Astros right-hander Kendall Graveman underwent shoulder surgery last week and is expected to miss the 2024 season as a result, the team announced Tuesday. The team did not specify the nature of the procedure.
Graveman, 33, missed the 2023 postseason due to shoulder troubles. Doctors recommended a rest-and-rehab approach to the injury, and that proceeded well enough for the right-hander to begin throwing from flat ground as he ramped up for spring training. However, Graveman experienced renewed discomfort at some point upon resuming a throwing a program, leading to last week’s surgery.
Houston reacquired Graveman in a deadline trade that sent young catcher Korey Lee back to Chicago. The veteran Graveman had thrived with the Astros down the stretch in 2021 before signing as three-year, $24MM contract with the ChiSox in free agency. He returned to Minute Maid Park and posted a 2.42 ERA over 22 1/3 innings down the stretch. The performance wasn’t without its red flags, however; Graveman maintained a strong 25% strikeout rate but also posted an uncharacteristic 16.7% walk rate following the trade. Whether that was just an anomaly in a relatively small sample of an indicator that he wasn’t pitching at 100% can’t be fully known, but the end result is the same regardless of when the shoulder troubles initially became apparent.
The loss of Graveman is significant for the Astros. His acquisition was expected to fill a key role both in the 2023 and 2024 bullpen, but their relief corps will now be depleted further than anticipated. Houston has already seen righties Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek and Phil Maton become free agents this winter. With Graveman shelved, the setup bridge to closer Ryan Pressly becomes murkier. Bryan Abreu was brilliant in 2023 for a second straight season, but the rest of the setup corps is suspect.
Rafael Montero is entering the second season of a three-year, $34.5MM contract that looks regrettable after he limped to a 5.08 ERA in 67 1/3 frames during year one of the deal. The veteran righty did improve in the season’s second half, but it clearly wasn’t the year owner Jim Crane envisioned when signing Montero early last offseason before he had a general manager in place to take over for James Click.
Other setup options on the 40-man roster lack an established MLB track record. Each of Ronel Blanco, Bennett Sousa, Seth Martinez, Dylan Coleman, Oliver Ortega and Parker Mushinski has some MLB experience, but there are no proven options among the bunch.
For an Astros club that has seemingly been operating on a tight budget this winter, the Graveman injury is all the more problematic. General manager Dana Brown candidly acknowledged earlier in the offseason that he wasn’t working with much payroll flexiblity.
Graveman is set to earn an $8MM salary this coming season, and that money will still count against the team’s luxury ledger. Houston is right up against the luxury-tax threshold and ostensibly prefers not to cross that line. Perhaps that’ll push the team more toward the trade market if the plan to is to bring in some bullpen help from outside the organization, but an $8MM hit for a player who likely won’t pitch at all in 2024 is an unwelcome development for a front office that’s already been dealing with budgetary restrictions.