“Controllable starters” is becoming one of the most commonly repeated phrases of the 2022 trade deadline, as far more young arms than expected are being made available to teams in need of starting pitching. ESPN’s Jeff Passan adds the Astros to the growing list of clubs that will at least entertain offers for young, cost-controlled members of their starting rotation, citing multiple GMs who’ve had trade conversations with the Houston front office. Righty Jose Urquidy would appear the likeliest of the bunch to change hands, per the report.
A trade dealing from the Houston rotation isn’t a given, but the ’Stros have plenty of depth to withstand such a move if it means helping them address other areas of need. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, Jake Odorizzi and Urquidy give them six viable starters on the big league roster, and that’s not even including Lance McCullers Jr., who’s on a rehab assignment and trending toward a return to the Major League mound.
Houston also has top prospect Hunter Brown tearing through Triple-A lineups, and righty Brandon Bielak (who has a bit of MLB experience already) is pitching well in Triple-A Sugar Land as well. Former top prospect Forrest Whitley, meanwhile, recently returned from a lengthy stay on the injured list and is building up in Sugar Land, too.
It’s unlikely that Houston would move any member of its current rotation for pure prospects — not when the team has a firm grip on the American League West and appears poised for another potentially deep playoff run. Flipping an arm they control for multiple seasons, however, could be a means of bringing in some help at first base, in the outfield and/or behind the plate. The Astros don’t know when or whether backup catcher Jason Castro and left fielder Michael Brantley will return — Castro from a knee injury and Brantley from a shoulder issue (neither of which the team has elaborated upon to the public). Manager Dusty Baker told reporters about a half-hour ago that Brantley, who’s been on the injured list since June 26, has yet to even swing a bat (Twitter link via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle).
Turning to the list of plausible names for the Astros to consider, it’s fairly logical that Urquidy might top the list. Garcia was the American League Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2021 and is controlled four more seasons — the most of any current member of the rotation — making him tougher to move. Each of Urquidy, Javier and Valdez are under team control through the 2025 season, but Valdez has stepped up as Houston’s No. 2 starter behind Verlander. Javier, meanwhile, is striking out nearly twice as many hitters as Urquidy and allowing home runs at a much lower rate (0.97 HR/9 to Urquidy’s 1.52).
None of that is to say that Urquidy, 27, is expendable or ineffective. To the contrary, he’s a former Top-100 prospect who’s appeared in parts of four MLB seasons now and pitched to a sub-4.00 ERA in each. He’s currently sporting a solid 3.93 ERA through 100 2/3 innings (18 starts). Urquidy is not and never has been an overpowering pitcher, evidenced by this year’s 18.2% strikeout rate and a career 19.8% mark in that regard, but he has some of the best command of any starter in the Majors. Urquidy is tied for the 12th-lowest walk rate among qualified big league starters (5.2%), and he’s tenth-best among 114 starters with at least 250 innings, dating back to his 2019 MLB debut.
Urquidy will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, as will Javier. (Valdez is in the same service class but already hit arbitration as a Super Two player.) His salary should only jump into the $2-3MM range for the 2023 campaign, and he ought to remain relatively affordable through 2025, his final year of team control.
It bears emphasizing that a trade shouldn’t necessarily be seen as likely. Houston is surely taking an opportunistic approach to the depth they’ve cultivated in the rotation, but the Astros also will surely have a high asking price on Urquidy or any of their other young starters — and understandably so. For as deep as the group looks right now, pitching depth is often fleeting, and the Astros can’t know for certain what the future holds for either Verlander or Odorizzi, both of whom have player options for the 2023 season (assuming Verlander throws another 13 2/3 innings to reach 130 frames on the year, that is).
For now, Urquidy can be lumped in with a mounting number of quality arms who could potentially be acquired for a decent return and controlled by his new club for several seasons. The Marlins are reportedly open to offers on Pablo Lopez, while the Guardians are willing to listen on Zach Plesac. They join long-obvious trade candidates like the Reds’ Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, and the Athletics’ Frankie Montas, as names to watch in advance of next Tuesday’s 6 pm ET trade deadline.