Astros should sign this forgotten free agent to further cement contender status

Milwaukee Brewers v Miami Marlins
Milwaukee Brewers v Miami Marlins / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

One of the best pitchers in baseball is still sitting unsigned in free agency. Over the course of a seven-year career, Brandon Woodruff has gone 46-26 with a 3.10 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 10.4 SO/9.

Woodruff will miss most, if not all, of the 2024 season, after suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery. That led to the small-market Brewers to non-tender Woodruff heading into the final year of his contract as opposed to guaranteeing him millions to possibly not throw a pitch.

Woodruff was projected to earn $11.6 million in arbitration pre-injury, so he wouldn't have come cheap, but he's actually a signing that makes a ton of sense for Houston.

Jim Crane said last week that as long as he is around, "the window will never close." This is a chance to make good on that statement and keep the window wide open.

The Astros should sign Brandon Woodruff for 2024 and 2025

Now, let's assume Woodruff is in fact out for all of 2024. The Astros could get creative with the contract structure, similarly to what the Dodgers did with Shohei Ohtani, or even Houston themselves did on the Jose Altuve extension. While Altuve's contract is front loaded, with Woodruff done for the year and the Astros already over the CBT threshold, Houston could give Woodruff either deferred payments or a more back-loaded contract.

At the end of the 2024 season, Alex Bregman's $28.5 million salary comes off the books. Ryan Pressly's $14 million and Justin Verlander's $43.3 million could as well depending on their vesting options.

That's a lot of potential flexibility. And it's money that would be wisely used for Woodruff. The Astros signing of Josh Hader appeared to signify a new method of operation for the front office in Houston. They already landed the best reliever on the market. Now go land one of the best starters and stash him for next season.

He'd step in and immediately be the ace of the staff in 2025, with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, Hunter Brown, and Lance McCullers Jr. backing him up in the rotation. With JV again, Houston needs a no-doubt, take-the-ball-in-Game 1 arm, especially after Framber's struggles in the second half and postseason last year.

Woodruff would give them just that. The Astros would continue their run of a bona fide Cy Young candidate each year, and he'd give them their ace of the future with Verlander aging and Valdez likely moving on in free agency.

And if Woodruff did end up ready to go in 2024, they could either ease him back out of the bullpen, solidifying an already elite stable of relievers, or have a co-ace to slot next to Verlander heading into October.

While that's unlikely to be the case, there's nothing to be lost in 2024 by signing Woodruff, but much to be gained in 2025 and beyond.