week:
Madison Bumgarner’s eight-team no-trade list, per sources:#Braves#RedSox#Cubs#Astros#Brewers#Yankees#Phillies#STLCards— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) May 11, 2019
Bumgarner chose teams strategically; list comprised solely of contenders that might want to acquire him from #SFGiants, not teams he wants to avoid.
Martin's next start is Saturday night on national television (FOX, 6:15 p.m.) in Fenway against the Red Sox, so this post could be completely obsolete come Sunday morning.