As expected, the Houston Astros have been extremely quiet this offseason. From the moment that the Astros acquired Verlander at the trade deadline, most were well aware that the move was going severely eat into what payroll space under the luxury tax threshold the team had for 2024. The problem, of course, is that the Astros still have to have a bullpen worth a damn next season and they lost several key relievers to free agency this offseason.
The smart bet remains that Dana Brown goes with budget free agents and internal candidates to fill those spots in the bullpen. Jim Crane is not fond of playing luxury tax penalties and spending big on relievers can often backfire in a big way for any team given their volatility. However, one recent report suggests that the Astros could end up adding a top end relief arm this offseason and, well, the best one available happens to be a familiar face.
Houston adding Josh Hader isn't impossible, but it is definitely a long shot
Based on Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart's recent comments, it is possible that Houston could play in the deep end of the pool when it comes to adding a reliever. Given some of the question marks in the Astros' rotation, having a really strong bullpen isn't the worst idea in the world and there is a chance that Crane could be convinced that a move for a big bullpen arm could be the move that keeps the team in contention. Of course, there is a difference between talking about it and actually doing it and that brings us to the best reliever on the market in Josh Hader.
Over the last several years, Hader has established himself as one of the best bullpen arms in baseball with his ability to miss bats in high leverage situations. Sure, the 2022 season wasn't a good one for him, but he has been borderline untouchable beyond that. The biggest issue with Hader is the guy is looking to get north of $100 million in free agency which is a lot for any bullpen arm no matter how good they are.
As fun as a Hader homecoming of sorts would be, a lot would have to happen to make it a reality. Not only would the Astros have to be willing to potentially pay a bit in luxury tax penalties, but they would also probably still have to shed some payroll as Houston would probably still have to add multiple bullpen arms even if one of them was Hader. Theoretically, trading Framber Valdez could help that cause as would moving Alex Bregman, although the latter option was directly shot down by Brown earlier this offseason.
Given Hader's cost, it is more likely that Houston tries to unite with Hector Neris in all honesty. McTaggart's report did mention going after a high end bullpen arm, but also mentioned that that arm could help set up the backend of the Astros' relief corps. That is pretty much what Neris did with Houston to a T and he would certainly be a lot cheaper than what Hader is expected to get.
In short, would it be fun if the Astros went full circle and signed Hader after sending him to Milwaukee all those years ago in a famously bad trade? Of course, but you probably shouldn't get your hopes up.