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Astros were not going to sign big money free agent pitcher

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: Gerrit Cole speaks to the media at Yankee Stadium during a press conference at Yankee Stadium on December 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: Gerrit Cole speaks to the media at Yankee Stadium during a press conference at Yankee Stadium on December 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /
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Fans may be disappointed that the Astros did not sign a big name pitcher in free agency, but that was never going to happen.

Much has been made of the Astros‘ lack of activity so far this offseason. They brought back Joe Smith and Martin Maldonado from last year’s team and added backup catcher Dustin Garneau, but that’s been it so far.

Meanwhile other teams have gone shopping, causing the free agent market to move much quicker than it had the previous two winters. Essentially all of the top starting pitchers have already agreed to lucrative deals, leaving little in the way of impact free agents left at the position.

The Astros have a clear need in the rotation after losing Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley, but they elected to stay out of the bidding for the top starters. In actuality, that should come as no surprise due to their lack of payroll space, but also because it’s just not how they operate.

Not Their M.O.

Since Jeff Luhnow took over as GM of the Astros, they haven’t given out any large free agent contracts to pitchers. The largest deal given to one was the three-year, $30 million deal inked by Scott Feldman prior to the 2014 season, and that was when the club had payroll space to spare.

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Most of their top pitchers were acquired via trade. Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Roberto Osuna, Ken Giles, Ryan Pressly and Cole all played key roles on the team after being traded to Houston. Will Harris and Collin McHugh came via waiver claim, and others such as Dallas KeuchelLance McCullers Jr. and Jose Urquidy were developed in the farm system.

That’s not to say they’ve stayed away from free agency completely. They got a lot of important innings from Miley, Charlie MortonLuke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and Joe Smith. But none of those guys were given large contracts or even came close to the total guarantee the Astros gave Feldman.

There’s a reason Luhnow operates this way. The past two decades of baseball history have seen an inordinate number of large free agent contracts turn into albatrosses. There are plenty of examples — David Price, Kevin Brown, Johnny Cueto, Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, Yu Darvish, Jordan Zimmermann, Homer Bailey — and those are just the pitchers.

It’s hard to field a championship team and avoid large salaries, of course, and the Astros have absorbed big salaries for Verlander and Greinke. But they’re still effective and largely justify the salaries they get, so Luhnow has done well to avoid paying big money for little production.

Next. Best, worst free agent signings of past decade. dark

I would be surprised if the Astros don’t add another starter before Spring Training starts, but they’re more likely to do so via trade or by finding a diamond in the rough in free agency. Luhnow and Brent Strom have a track record of hitting the jackpot this way, so they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

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