The Astros were already facing the loss of relievers Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek via free agency, and they’ll now also be without righty Kendall Graveman for the 2024 season after he underwent shoulder surgery. The team announced Graveman’s operation earlier today, declining to delve into specifics, but subtracting him from the ’pen equation leaves Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu and rebound hopeful Rafael Montero as the only Houston relievers with even three years of MLB service. The vast majority of Houston’s bullpen options have under one year of MLB service time.
“We’ve been focused on the (bullpen) anyway, this doesn’t intensify it,” general manager Dana Brown tells Chandler Rome of The Athletic. “We just may have to get one more body or one of our guys internally will step up.” Brown made similar comments to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, telling him that the Astros have some in-house relief options “that we really feel good about,” though the GM also conceded that he’s still in the market to bring in an additional bullpen arm from outside the organization.
The free agent market for relievers has dried up over the past couple months. As MLBTR’s Contract Tracker shows, there have been 34 relief pitchers signed to Major League contracts this winter. None have signed with Houston. Brown acknowledged to Rome that he’d had talks with the representatives for all of Neris, Maton and Stanek but wouldn’t specify much beyond the fact that he’s “more in the ballpark” with one of Neris/Maton than the other. Rome reported last week that the Astros haven’t pursued Maton aggressively, and he doubled down on that in today’s report.
While many of the top relievers are already off the board, there are still plenty of experienced names from which to choose if Houston is intent on adding a free agent. The ’Stros almost certainly aren’t going to spend at the necessary levels to add top-tier names like Josh Hader and Robert Stephenson, but more affordable options still on the market include Ryan Brasier, John Brebbia, Michael Fulmer, Mychal Givens, Adam Ottavino and Wandy Peralta — to name just a few.
“If we can go get one more [reliever] and use some of the candidates in-house, we feel like we’ll be good,” Brown replied when asked by McTaggart about adding another bullpen arm.
One of the primary questions for the ’Stros will be one of finances. To this point, the only free agent they’ve signed to a big league deal this winter is backup catcher Victor Caratini. That signing placed Houston within $1MM of the $237MM luxury-tax threshold, per Roster Resource. Owner Jim Crane hasn’t publicly declared any mandate to remain shy of that barrier, but the Astros’ lack of activity this winter, coupled with trade rumblings regarding some of their more prominent but expensive players (e.g. Framber Valdez) have combined to fuel speculation about a desire to avoid paying the tax. Houston has crossed the tax threshold only once under Crane’s ownership.