There were clear similarities in the Astros’ two major signings this offseason. We already discussed Carlos Pena, and the same logic was used in the decision to sign Jose Veras. The question is, was it the right decision to sign Veras, and what are the Astros expecting from him?
In the batting order the focus is usually on the leadoff man and then the heart of the order. The Astros have that covered with the aforementioned Pena, along with Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie, and Jason Maxwell. The rotation has an, at this point, veteran anchor in Bud Norris. So that left one last high pressure job; closer.
Last season one of the problems the Astros had, until Wilton Lopez stabilized the 9th inning, was the back end of the bullpen. Obviously that did not cost the Astros a playoff spot, but it easily could do some damage to a young team’s confidence. More importantly, not every pitcher is cut out to be a closer. It is a high stress job and can wreak havoc on a young pitcher’s confidence. Since the Astros are a rebuilding team they have a lot of young pitchers, so it is important to have a veteran pitcher in the back end of the bullpen.
Despite the fact that Veras only has five saves in his career, he does have experience pitching in high pressure situations late in games. Over the last three seasons Veras recorded 19, 27, and 11 holds respectively. That proves to me that despite the fact that his ERA is on the higher side for a back end of the bullpen option (3.75, 3.80, 3.63) he still gets the job done. More troubling with Veras is the large amount of runners he puts on the bases recording WHIP’s of 1.27, 1.24, and 1.51 over the last three seasons. A large factor in Veras being able to work out of trouble and maintain leads is his ability to strike hitters out to minimize damage. In each of the last three seasons Veras struck out more than a batter per inning (54 K/48 IP, 79/71, 79/67) which makes him an attractive option late in the game.
This was the perfect low cost signing. Veras can start the season as the closer and take the stress off of the plethora of young pitchers the Astros have. Attempting to judge a potential closer’s performance in Spring Training might be the most difficult thing. High pressure situations simply do not exist. Late in games is when the players with no names on their jerseys see playing time. You just cannot simulate what will happen when a high pressure situation develops in a regular season game. Thrusting someone like Jarred Cosart or Josh Fields into that role could have negative ramifications in their development. The acquisition of Veras takes the pressure off of them and allows them to gradually ease into high pressure situations.
Veras’ biggest impact will be the stability and veteran presence he will provide. Aside from the pitching aspect of it, his experience of coming out of the bullpen into high pressure situations should be a valuable resource for the other relievers. The Astros signed him to a one year $2 million contract with an option for 2014 that has only a 150,000 buyout. This is a very club friendly contract. There is essentially no risk here and he is a tradeable commodity later in the season to add to the Astros stable of prospects.
Currently the Astros do not have a clear closer option on their team. Veras’ presence does not hinder the development of any young pitchers, and in fact should prove to help them as it takes the pressure off of them. Since Veras does not have a history of closing, he very easily could return to a setup role without any issue. And because he was only signed to a one year contract, there really is no risk here. It buys time for a young pitcher to take control of the closer’s job while stabilizing the bullpen at the same time. This is another risk free signing that could prove to be successful for the Astros.