This is the fourth of a six-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Astros' projected starters and backup options heading into the season. Up next: starting pitching.
HOUSTON -- The addition of veteran right-hander Doug Fister to a one-year deal last month rounded out the Astros' offseason moves, giving them another proven arm to add to what is the deepest starting rotation they've had in years.
Houston, whose starting pitchers ranked second in the AL last year with a 3.71 ERA, will rival the Rangers for the best rotation in the AL West, assuming Yu Darvish comes back healthy. Remember, the Astros began last year with unproven rookie Asher Wojciechowski in the rotation, and they gave 11 starts to Roberto Hernandez (3-5, 4.36 ERA), who is no longer with the organization.
"I feel comfortable that we not only are going to have five experienced, good starters on Opening Day, but we're going to have guys available early and throughout the season that can come up and help our rotation," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We love having Dallas at the top, and McHugh, a 19-game winner, up there as well. We've [got] some depth. Our three, four, five guys are good starters that can keep us in games every night. This rotation is such an important part of any playoff team, and we've given ourselves as good a chance as anybody at winning games based on our rotation."
Fister, who gets a base salary of $7 million and could earn another $5 million in incentives based on the number of innings pitched, spent the previous two seasons with the Nationals, going 5-7 with a 4.19 ERA in 25 games (15 starts) last year. He's coming off an elbow injury, but the Astros deemed him healthy. In 2014, Fister went 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA in 25 starts.
There's also concern with the health of Feldman, who missed the final month of the season with a sprained right shoulder and made only 18 starts. The depth is important, too, when considering Keuchel, McHugh and McCullers are all coming off seasons in which they pitched the most innings of their careers.
"At full strength, we've got some options," manager A.J. Hinch said. "Last year, we used 13 starting pitchers. I think the average was around 11. We're going to need every one of them."
Others in the mix include right-hander Brad Peacock, who was limited to one game with the Astros last year as he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in his back to alleviate pressure on a pinched nerve. Wojciechowski, Dan Straily and veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez will also compete in spring camp. The trades of prospects Vincent Velasquez and Mark Appel have opened the door for Francis Martes, Joe Musgrove, David Paulino and Michael Feliz to assume the mantle as the next wave of starters coming up in the Minors.