The Houston Astros‘ offseason hasn’t gone how we had hoped, but that doesn’t mean whatsoever that it was a failure. While Spring Training workouts started this morning, the Astros will have the opportunity to move two players off their 40-man roster; those being Justin Verlander and Josh James. These two moves could lead to one more possible signing, as Steve Cishek should be a lock to the 40-man roster as the expected closer.
We are less than a month and a half away from the start of the regular season, and this is the best time to evaluate the course of the Astros offseason. There were some failed signings that never happened for Houston, but that comes with the want for a higher priced check and the ability to spend. The Astros knew how much they were willing to spend, and as they have around $10 million left, there is a good chance they save this for the trade deadline.
Spring Training starts today, but are the Astros done signing players?
This offseason, the biggest move for James Click was the re-signing of All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley. Although the report of him joining George Springer was headlining major outlets everywhere, the Astros brought him back on a two-year deal. The idea of an Astros reunion with Springer was far in the rearview mirror come this offseason, as Houston wasn’t willing to spend big and long-term.
There were other small signings by the Astros that addressed smaller needs in bullpen depth and experience, but Houston didn’t land one of the big named closers on the market although being in talks. Cishek’s signing might look like Houston evaluating a former talent, but in reality, they agreed to a higher-priced minor league deal, so they wouldn’t have to restructure the 40-man just yet. It was a smart move by Click, and it shows the players on it now are ones that the Astros are valuing high.
The Astros were in conversations with closers like Brad Hand, Liam Hendriks, Blake Treinen, Trevor Rosenthal, who signed for $11 million with the Oakland A’s, and Joakim Soria, but these talks weren’t advancing in the direction that the Astros were willing to spend. Although Hand only settled for half a million more than his waiver costed early in the offseason, it shows how much the Astros are willing to spend in the remainder of free agency, which brings me to think Jackie Bradley Jr. is not signing as an Astro.
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Although being reported a few months ago, the JBJ fit and need has been a fan speculation ever since the chances of Springer not returning arose. While wanting to sign long-term and for a high price, Houston is not in the right place to sign the former All-Star. Prospect Pedro Leon is expected to make his arrival to the Major Leagues by either next season or 2023, and a long-term signing would not be the best option. Signing JBJ, at this point, would be something beneficial short-term, but in the long run, not help either side.
Next offseason will possibly be even tougher for the Astros, as they will have to deal with a bigger pool of free agents. There is talent among the Houston farm system, but experience is needed for a team to win. 2021 could be the last year for the Astros to fully contend, if they have a bad winter next year.
Although not being named the true closer, Steve Cishek is what I am speculating as the ninth inning guy for this upcoming season. There are other contenders on the list in Ryan Pressly, who was the closer in 2020, and Enoli Paredes, who could be the setup man or closer for the future. If the Astros go the traditional route and carry a total of 13 pitchers on their 26-man roster, then eight of those guys will be in the bullpen.
There are young arms contending for roster spots, after taking them on pretty easily in 2020. The for sure locks would most likely be Pedro Baez, Ryne Stanek (opener/starter help), Paredes, Pressly, Brooks Raley, Joe Smith, Blake Taylor and Cishek. This is a hard battle to address as it leaves Andre Scrubb out, after a great 2020 campaign. Control has been Scrubb’s only issue, as he will sometimes walk the bases loaded but still get out of jams. If he hones in on this struggle, there is a good chance he will be an All-Star, but know, he will see time at the MLB level in 2021 if he doesn’t make the Opening Day Roster.
It might come down to closer by committee in the end, but if my opinion on Cishek is true, then he will most likely get the most appearances on the bump in the ninth inning. Other players that should be in the talks are Pressly, Paredes and Taylor.
Although the Astros could be set, there are battles to be made among the bullpen arms and in the outfield. Experienced depth has been added across minor league or short-term major league deals this offseason, and the best way for the Astros to get the most usage when needed is to take advantage of the Sugar Land Skeeters being so close.