Wednesday, July 17, 2024

What’s next for Astros after Josh Hader deal? Three questions facing Houston with spring training looming

The Houston Astros made their biggest splash of the offseason on Friday, agreeing to terms with closer Josh Hader on a five-year contract worth $95 million. Hader will now begin his second stint with the Astros organization, having previously pitched with the club on the minor-league level. (He was later traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in a deal that obtained veteran right-hander Mike Fiers and outfielder Carlos Gómez.)

Hader is undoubtedly the most notable addition the Astros have made this winter — that distinction previously belonged to backup catcher Victor Caratini — but that doesn’t mean Houston can take off the rest of the offseason. Rather, we think there are still some questions the Astros need to answer before pitchers and catchers report to camp in about three weeks.’

Let’s take a look at three in particular.

1. Can they get any extensions done?

This is going to be a pivotal season for the Astros in many respects. It’ll represent the first under new manager Joe Espada. It could, at least in theory, represent the last for second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, and starting pitcher Justin Verlander. All three are entering the final year of their contracts, allowing them to test free agency next winter.

Since taking over the post, general manager Dana Brown has been public — arguably too public, given how negotiations work — about his desire to keep Altuve and Bregman in town for the rest of their careers. In our estimation, and only in our estimation, Altuve is more likely to remain an Astro heading forward based on his age and expected contractual demands.

Whatever the case, extension talks tend to heat up during spring training, with players and teams alike yearning to take care of business before the season begins. If Brown is to fulfill those desires and keep either/or both off the open market, he has a little over two months’ time to get deals done.

2. Any room in the budget for another bat?

The Astros’ projected lineup doesn’t have many holes. We do wonder if they might attempt to upgrade in either a corner outfield or DH spot, backfilling whichever position is not occupied by Yordan Alvarez on a daily basis.

The Astros might be content to enter the season with both Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers playing on a daily basis. The free-agent market does feature a number of interesting veteran possibilities, however, including Jorge Soler, J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner, and Joc Pederson

The catch is that Cot’s Contracts already had Houston’s Opening Day payroll projected for a franchise record $216 million before the Hader signing. The exact structure of his deal is to be seen, but it’s unclear how much further the Astros would want to push since they’re also expected to top the luxury tax for the first time since 2020. (And do note that they did not have to pay a fee that year, as MLB suspended the tax in response to the shortened season.)

3. Done with bullpen additions?

Earlier this week, the Astros announced that veteran right-hander Kendall Graveman will miss the season following shoulder surgery. In the aftermath of that news, Brown signaled that the Astros were active on the relief market, albeit, perhaps, only for one more arm. 

Hader certainly qualifies as a big addition. Might Brown and company decide to add someone else over the coming weeks? Bear in mind, three former Astros relievers remain available on the open market: Phil Maton, Ryne Stanek, and Hector Neris, who is rumored to be seeking a multi-year deal of his own.

As it stands, Hader figures to slot into the back of a bullpen that will surely include Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu, and Rafael Montero. The Astros have a slew of internal options they can use to fill out the relief staff, ranging from Brandon Bielak, to offseason addition Dylan Coleman, and beyond.

In other words, the Astros could stand pat. Will they? We’ll find out.

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