Earlier today, MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal reported that the Astros are still on the hunt for left-handed bullpen upgrades. That’s a logical target for a team that missed out on the likes of Zach Britton, Justin Wilson and Brad Hand prior to the non-waiver deadline, but bullpen upgrades won’t be easy to come by in Houston.
The Astros have their league’s best record, meaning any AL player that is placed on revocable trade waivers will have to go through the entire league unclaimed before Houston has a chance. And, any National League player placed on waivers will need to go unclaimed by every other MLB organization to make it to Houston. In other words: any clearly desirable left-hander isn’t going to make it to Jeff Luhnow and his staff.
Houston has had some success in turning scrap-heap arms into key contributors, though, as the presence of Collin McHugh and Will Harris on their roster indicates. They’ll need to hope for similarly good fortune in their 2017 efforts to add a southpaw, as there’s no longer a clear upgrade that Houston can easily acquire. With that said, here are a few speculative avenues for them to explore…
Struggling Left-Handed Starters
- Derek Holland, White Sox: Holland opened the season with impressive April/May ERAs that were backed by more dubious peripherals. He’s remained healthy but seen his results crater in recent months. But, he’s also held lefties to a dismal .216/.279/.333 line. A shift to a short-relief role would likely allow his 91 mph average fastball to trend upward, toward the 93-94 mph he used to average as a starter. Holland signed a one-year, $6MM deal this winter and is owed about $1.57MM of that sum.
- Wade Miley, Orioles: Miley was brilliant in his last start and has turned in three useful outings in a row, but the Orioles still may relish the chance to escape the money he’s owed. Miley is guaranteed $2.23MM through season’s end and has a $500K buyout on a $12MM option for 2018. He’s been rocked for a 5.17 ERA (5.09 FIP, 4.57 xFIP, 4.98 SIERA) but has limited lefties to a lowly .211/.326/.289 output.
- Brett Cecil, Cardinals: Cecil’s first season of a four-year, $30.5MM deal has been a disappointment, as he’s averaging three fewer strikeouts per nine innings in 2017 than he has in any of the past three seasons and also has his highest BB/9 rate since 2014. Lefties have clobbered him in 2017, but Cecil has a solid track record and a contract that is extremely likely to clear waivers (if it hasn’t already). He does have a full no-trade clause, which adds to the potential complications, and it’s not at all clear that the Cards will be looking to make any such moves now that they have fully joined the NL Central hunt.
Bullpen Reclamation Projects
- J.P. Howell, Blue Jays: Howell has missed most of the season due to discomfort and tightness in his left shoulder, but returned earlier this month and has made three appearances in August. Despite a mostly solid four-year run with the Dodgers, Howell settled for a one-year deal worth $3MM this winter. He averaged just 85 mph on his fastball earlier this year but has added another mile or so to that total since returning. Howell thrived with just an 86-87 mph average heater in L.A., so he’s had success at this velo level before.
- Aaron Loup, Blue Jays: Loup is missing bats and has a ground-ball rate north of 55 percent, but his BB/9 rate is up from 2.5 in 2016 to 4.6 in 2017. He hasn’t had especially dominant numbers against lefties since an excellent 2012-14 run, but lefties that miss bats and have a chance to pass a decent ways through waivers are few and far between. Loup is earning $1.125MM in 2017 and can be controlled through 2018 via arbitration. Though he carries only a 4.62 ERA over the past three seasons, it’s at best questionable whether he’d make it to Houston on the wire.
- Ian Krol, Braves: Krol posted a 3.18 ERA with 9.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 56 percent grounder rate as recently as 2016, but he’s had a disastrous 2017. Krol’s K/9 rate is down to 8.2, while his BB/9 rate has nearly doubled to 4.2. His gaudy ground-ball rate has plummeted to 40.2 percent as well. The 26-year-old has been clobbered by righties and lefties alike, but he can be controlled through 2020. His recent success and those years of control could lead a team to place a claim before he gets to Houston, though.
- Josh Edgin, Mets: Edgin was already outrighted off the 40-man roster, so he needn’t clear revocable waivers to move. The 30-year-old’s K/BB numbers took a nosedive in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, though he did post a passable 3.65 ERA in 37 innings this year. However, even with that palatable earned run average, he still went unclaimed when placed on outright waivers in early August.
Solid Results, Limited Track Record
- Daniel Coulombe, Athletics: Coulombe has posted quality FIP marks in the past but has never gotten his bottom-line results to line up with those indicators until 2017. Soon to turn 28, Coulombe has a 3.63 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 53.9 percent ground-ball rate in 39 2/3 innings.
- Daniel Stumpf, Tigers: Stumpf turned in a nice performance in Triple-A, and while his strikeout totals haven’t carried over to the bigs, he’s been a useful ’pen piece in small sample. Through 22 1/3 innings, the former Rule 5 pick has a 2.78 ERA, though his secondary stats don’t support that mark. Stumpf has averaged 7.9 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 against a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate. He can be controlled through 2022, though he comes with an 80-game PED suspension on his record.
- Sam Freeman, Braves: It may not be all that likely that the 30-year-old Freeman would get anywhere close to the Astros on the waiver wire. He’s having a nice season, with a 3.43 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 59 percent ground-ball rate in 42 innings. He’s also controlled through the 2020 campaign. He’s bounced around the league via minor trades in recent years and signed a minor league deal this past winter, but his 2017 performance would almost certainly lead to more interest than he’s generated in the past.