Houston Astros Offseason Review: Notable Additions

Mar 11, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Ken Giles (53) throws in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Ken Giles (53) throws in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The most polarizing aspect of the Houston Astros offseason hasn’t been the players the team has resigned or let go.

No, the most polarizing aspect has been the new players that the Houston Astros acquired or didn’t acquire this past winter. While there was much fanfare if the team would make a run at top free agents such as Jason Heyward, David Price, Chris Davis, or Alex Gordon, nothing ever materialized as the offseason progressed. And the lack of increasing payroll is somewhat disturbing, but not entirely surprising.

However, the Astros didn’t stay completely silent during the offseason as the team added a few players to the mix. And since this post is about notable additions, only two names seem to qualify (in my biased opinion, anyway). After all, the following two players figure to play prominent roles with the Astros at the major league level.

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Notable Additions:

RHP Ken Giles

RHP Doug Fister

At first glance, it appears that the Astros have concentrated on shoring up the pitching staff for next season. The addition of reliever Ken Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies is one example. This acquisition was partly a response from the blown opportunity the bullpen suffered in the AL Division Series against the Kansas City Royals in Game 4. But what is often forgotten is that the bullpen started to suffer back in August and September. And adding a pitcher that can reach the upper 90’s on the radar gun with decent control is definitely beneficial.

However, the 25-year old has struggled this spring, allowing five hits and four runs in just four innings. There are also modest concerns about his decline in strikeouts and uptick in walks between 2014 and 2015. But when a pitcher has the type of stuff that he does, it is hard not to be excited to see what he can accomplish as an Astro. Anyway, adding Giles was a near necessary move to strengthen the ‘pen, even if it took a steep package of prospects to pry his services from the Phillies in return. It also doesn’t hurt that Giles is still light years, in a baseball sense, away from hitting free agency. So if he can continue to be close to the impressive pitcher that he was in Philly, the Astros may have one of the best relievers in baseball under contract for cheap. But there is definitely risk here.

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Unlike the Giles trade, bringing Doug Fister on board from the Washington Nationals is the type of low-risk, high reward moves that Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow seems to prefer. And while Fister won’t be counted upon to be one of the top three starters in the Houston rotation, he will provide a steady veteran presence from the get go as the club’s fourth or fifth starter. This signing now looks even better as it bolsters the depth of a rotation that will now be missing Lance McCullers at least for the first couple weeks of the 2016 season.

The key with Fister is his recovering velocity. Supposedly the major league veteran has seen his velocity reach the high 80’s to low 90’s this spring, which is quite the improvement from his average velocity last season. There could be some factors at play behind this recent development, such as improved health, conditioning, or mechanics. Of course, noticeable improvement wouldn’t be a stretch to see from Fister since he now pitches for the Astros and their pitching coach Brent Strom. And maybe there is something in his past that Luhnow and the front office noticed that could pay dividends in 2016. Regardless of the method, the improved velocity is something that should excite Astros fans. Also being on a one-year, $7 million contract, which is cheap by today’s standards, is a nice price for a reclamation project like Fister.

Next: Houston Astros Offseason Review: Notable Departures

Overall, the Astros made some interesting acquisitions. Giles was the big splash while the rest were mainly intriguing arms that could impact the team in some shape or form this season like Neal Cotts or Wandy Rodriguez. Adding Fister was a solid transaction to mitigate risk in the starting rotation. But this offseason somewhat feels like a missed opportunity from the Astros in certain regards. However, you can’t help but be pleased that this team added some useful pieces that could mean be the difference in 2016.

**Statistics and contract information provided by Fangraphs**