Aside from some light chatter about a potential Alex Bregman trade, which seems less and less likely by the day, the Houston Astros have been all but asleep so far this offseason. It's not that they don't have needs; despite having a lineup that's just about a lock, the Astros, like many others, need pitching. For Houston, the most immediate concern is relief pitching to make up for the losses of Hector Neris and Ryne Stanek. With Winter Meetings now upon us, the Astros still have yet to make a peep in the direction of free agent or trade market bullpen candidates.
There's no shortage of available free agent relievers, but there is more of a lack of them as trade chips. Josh Hader, Reynaldo López, and Neris — and López has already signed with the Braves — headline the free agent crop, while Emmanuel Clase is perhaps the only elite closer who is confirmed as a player who is being shopped. However, pretty much anything can happen at Winter Meetings, so it wouldn't be entirely surprising if a few names that haven't been floated in the rumor sphere yet end up with new teams by the end of the day on Wednesday.
Without wanting to speculate wildly on who teams might make available in a high-stakes situation, though, which relievers should the Astros go after based on who they know is available?
Relievers the Astros should have their eye on at Winter Meetings
The previously mentioned Emmanuel Clase, who the Guardians are reportedly open to offers for, is the biggest relief ticket next to free agent Josh Hader. If traded, Clase could come cheaply, with the team who gets him assuming responsibility for a contract with three more years and $13 million more on it. Though no firm connections have been confirmed, it should be assumed that teams are flocking to the Guardians with interest in the Clase, and the Astros should be one of them. He could come up against current Astros closer Ryan Pressly, but the team could always adapt one or both to a set up role, or open Pressly to trade offers himself.
Despite his dip in performance this year — he pitched 72 2/3 innings this year to a 3.22 ERA in 2023, but threw the same number of innings for a 1.36 ERA 2022 — Clase is still an elite closer. If the Astros can afford to get him, assuming that the Guardians will be asking for a considerable return in exchange for him, they should at least try.
On the free agent side, there are a few more options. Josh Hader seems out of the question for the Astros, who wouldn't be willing to pay the astronomical amount it'll take to sign him. Another top option, Reynaldo López, has already signed a very comfortable deal with the Braves. However, a whole host of good options still remain on the board, among them Jakob Junis and David Robertson.
Junis did some of his best work in relief for the Giants this year, pitching 86 innings over 40 games and four starts and coming in in a host of different situations. He pitched 3-4 innings in relief multiple times, started, and closed for a final 3.87 ERA, a career best. His 10.05 K/9 was also a career best, and his BB/9 has stayed low at 2.20.
Robertson has been bounced around a lot in the past two years but, apart from the anomaly of a few poor appearances toward the end of the season with Miami, he's stayed steady. Between 2022 and 2023, he pitched for four teams but still maintained a 2.72 ERA across them, and is able to perform in a closer as well as in an efficient spot relief capacity.
Both could come cheaply for the Astros and give an combined 120+ innings over the course of a season if they stay healthy. The options for relief arms don't stop there — they also include Robert Stephenson, who's been getting a lot of interest, and Craig Kimbrel, among many other. No matter who Houston ends up gunning for at Winter Meetings, the bottom line is that shoring up their bullpen should be their first priority.