When the offseason started, it was inevitable that the Houston Astros were going to lose at least one guy out of their bullpen. Hector Neris sought real money for 2024, so he was clearly looking for a big-time deal that he ended up not finding with the Cubs. However, there was still some hope that the Astros would find a way to bring Phil Maton back.
Maton was a incredibly reliable source of middle relief innings for the Astros over the last three seasons. His strikeout rate right around 10 batters per nine is what you want to see, he was tough to square up, and he did all of it while averaging less than 90 mph on this fastball. One can only wonder what he could do if he was piping mid-90s heat.
Unfortunately, a reunion is not to be as it appears as though Maton will be heading to the Rays assuming that deal can get to the finish line. While the terms being discussed are not yet known as of this writing, it's unclear how bad a decision it was for Houston to not bring him back. And losing Maton puts a lot of pressure on former top prospect and newly converted reliever Forrest Whitley to fill the void.
Forrest Whitley has to step up for Astros after Phil Maton departure
Gone are the days when Whitley was one of the top prospects in baseball. A series of injuries as and a suspension for violating the league's drug policy hampered his development significantly. The Astros committed to making Whitley a bullpen arm and, honestly, that transition could not be coming at a better time for Houston.
Assuming he stays healthy (which is a big if), Whitley's stuff could really play up in the Astros' bullpen. When he was starting, he was hitting the high 90s with a plus curve and plus changeup. If he can not worry about having to throw five or six innings, he could do some pretty special stuff in those short stints.
While Whitley has loads of potential on the mound, the Astros are going to need him to actually deliver in 2024. With the losses of Neris, Maton, and presumably Ryne Stanek in free agency, the Astros had a lot of bullpen innings that just walked out the door. Bringing in Josh Hader is a strict upgrade over Neris and covers a good chunk of those innings, but he is just one man.
If Whitley can step up and stay healthy for all of 2024, the Astros will be well on their way to having one of the best and deepest bullpens in baseball this season.