Astros could lose key reliever to Mets after overpaying Rafael Montero

It sure looks like one of Houston's top relievers could be headed elsewhere this offseason and it is the team's own fault.

Oct 20, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Astros pitcher Hector Neris (50) throws during the
Oct 20, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Astros pitcher Hector Neris (50) throws during the / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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If the Houston Astros address nothing else this offseason (which seems likely), they at least need to put a good plan in place to reinforce their bullpen. With Hector Neris, Phil Maton, and Ryne Stanek all hitting free agency this offseason, the Astros find themselves having to cover a lot of relief innings going into 2024 and without a lot of obvious internal options to do so.

Stanek's production was uneven last season, so replacing him won't be as difficult. Maton was a steady contributor in middle relief for three seasons for Houston and feels like the guy that is the most likely of the three to potentially return as he shouldn't be too costly. However, Hector Neris had an incredibly strong 2023 where he posted a 1.71 ERA and 2.5 rWAR in 71 appearances and losing him would be a huge blow to a bullpen that is going to be leaned upon in 2024.

When Neris declined his option going into this offseason, the Astros at least paid lip service to the idea of trying to bring him back despite their payroll limitations. Unfortunately, it looks like his departure is looking more and more likely as the current rumor mill suggests that his market is heating up with the Mets looking like strong contenders to sign him.

Astros could end up regretting letting Hector Neris walk this offseason

This is a bit of a weird situation as the Mets don't seem like an ideal fit to sign one of the better relievers on the market. New York has been vocal in not focusing much on competing in 2024 and instead looking beyond next season. If that is truly the case, signing a 34 year old reliever where one of his contract years will be essentially wasted is a bit dubious. That said, this is Steve Cohen we are talking about and he sure does like to throw his money around if given the opportunity.

The biggest issue here is that Neris' pending departure is a symptom of a larger problem for the Astros. After taking on Justin Verlander's contract at the trade deadline, Houston finds themselves with basically no payroll room to make even minor moves to sustain or improve their roster. Complicating matters is that the Astros committed $34.5 million to Rafael Montero before the 2023 season which makes further financial commitments to the bullpen even harder.

Re-signing Neris has felt like a tall order from the moment that he opted out given the demand for quality relief pitching. Whether it is the Mets or the Cardinals who have also been connected to him this offseason or any number of other teams, it is looking more and more like an Astros reunion isn't in the cards and the team has no one to blame but themselves.

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