San Francisco’s bullpen has been one of the best units in baseball. As reinforcements await opportunities at the big-league level and the team’s closer, Will Smith, is set for free agency at the end of the year, they look poised to be active players on the relief pitcher market.
Aside from Smith, Nick Vincent, Sam Dyson, and Tony Watson are other middle relief/setup options that don’t factor into the team’s long-term plans and could presumably help a contender.
However, the Astros don’t have a particular hole in their bullpen.
In fact, their unit is one of the few superior to the Giants’ pen in every statistical category. Houston’s relievers have the leagues best ERA, FIP, and xFIP. Roberto Osuna has been a dominant closer, while Will Harris, Ryan Pressly, and Hector Rondon have all been excellent in high-leverage roles.
Obviously, Smith would improve the Astros’ bullpen, but there are many other contenders in bigger need of bullpen help that will be desperate enough to offer up more from a prospect standpoint.
When you’re the best team in baseball, there is only so much room for improvement.
The Astros starters rank among the best in baseball, but starting pitching is one thing that can move the needle. Recently promoted top prospect Corbin Martin could potentially form a dominant three-headed monster with veterans Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but there’s a limit to what can reasonably be expected from a 23-year old rookie.
This is where longtime Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner comes in.
He’s capable of helping every contender for two reasons. First, he is surely better than at least one starter in every rotation. Second, and perhaps most importantly, while the Astros may not feel a need to upgrade their rotation, acquiring Bumgarner would keep him away from potential competitors.
Bumgarner did place the Astros as one of the teams on his limited no-trade clause. However, that only serves to extract extra compensation from the Giants, not to keep him away from Houston. If the Astros make the best offer, they’ll get him.
The Astros system definitely has the necessary talent to acquire Bumgarner, but finding a match is a bit more difficult.
Right-handers Forrest Whitley and Corbin Martin and outfielders Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez are all good enough to get a deal done by themselves. It’s unlikely Houston would consider moving any of them for a rental, though. Even Bumgarner.
So where does that leave us?