Could Josh Hader’s record contract with Astros lead to versatile bullpen role?

San Diego Padres pitcher Josh Hader
San Diego Padres pitcher Josh Hader / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

The Houston Astros made one of the biggest moves of the MLB offseason after agreeing to a record-breaking five-year, $95 million deal with Josh Hader. The signing is the largest present-day contract ever given to a relief pitcher.

The Astros needed to upgrade the bullpen after losing Hector Neris, Phil Maton, and Ryne Stanek to free agency and Kendall Graveman to injury. Houston now boasts one of the best end-game trios in baseball with Hader, Ryan Pressly, and Bryan Abreu.

And while all signs point to Hader being the unquestioned Astros' closer heading into the 2024 season, FanSided's Robert Murray offered an interesting tidbit during The Baseball Insiders Podcast. Murray hinted that with a long-term deal in place, Hader could be open to different usage next season.

Josh Hader's contract likely mandates that he'll be the Astros closer

One of the biggest criticisms of Hader during his previous stints in Milwaukee and San Diego was his reported refusal to pitch more than one inning per outing. In fact, in every game Hader threw for the Padres in 2023, he accounted for one inning or fewer in all 61 appearances. Only once did any of those trips to the mound occur earlier than the ninth inning.

In 2022, the left-hander emerged from the bullpen on 56 occasions. Almost every one of Hader's outings that season came in the ninth inning and the lefty never went more than one frame each time he stepped onto the mound. The last time Hader worked more than one inning was on August 24, 2020 when he went 1.1 innings and got a four-out save against the Chicago Cubs.

Whether Hader's lack of multiple-inning outings and availability outside the ninth was his choice or his manager's decision has been up for debate over the years, but based on Murray's comments, those concerns could be alleviated now that the southpaw has signed a long-term deal.

The Astros certainly have more than just Hader at the back end of the bullpen. Pressly could perhaps receive some opportunities to close out games if Hader is used against an opposing left-handed dominant lineup in the eighth inning. Abreu could also get the call on occasion in the ninth inning, though with both Hader and Pressly, that would seem to be on the rarest of occasions.

Hader is arguably the best reliever in the game and, more times than not, will be handed the ball in the ninth when Houston has the lead. However, some four-out saves might be on the table for the left-hander. Or maybe emergency appearances earlier in the game down the stretch/in the postseason. Now that Hader got his payday, there's a chance he could be more open to that. If not? The Astros are paying him, so they might have final say with his usage.