The Houston Astros aren't resting on their laurels after winning the World Series.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Monday that the Astros "have shown interest in free-agent righties Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta" and that Houston may "explore the trade market if a pitcher such as Tampa Bay righty Chris Archer becomes available."
As Rosenthal notes, pursuing a top pitching option makes sense for the Astros with Dallas Keuchel set to hit free agency after 2018 and Justin Verlander only under contract through 2019. Despite already having a payroll estimated at $138.7 million for the 2018 season, the Astros have a core in its prime and should be World Series contenders for the next several years.
Making a major financial splash now to land an ace makes sense if the Astros want to maximize their window of contention.
Both Darvish and Arrieta are coming off solid seasons. Darvish went 10-12 between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers with a 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 209 strikeouts in 186.2 innings. He was awful in the World Series, however, giving up nine hits and nine runs in just 3.1 innings, and there's the added complication of the racist gesture Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel directed toward Darvish during the series.
Arrieta went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 168.1 innings. By his lofty standards, however, it was a down year, as it was his worst ERA and WHIP and his fewest strikeouts in the past four years.
Rosenthal posed an interesting question: Is either Darvish or Arrieta really the right ace for Houston to pursue?
"Both Darvish and Arrieta are 31, and data-driven teams such as the Astros generally are wary of pitchers who might soon enter their decline phase," Rosenthal wrote. "The Astros, facing more pressing needs in their bullpen, also could address their rotation at a later time."
The Astros have some flexibility and don't need to make a major move in free agency. But since one of their presumed competitors for the next five years, the New York Yankees, made a major splash by landing outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, it wouldn't be surprising if the Astros were aggressive this offseason.