Collin McHugh's 2017 campaign got off to an ominous start as an early-spring dead arm turned into a right elbow impingement, delaying his debut until July 22. He started 12 contests, providing a timely shot in the arm to the Astros over the second half. McHugh's numbers were an improvement over his disappointing 2016, in part due to allowing only seven homers in 63.1 innings. He also significantly improved versus right-handed batters (.694 OPS against in 2017 versus .777 in 2016), incorporating a slider to complement the cutter he throws versus lefties. McHugh's career 22 percent strikeout rate and seven percent walk rate are both better than league average, portending success if he can continue minimizing homers. McHugh will contend for a spot in a crowded Astros rotation, but the acquisition of Gerrit Cole probably means he'll start the season working out of the bullpen like he did during the 2017 postseason. Unless his role is clarified in the spring, don't pay for more than 125-130 innings.
McHugh will make $5 million in 2018 after winning his arbitration case Thursday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports. He made just 12 starts last season, but McHugh still pitched well when he was healthy, as he posted a 3.55 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in that span. As a result, he'll make $450K more than the Astros offered him in arbitration as he looks to bounce back with a healthy 2018 campaign. With no room in Houston's projected starting rotation, McHugh will use spring training to prove he's healthy and facilitate a trade to a team in need of a starter.
The Twins are considering acquiring McHugh, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic as are the Orioles, who contacted the Astros about the right-hander, according to Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports. When the Astros added Gerrit Cole to their roster earlier during the offseason, it presaged a likely move to the bullpen for McHugh, if he stayed in Houston. The 30-year-old went 5-2 with a 3.55 ERA over 12 starts in 2017 after missing the first half of the season with shoulder tendinitis. The Twins are in the market for another starter after learning they will be without Ervin Santana (finger) for 10-to-12 weeks, while the Orioles are looking to add to a rotation that currently has just two confirmed starters (Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman).
McHugh may start the season in the bullpen or could be a trade candidate following the acquisition of Gerrit Cole, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports. McHugh wasn't assured of a spot in the rotation before the Astros acquired Cole from the Pirates over the weekend. An elbow injury cost him the first half of last season, then he later missed time with a fingernail avulsion. Health will be an unknown until he gets to spring training. Given good health among the starters, Cole figures to slot in as a No. 3 or 4 starter behind Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, while Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton fill out the rotation. The best-case scenario for McHugh is that he proves himself healthy and is moved at some point late in spring training.
McHugh was left off the active roster for Houston's series against the Red Sox, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reports. McHugh will not be available for the ALDS as manager A.J. Hinch decided to leave the right-hander off the roster in favor of Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock, who are seemingly in line for Games 3 and 4 of the series at the moment. Although McHugh won't make an appearance against Boston, with rosters changing following every round, he could rejoin the active roster should the Astros advance to the ALCS.
McHugh struck out eight and held the Red Sox to three runs on five hits over six innings en route to his fifth win of the season Sunday in Boston. Even with the quality start, McHugh might be on the outside looking in at a playoff rotation spot as Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton may claim the final two jobs behind Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. Nevertheless, McHugh appears to be healthy entering the postseason after being limited to 12 starts (63.1 innings) during the regular season.