While McCullers Jr. is expected to make a full recovery, his absence next season leaves another hole in Houston's already slim starting rotation. Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchal are free agents this winter, leaving only Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole remaining in a rotation that had the lowest ERA (3.16) of any staff in 2018.
Houston's depth chart lists Collin McHugh and Josh James as starters, but McHugh worked only as a reliever last season. James made his major league debut in September. He posted a 2.35 ERA with 29 strikeout in 23.0 innings pitched and earned a spot on the postseason roster.
McCullers Jr. landed on the disabled list on Aug. 5 with a right forearm strain. In 22 starts during the regular season, the righty recorded a 3.93 ERA with 138 strikeouts in 126 innings.
After a slow rehab, the Astros reactivated the 25-year-old on Sept. 24 to use him as a reliever for the remainder of the season. McCullers Jr. went on to pitch five innings of relief with a 1.80 ERA during the postseason.
Thankfully for the Astros, McCullers Jr.'s surgery comes early enough in the offseason that the team has plenty of time to make moves and prepare for next year.
Jeff Luhnow, Houston's general manager and president of baseball operations, addressed the club's options at MLB's general manager meetings Tuesday.
"I think our goal is going to be looking at all the different alternatives—including trade, free agency and our own guys—as a way to fill the rotation," Luhnow said, per the Houston Chronicle.