It has been just under a year since McCullers went under the knife to receive a replacement ulnar collateral ligament. There was never any urgency to his rehab, since it was exceedingly unlikely he’d be back late in 2019. That makes it all the more promising to see him already cleared to reach this level of activity.
McCullers still has over four months to work with before Spring Training opens next year. There are still plenty of obstacles to clear, but it seems reasonable to hope that he’ll get in the required work (along with some rest) and be ready to roll come mid-February.
The Houston organization is obviously still focused on the final game or two of the season at the moment. But the gaze will soon turn to a winter roster-building effort that will feature some tough choices from a financial perspective.
There’s particular need in the Houston rotation, which is set to part with top hurler Gerrit Cole as well as the capable Wade Miley, who threw a lot of useful innings before a late nosedive. You can do worse than a staff anchored by Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, though neither is a youthful hurler and there are questions after that point. Jose Urquidy was likely already ticketed for a spot before his impressive recent World Series outing, but he’s largely unproven and that still only accounts for three spots. There’s always talent to work with in Houston, but high-ceiling prospect Forrest Whitley and other options have even lesser track records than Urquidy.
There’ll surely be some kind of outside addition to ensure adequate depth, though it’s unclear how much cash president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow will be able to dedicate to that purpose. The status of McCullers will therefore weigh heavily on the Astros’ offseason planning and, perhaps, its fortunes in 2020.