The Houston Astros already had some real issues with their bullpen heading into the 2024 season before the news broke on Tuesday that Kendall Graveman was going to miss the entire season after having surgery on his ailing shoulder. The Astros had already lost Hector Neris, Phil Maton, and Ryne Stanek to free agency (for now) and that's a lot of bullpen innings for the team to cover.
Most would think that losing four bullpen arms would mean there would be a sense of urgency to actually, you know, add some bullpen arms at some point. Houston is fond of portraying themselves as a team that wants to contend in 2024 and beyond, and that goal is pretty difficult to achieve when the bullpen is half full.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like much has changed in terms of the Astros' position this offseason. When asked about the impact that Graveman's injury could have on Houston's plans to address their bullpen this offseason, general manager Dana Brown indicated that his plans remain unchanged even after Graveman's injury.
The Astros' passive approach to addressing their bullpen could be a disaster
For those that are looking for some good news, Brown did at least admit that the team has been looking to add a bullpen arm this offseason. They had been previously connected with Jordan Hicks before he signed with the Giants, and free agent reliever Robert Stephenson is still a possibility. While the Astros have yet to pull the trigger on a move, at least they have noticed that someone is going to have pitch out of the bullpen in 2024.
That said, it feels like Houston is grossly underestimating the gravity of their bullpen situation, or at least prioritized their balance sheet far more than putting a winning team on the field right now. Their rotation features an aging Justin Verlander, Jose Urquidy (who was banged up last year), and multiple guys potentially returning from major injuries. There's strain all over the pitching staff.
Unfortunately, this is Jim Crane's Astros and he's only ever going to go so far when it comes to spending, even if it means the team wins significantly fewer games next season. Maybe Brown is right that some of their internal options for the bullpen like Forrest Whitley will work out, but that's a dangerous bet to make. Brown correctly noted some players are being overvalued on the market, but betting on unproven relievers when there are cost-effective options still available is awfully risky.
Whether it's just posturing to get the best negotiating position, refusing to acknowledge ownership's motives, or flat out misunderstanding the state of the roster, Brown and the Astros aren't fooling anyone. They need a lot of help in their bullpen for next season and time is running out.