Until a couple weeks ago, the Houston Astros' bullpen was in dire straits. Hector Neris, Phil Maton, and Ryne Stanek were all free agents, and Kendall Graveman had just been diagnosed with a shoulder issue that will keep him out for the entirety of the 2024 season. Even if one was optimistic that both Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu were going to be awesome again, that still left a lot of innings to figure out how to cover.
However, the bullpen picture has improved significantly since then. The biggest move was obviously the decision to sign Josh Hader which made the back end of the Astros' bullpen among the best in baseball. Just like that, all of the internal options to fill the rest of the vacancies made a lot more sense and the situation wasn't nearly as urgent.
The front office does not appear to be leaving anything to chance, however. While they may like some of the young guys that are going to be competing for spots in the bullpen, the Astros went ahead and brought back Joel Kuhnel on a minor-league deal with a spring training invite and also signed Drew Strotman as relief competition this spring.
Astros add Strotman and re-sign Kuhnel as important bullpen depth pieces
Neither one of these signings is earth-shattering, but these are the kinds of moves that good teams make to protect themselves in the event of injuries or regression. How many times have we seen a team that looks great on paper implode as soon as a couple guys get hurt? Depth matters, and the Astros appear to be well aware of that.
In Kuhnel's case, he is a familiar face to Astros fans, as he made a handful of appearances with Houston after they acquired him last June. The Astros had designated him for assignment, where he then elected free agency. However, Houston must have liked his ability to get ground balls and throw hard enough to bring him back on a minor-league deal despite a questionable track record of performance in the big leagues.
Strotman is arguably the more exciting addition of the two. Strotman has bounced around a good bit, as he has seen time with the Rays, Twins, Rangers, and Giants organizations and has also dealt with injuries off and on, including Tommy John surgery a few years ago. However, he has some really tantalizing power stuff on the mound, with a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a slider that reaches the low 90s regularly. If he can stop giving up so many walks and stay healthy, there is a lot to like here.