Valdez, 30, took something of a step back last year from a standout 2022 campaign that saw the southpaw post a 2.82 ERA while leading the AL with 201 1/3 frames en route to a top 5 finish in AL Cy Young award voting. Nonetheless, Valdez posted strong numbers in 2023 with a 3.45 ERA that was 22% better than league average by measure of ERA+ in 198 innings of work. That solid performance was backed up by a 3.50 FIP that largely matches his top-level run prevention numbers. Looking under the hood, Valdez posted a 54.2% groundball rate that, while well above average, was actually a career low for the lefty, who generated grounders at a 66.2% clip for his career entering 2023. That being said, he countered the increased contact in the air with the best strikeout (24.8%) and walk (7.1%) rates of any 162-game season in his career.
It’s Valdez’s third trip through arbitration, though as a Super Two player the left-hander will be eligible for arbitration a fourth and final time in 2025. The $12.1MM salary for 2024 is an exact match for the projection put forth by MLBTR contributor Matt Swatz back in October. The deal continues the streak of the sides avoiding arbitration throughout Valdez’s career. Last season, the sides avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $6.8MM salary for 2023, while the sides settled on a $3MM salary for the 2022 campaign in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
Houston attempted to work out a long-term extension with the left-hander last spring, though the sides ultimately did not come together on a deal. While it’s possible the sides could look to reopen those negotiations in the coming weeks, rumors swirled last month that the Astros were listening to offers on the left-hander from at least half a dozen clubs. Between those trade rumors and the impending free agencies of second baseman Jose Altuve and third baseman Alex Bregman, both of whom GM Dana Brown has expressed interest in extending as recently as November, it seems reasonable to think any talks of a longer term arrangement with Valdez could be on hold for the time being. In the meantime, Valdez figures to be paired with veteran ace Justin Verlander at the front of Houston’s rotation with the likes of Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, J.P. France, and Hunter Brown also in the mix for spots in the club’s Opening Day rotation.