The Phillies are in need for a fifth starter to truly bolster their rotation. Could they look to add Lance McCullers Jr. from the Astros?
*Before this article even begins to enter the logistics of this possibility, it should be noted that there have been no rumors regarding this trade. The Phillies have not publicly reached out to the Astros about McCullers. Meanwhile, the Astros have not publicly displayed any desire to trade McCullers. This article is entirely a “what-if.”*
The Phillies are in dire need for another starter. Aside from also needing to resign JT Realmuto and DiDi Gregorius, Philadelphia has to figure out their rotation. The top of their pitching staff is stacked, with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. After that, a pretty significant drop happens. Zach Eflin is a streaky guy, who will really need to step it up as the number three this season. Spencer Howard had a bumpy first season, but will aim to be a stable fourth starter this season, if not better. And as much as I love me some Vinny Velo, he’s still… Vinny Velo.
There is one name out there that has not been speculated to be traded, but could be an interested name to keep an eye on. That name is none other than Lance McCullers Jr. of the Astros.
Lance McCullers Jr. has had a great career as a member of Houston’s rotation so far. He already has a World Series* victory (technically…). He was a key member of that championship run, earning All-Star honors that season as well, ironically also tossing his career worst 4.25 ERA that season.
Aside from his 2017 run, he’s been a stable third option for Houston. Entering the league in 2015, the right hander went 6-7 with a 3.22 ERA his rookie season. He maintained that exact same ERA in 2016, and improved his record to 6-5. Following his All-Star run in 2017, McCullers continued to improve in 2018. Here, he reached a 10-6 record as Houston’s #2, lowering his ERA to 3.86 in the process.
McCullers would end up needing Tommy John surgery immediately following the 2018 season. This would send him to the shelf for all of 2019, but he had a full recovery and came back nicely. During the COVID-19 derailed season, he had a solid 3-3 record and a 3.93 ERA behind Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander.
There is literally no doubt in anyone’s mind that McCullers would fit on this team. Not only did the Phillies draft his dad, Lance McCullers Sr. in the 1982 at #41 overall, but McCullers would just bring something to this team that they need:
McCullers has never been expected to be an ace for the Astros, and would have the same expectations as apart of the red pinstripes. He would slot in perfectly as the number 3 starter. He and Eflin are honestly pretty comparable, but Eflin as the four would make more sense for the Phillies. This would also move Spencer Howard to the five, which would relieve some of the pressure he may have in his second season.
McCullers would be a tough grab for the Phillies. Not only has he been a staple for the Astros’ rotation since entering the league, but he is expected to be their number 2 this season. However, the leverage the Phillies do have is that he’s on an expiring contract.
He and the Astros recently agreed on a 1 year, $6.5 million deal to avoid arbitration for 2021. However, he is set to be an unrestricted free agent immediately following the season. If the Astros, for some odd reason, start to struggle this season, McCullers could be one of the first names they dish out at the deadline.
When talking about deadline deals, the other team has to be somewhat competitive too. The Phillies have stood still in terms of offseason moves for the most part so far while the rest of the NL East has improved, which makes this possibility even more unlikely.
However, for the sake of optimism, if the Phillies could land McCullers it wouldn’t be as high of a price as we likely expect. I’d imagine that the Astros would want some outfield depth, a spot they need improvements with. They also do need a first baseman with Yuli Gurriel aging. Rhys Hoskins along with Mickey Moniak, Jhailyn Ortiz or Simon Muzziotti could be the main piece in a deal, while a bullpen arm and some money/picks could be the price.
Again, this is all just guessing and hoping that the Astros even want to move the right 27-year-old right hander. McCullers could just now be entering his prime season, and would be a great add for the Phillies. The Astros, though, probably want to keep their number two starter.