Astros: Roberto Osuna could pitch in 2021, causing dilemma

The Houston Astros may have a tougher decision to make with Roberto Osuna.

What was once thought of as a fairly easy decision now might be a little more complicated. Talking to FOX 26’s Mark Berman yesterday, Houston Astros closer Roberto Osuna indicated that he has avoided surgery and is throwing, which means he could be ready to pitch in 2021.

The previous school of thought was that Osuna would likely miss most or all of the 2021 season, and Osuna himself admitted that the first recommendation he received was to have Tommy John surgery. But he said he got a second opinion which concluded he just had a forearm strain, so he shut down for four weeks and resumed throwing about three weeks ago.

If the belief was that Osuna wouldn’t be available in 2021, the Astros would have certainly non-tendered him this offseason. He’ll be a free agent after next year and should earn at least the equivalent of his 2020 salary ($10 million) in 2021 if the team keeps him around. The 25-year-old made only four appearances this year so is unlikely to get much of a raise in arbitration, but he won’t take a pay cut either.

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Non-tendering him would mean the Astros are on the hook for nothing, so they could save the money and let him go, or take a chance on him being both healthy and an elite closer. They don’t have an obvious replacement, so if they’re convinced he can contribute next year, it’s something they’ll have to think long and hard about.

Worth a Shot?

Is committing $10 million to Osuna a worthy gamble? For one, there’s no one on the upcoming free agent market who’s as good as he is when healthy. Ryan Pressly had mixed results this year, and though there are some promising young arms on the team, none of them are quite ready to step into the closer role.

On the other hand, you have the risk of him getting hurt anyway and wasting that money when you have players like George Springer and Michael Brantley hitting free agency as well. You could argue that money is better spent trying to retain one or both of them.

Then there are the off field issues, which are well documented. Osuna seems to have stayed out of trouble since the domestic violence incident that got him suspended in 2018, though frankly I’ve never been a fan of him after that. Still, it’s not as if the league-wide opinion of the Astros could get much worse, so as long as he keeps up the good behavior, the past may not matter much to the front office.

What does matter is whether it’s a worthwhile way to spend $10 million. Factoring in Yuli Gurriel’s extension, the team has more than $120 million committed to just eight players. That doesn’t include arbitration salaries for Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Aledmys Diaz. $10 million is a lot to spend on a guy who may or may not stay healthy.

In the alternative, they could take that $10 million and spend it on two additional relievers. Neither may have Osuna’s ceiling, but if they can be quality pitchers, it may be worth it. The team will hopefully have Joe Smith back next year to go along with Pressly and these promising young arms, so they may not need a whole bullpen makeover. One or two solid pieces may do the trick.

But they won’t be top tier closers, so the decision will likely rest on how confident the Astros are in Osuna’s health. It’s going to be an interesting choice to be sure, and it could play a huge role in shaping the team’s offseason.