Pitchers and catchers report this week. Composite Getty Image.
With the start of spring training just around the corner, the Astros will look to continue their winning ways and make another strong championship run In 2024.
Several moves were made over the offseason to strengthen this team, which sets up a couple of interesting things for fans to keep their eyes on.
Alex Bregman’s future
Alex Bregman is set to become a free agent at the end of this season, and his contract situation can go one of two ways. The Astros could either extend him prior to the start of the regular season (like they did with Jose Altuve) or the organization can let this year play out and try to re-sign him during the offseason.
The latter would be the less desirable option, for Houston does not have the best track record when it comes to re-signing their players once they become free agents. Gerrit Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa were the most notable former Astros who left once their contracts expired.
That being said, it’s not entirely out of the question for a deal to get done between both sides.
Astros general manager Dana Brown said the team plans to make an offer to Bregman, but there's no timetable to do so.
“Look, we love Alex, we’d love to have him here.” Brown said. “As far as a timeline, we just don’t have it, but we will at some point make him an offer. We know how good he is and how good he’s been for this franchise. It would be tough to look out at third base and not see that elite defense.”
Since he was called up in 2016, Bregman has been nothing short of specular for the Astros. The 29-year-old played in all but one game last season and slashed .261/.363/.441 with 25 homers.
It would be hard to envision the Astros without their everyday third baseman, but Bregman’s asking price might be what gives the organization cause for concern.
Altuve was able to secure a 5-year, $125 million contract extension, which was viewed as a team friendly deal considering his age.
Bregman on the other hand will turn 30 in March and may be looking for a contract near $300 million according to some reports, way out of owner Jim Cranes’ confront zone.
Those figures would seemingly put the Astros at a disadvantage considering they still need to sign their other key players such as Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker, who are both set to become free agents after the 2025 season.
Houston will certainly offer Bregman what they consider to be a fair contract extension sometime before the start of the regular season, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see the two sides fail to come to an agreement as well.
Either way, the organization has some major decisions to make in regard to who will play third base after this season.
In the past, it would be unrealistic to expect the Astros to sign any player to a big contract, but their spending philosophy might have changed with their most recent free agent signing.
Josh Hader’s impact in the bullpen
The Astros made it clear they wanted to add pieces to their bullpen, so they went out and signed Josh Hader to a five-year deal worth $95 million, making him one of the highest paid relief pitchers in baseball history.
The 29-year-old left-hander is a five-time All-Star and went 2-3 with a 1.28 ERA last season with the Padres. The Astros didn’t necessarily need a closer, for they already have two great late inning relief pitchers in Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu, but adding Hader to the mix gives Houston one of the best late-game trios in the league.
Having multiple pitchers who can close out games is a luxury, and Houston can utilize all three of these players in different situations.
Abreu will seemingly be the main seventh inning relief pitcher and then Hader or Pressly can pitch the eighth or ninth inning depending on the circumstance.
It seems as though Hader would be the main closer going forward, but Pressly would be more than capable of being a setup man who can close games as well like he did during the 2019 season.
Houston’s bullpen depth will be a major factor to their success during the 2024 season, and their starting rotation could be another key contributor to their winning ways as well.
Astros’ starting pitching options
The Astros have no shortage of starting pitching options heading into this season. Players such as Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier are all locks to be in the rotation, but there could be some competition for the remaining spots.
Last year, Jose Urquidy, Hunter Brown and J.P. France were solid rotation pieces and are seemingly safe bets to be starters next season. Other players such as Ronel Blanco and Brandon Bielak could take the mound as well, but would likely only start in spot situations or if injuries occur.
As it currently stands, the Astros have a plethora of options they could use in their starting rotation, but could sign another free agent pitcher and see players such as Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia return at some point this season to further bolster their depth.
Garcia had Tommy-John surgery in May of last year, so he will likely not pitch again until at least the All-Star break, and McCullers has a less clear timetable to return to the mound.
The 30-year-old pitcher had surgery to repair his flexor tendon and remove a bone spur last June, which caused him to miss the entire 2023 season. When asked about his recovery time, Lance said he is hopeful to return sometime later this season.
“I know it's never really good to put dates on things,” McCullers said. “But I would like to be back or be really close to being back by July.”
A likely solution would be to add McCullers and Garcia to the bullpen once they are healthy. It would be a seamless way to manage their innings and further strengthen the Astros' pitching depth.
Dana Brown also made some comments about adding another starting rotation piece recently that could enhance this roster.
Astros GM Dana Brown on the 2024 club, roster flexibility and Jake Meyers in CF. pic.twitter.com/EqX64q8dSN
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) February 8, 2024
“I’m always in the market of saying, ’Hey, where can we find pitching? You know, where can we make it better?' I think our rotation’s good enough to get back to the World Series right now but I’m always looking to improve pitching because I know how guys get hurt during the course of the year.”
It seems unlikely the Astros would be in the market for one of the big name free agent pitchers like Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, but players like Michael Lorenzen, Hyun Jin Ryu and many others could be a viable option on a one-year low-risk, high-reward deal to solidify the back end of the rotation.
Adding another pitcher might not be necessary, but while the championship window is wide open, why not add more depth to solidify this championship caliber roster.