Should the Houston Astros turn an eye toward improving their bullpen in 2018? The answer, not just for the Astros, but for every team in existence, is yes. If given the chance to even make a marginal upgrade at any place in a bullpen, grab it.
In this case, the Astros have a shot at two pitchers who could be quantified as “upgrades,” even for a World Series-winning bullpen, Greg Holland and Addison Reed.
One potential question going into 2018 is whether Ken Giles will be able to retain the role of closer. He was a stalwart at the back of the bullpen throughout most of the regular season, compiling 34 saves and allowing only 16 runs over 62.2 innings, but that all came crashing down around him in the postseason. The Astros now have to decide if Giles’ postseason was one of two things: an aberration, brought on by being over-pitched in the postseason; or a warning sign that his arm isn’t going to be as special going forward. This decision affects whether they will pursue Holland, an All-Star closer who probably won’t want to go to a team where he’s asked to share or relinquish the role.
Reed is a more likely addition for the Astros, where he’d slide into a setup role quite easily. Reed started the year closing for the New York Mets, but after joining the Red Sox he became the eighth-inning arm, a role he’d likely fill in Houston as well. The real question here is whether Holland or Reed would fit the Astros’ pen setup, and whom they would replace.
Of the top five arms in their bullpen last year, Houston only lost Luke Gregerson, retaining Giles, setup men Chris Devenski, Will Harris, and Michael Feliz, as well as swing-starter Joe Musgrove. On paper, at least, this team doesn’t really need to go out and get more arms. It is true, though, that the Astros’ pen took a beating in the postseason — but while the postseason is all-important, it’s also nothing like the regular season.
Over the regular season, the Astros’ pen performed adequately. They did have to do some juggling at times, thanks to injuries and suspensions, but Devenski and Harris rose to the top and provided solid innings. Musgrove might have been a spot starter, but he was also one of the team’s best relievers, and right now, it looks like he’ll be asked to contribute even more as a bullpen arm in 2018. There’s also the possibility that one of their younger arms, a Rogelio Armenteros or another upper-minors pitcher, will become an option in spring training — not a great situation to rely upon, but one that might be good if it happens.
The best plan for the Astros’ bullpen might actually be to pursue a starter, like Yu Darvish — who met with Houston recently, though it hasn’t been rumored as a likely destination for the right-hander.
Adding someone like Darvish would give Houston the leeway to bump Lance McCullers, Jr. to the bullpen. McCullers, an incredibly talented arm with some third-time-through-the-order problems, could be an incredible late-innings bridge for the Astros, and would easily be able to slide back into the rotation if and when injuries occur.
Signing Holland or Reed isn’t to be scoffed at, no, but if Houston could bolster the rotation, it would strengthen two areas at once. Even without that, this Astro team is still in a very solid position going into 2018, even as other teams strengthen around it.