Of course the Astros are looking for a frontline starter. It has emerged in the last 24 hours that the Astros inquired about the White Sox' Jose Quintana. The White Sox asking price? Joe Musgrove, Francis Martes, and Kyle Tucker.
Let's run this down and see what we can see. We'll start with the Astros:
Joe Musgrove: After an excellent half-season in the minors that earned him a #32 prospect ranking, Musgrove was called up to Houston for the August 2 game against the Blue Jays - who drafted him in the 1st Round of the 2011 draft - and held them to one hit, striking out eight, in 4.1IP. In his next outing five days later, he held the Ramgers to one run in 7IP. Next up were the Blue Jays, whom he held to 6H/2ER, 7K:1BB. So after three Major-League appearances Musgrove sat at 18.1IP, 12H/3R (2ER), 21K:2BB. Unbelievable, yeah?
Yeah. He gave up eight earned runs in 5.1IP at Baltimore, which ended the "maybe he's the greatest pitcher who ever lived" talk. Musgrove ended the season with a 4.06 ERA/1.21 WHIP. He would strikeout 34 batters in the next 33.2IP, walking 14.
Francis Martes (aka Frankie Tuesday) is the Astros #1 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com. He spent the Arizona Fall League working on his changeup, which should give him an additional weapon in his arsenal. The 21-year old RHP spent 2016 in Corpus. He threw 125.1IP with 131K:47BB, a 3.30 ERA/1.21 WHIP.
Kyle Tucker is the #2 Astros prospect, according to the aforementioned MLBPipeline prospect list. He was the Astros 2nd pick (5th overall, after Alex Bregman) in the 2015 draft. In 101 games at Quad Cities, where he was 2.5 years younger than his competition, Tucker hit .276/.348/.402. When he got promoted to Coors Light (Lancaster), he hit .339/.435/.661 in an admittedly small sample of 16 games. He struck out six times and walked ten times in those games.
How does that compare to the White Sox' Jose Quintana? Quintana will be 28 next month. Musgrove turned 24 last week. In five seasons - the last four of which have been seasons of 32+ starts of 200+ IP - Quintana has a 3.41 ERA/1.24 WHIP. His ERA+ is 118. In 2016 Quintana ranked #10 among qualified starters with a 4.8 fWAR, yet his 3.20 ERA outperformed his 3.56 FIP/4.03 xFIP. That said, he is due just $14.8m in 2017 ($6m) and 2018 ($8.8m) with two team options in 2019 and 2020 worth $10.5m in each season with a $1m buyout in each season. That is $36.8m over the next four seasons - $13.2m less than Josh Reddick over the same amount of time - not a lot of money for a front-line starter.
The 2nd-Most Similar pitcher to Quintana is none other than Dallas Keuchel. 5th is Chris Archer. Will the 28-year old pitcher be worth more than Musgrove and Martes (and outfielder Kyle Tucker)? I don't know. In his five seasons in the Majors, Quintana has been worth a total of 19.7 fWAR - 12th among qualified pitchers in that span - more than Stephen Strasburg, more than Jake Arrieta, more than Yu Darvish, more - of course - than Dallas Keuchel (whose 2012-early 2014 struggles are well-documented.)
So the question is: Do you trade two potentially Really Good Pitchers and one Really Good Outfielder for One Established Really Good Pitcher? Or do you hang on to your assets - your #1 and #2 prospects plus a guy in Musgrove who has some MLB experience and performed pretty well, a couple of rough starts aside? It's not an easy decision.
Given the haul the White Sox have received from the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, there's no reason for them to not make the ask that Gammons leaked. Given their ask, there's no reason for the Astros to make the trade. Given the quality of pitcher Quintana is, they're justified in their ask. Given the promise of the three players in question, the Astros are justified in their refusal. Where the two teams go from here is up in the air. I can see the Astros revisiting this trade proposal in mid-July in regards to the standings and the performances of each player with another 90 games under their belts.
*Apologies to those expecting a clear-cut Yea or Nay.