Given some of the names that the Houston Astros saw hit free agency from their bullpen, their top priority this offseason has to be getting their bullpen rebuilt. Sure, it is possible that the Astros could figure out a way to bring back Hector Neris and Phil Maton, but Neris' price tag could be problematic coming off the 2023 season he had and there are no guarantees once any player hits free agency.
The problem, as is often the case, is that high end bullpen arms are going to cost real money and Houston doesn't seem to have a lot of payroll space to work with. The Astros are already right on a cusp of paying the luxury tax depending on how arbitration goes with guys like Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez goes and owner Jim Crane clearly doesn't want to pay anymore than he absolutely has to.
One potential solution to the Astros' bullpen quandary seems to have revealed itself, however. According to a report from ESPN's Jeff Passan yesterday, the Cleveland Guardians are willing to listen to trade offers for reliever Emmanuel Clase. If the Astros could find a way to pry him away from Cleveland, he would be a perfect fit.
The Astros need to try and trade for Emmanuel Clase before someone else grabs him
The Guardians' decision calculus here is fairly straightforward. Cleveland is revenue starved thanks to years and years of snuffing out any hope of sustained success and it looks like they are content to be a mediocre small market team that occasionally puts out high end young talent that they can move to other teams.
While Clase's contract is very team friendly as he is signed through 2026 and has $10 million club options for 2027 and 2028 (although those options do have incentives built in that will likely make them cost more), having a reliever of his quality on a middling to bad team is a luxury and Clase could fetch a big return for Cleveland to help them maintain a low payroll in the long-term.
For Houston, this should be a no-brainer in terms of interest. While Clase's 2023 season wasn't his best, this is still a guy that has been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball over the last few years and his ability to miss bats, get a ton of groundballs, and fill the strike zone hasn't changed. The jump in his ERA to a still good 3.22 ERA is more likely to be caused by some bad luck and playing on for a Guardians organization where winning wasn't always a priority than anything else. He is an absolute stud.
Where problems could arise is in how much it would take to pry Clase away from Cleveland. Given that he is under club control through 2028 including the first few years being VERY cheap in terms of payroll, the Guardians aren't going to let him go without getting top dollar for him. Houston would almost certainly be willing to throw Jake Meyers in a deal, but Cleveland is likely to want to pilfer a big chunk of the top 10 prospects in the Astros' farm system to even begin a conversation on Clase.
Could the Astros afford to make such a move? The short answer: maybe. The nice thing about the Guardians as a trade partner is that they may be more willing to take on prospects that are a little further away which would put a guy like Luiz Baez as an very interesting trade chip. Cleveland would also probably ask for at least one (if not both) of Jacob Melton and Joey Loperfido in such a deal with Kenedy Corona being an option as well. It would recall a big investment from Houston, but getting a deal done with set their bullpen up for success for the long haul.
Only time will tell if the Astros see the opportunity afforded to them and try to capitalize on it.