The Houston Astros' 2023 season ended in the ALCS and that means fans must turn their attention to Houston's offseason which is going to tell them a lot about Dana Brown's plans over the next couple of years. The Astros have a lot of their core returning next year, but they also have little wiggle room on their payroll and some fairly significantly open questions with their roster to address.
With that in mind, here is a quick breakdown of the forces in play for the Astros this offseason.
Astros Projected 2024 Payroll
Estimated 2024 Payroll: $225,338,113
Estimated 2024 Luxury Tax Payroll: $246,600,476
All payroll numbers and estimates come from Spotrac and are far from the final word. However, with the luxury tax threshold set at $237 million for the 2024 season, the Astros are going to have some tough choices to make this offseason. Assuming a world where owner Jim Crane isn't willing to drastically extend into the luxury tax penalty (which seems likely), it sure doesn't seem like the Astros are going to have a lot of money to spend in the wake of acquiring Justin Verlander and his $43+ million for 2024. They have to plan around the eight digit salaries that Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker are likely to get in arbitration and with comparatively little money coming off the books.
Astros Free Agents
The biggest name/salary that is likely not coming back is Michael Brantley and his $12 million salary. There is a chance that Brantley comes back on a cheaper deal, but he certainly has some questions about his future given his difficult injury recovery. One name to circle here is Hector Neris whose option was converted to a player option for $8.5 million. There is little chance Neris exercises that option given how well he pitched this year and how motivated Houston is to keep him will be a key question for early in the offseason.
Astros players eligible for arbitration
The Astros have a fair number of players eligible for arbitration for the 2024 season and more importantly, they have several guys that are going to be particularly expensive in arbitration. Kyle Tucker is in his second year of arbitration eligibility and is going to get $12-13 million. Framber Valdez is going to be right there with him. Then comes a slew of $3-4 million guys and once you add all of that payroll up, it is a pretty big piece of the pie.
Astros Offseason Needs
Other than the fact that the Astros need a new manager which is going to be at the top priority early on, the pitching staff (both the rotation and bullpen) are going to be hot topics. Houston's starting rotation is in a weird place as we don't really know what Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia are going to look like coming back from elbow surgeries or even when they will be ready to return. If their rehabs are going well, it wouldn't be that surprising for the Astros to make a modest move for a starter to hold things down until they return.
All of that said, the Astros do probably need to add a bullpen arm or two especially if Neris leaves in free agency. Creating some stability in the outfield, especially center field, and adding a backup catcher to keep Houston from being tempted to bring back Maldonado would be nice as well.
Astros players of note eligible for the Rule 5 Draft
The Rule 5 draft is a weird, arcane process that will occur at the Winter Meetings, but essentially minor leaguers are eligible for it if they aren't on a 40 man roster and have been in the minor leagues for 4-5 seasons depending on how old they were when they first signed. The idea behind it is to prevent extreme prospect stockpiling and give guys who have been around for a while opportunities to actually play.
Houston has a BUNCH of players that are eligible for the Rule 5 draft, but the above names are all players that MLB Pipeline has ranked in their top 30 Astros prospects that are eligible this winter. With some guys leaving in free agency, Houston should have the 40 man roster spots to protect a few of these guys. However, do so willing make adding new players all the more challenging.