Coming off a World Series title, there aren’t too many areas in which the Astros can easily improve. However, the bullpen could definitely use some extra help, especially after a disastrous October.
Barring trades, Ken Giles, Will Harris and Chris Devenski will return. Joe Musgrove could be an option as well if the Astros decide to make him a full-time reliever. This is a solid group, but clearly not quite enough.
Luke Gregerson, Francisco Liriano, and Tyler Clippard are free agents and probably won’t return. Tony Sipp is still under contract for next season, but you can’t count on getting any useful innings from him. Gregerson’s $6.25 million salary is coming off the books, as well as Carlos Beltran’s $16 million deal. The Astros should have some money to spend, even after accounting for arbitration raises for other players.
Time will tell how the Astros will address this problem. This would be my strategy if I were in Jeff Luhnow’s shoes.
Avoid signing a top-tier closer
After Giles’ series of postseason meltdowns, it’s easy to think the Astros should bring in a new closer. The two bona fide closers on the market, however, are not worth the expense.
Wade Davis had some otherworldly seasons in Kansas City, but his numbers trended in the wrong direction this year with the Cubs. He posted a career-high walk rate while allowing twice as many homers as he did in the previous three seasons combined. At age 32, it’s hard to justify giving him the four-year deal he’ll be seeking.
Greg Holland had a solid bounce-back year with Colorado, but he’s also entering his age-32 season. His home run and walk rates are uncomfortably high, and he’s had major surgery. He will also be seeking a four-year deal, and both he and Davis may command $15 million per season.
On top of the salaries, both closers also received and rejected qualifying offers, meaning the Astros would forfeit a draft pick by signing either of them. Giles actually posted better numbers this year, his October failures aside. Unless his psyche is damaged beyond repair, Giles should remain the closer in 2018.
Acquire two bonafide setup men
If the Astros elect to add to the bullpen via free agency, they could likely get two solid relievers for the same price as a top closer. There are some players available, both right-handed and left-handed. The team would do well by signing one of each.
Lefty Jake McGee has closing experience and would benefit from leaving Coors Field. Mike Minor burst onto the scene as a dominant lefty reliever this year and even closed for the Royals for part of the season. Tony Watson, who the Dodgers picked up at the trade deadline, is also available.
Right-handed options include Addison Reed, Bryan Shaw, Brandon Kintzler, Juan Nicasio and Brandon Morrow. Any of these pitchers could slot into a setup role for the Astros. They also have the benefit of being much cheaper than Holland or Davis.
The trade market is also a possibility, with names like Brad Hand and Dellin Betances possibly on the block. The Astros can replicate their successful bullpen remodel before the 2015 season when they signed Gregerson and Pat Neshek. They can get double the innings for the same money as one closer.
They would also do well to add a low-risk option in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. If Luhnow can add a successful reclamation project or solid lefty specialist, it would add even more. Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
***Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference***