The Houston Astros have not exactly been lighting the world on fire this offseason. With their payroll already close to tapped out thanks to Jim Crane's reluctance to pay the luxury tax, Houston was never likely to make many significant moves in free agency without trading away at least one player who is owed real money. That may still happen, but the odds are decreasing by the day.
The one saving grace for the Astros is that the rest of the AL West also hasn't done all that much. The Rangers have concerns regarding their TV rights situation that have kept them from going wild after winning the World Series. The Mariners have had it even worse as not only do they have similar TV financial concerns, but they have actually been actively cutting payroll after general manager Jerry DiPoto put his foot in his mouth at the end of the season.
Despite their roster culling, Seattle remained adamant that they were looking to make moves this offseason to make the team better in 2024. After sitting out the early portion of the offseason, the Mariners struck on Christmas Eve and landed free agent Mitch Garver on a two year deal.
How do the Astros respond after Mariners add Mitch Garver?
The good news for Houston here is that the Mariners' gain does at least come at the expense of the division rival Rangers. In 344 plate appearances last season with Texas split between catcher and DH, Garver slashed .270/.370/.500 with 19 homers after missing almost two months early in the season with a knee injury. Despite his limited playing time, Garver was a key cog in Texas' offense into the playoffs and it is at least nice to see them lose some ground.
The overall picture for the Astros is decidedly less bright going into 2024, however. Their roster is aging, they don't have much money to spend in the wake of the Justin Verlander trade at the deadline, they lost a big chunk of their bullpen to free agency, and both the Rangers and Mariners are trending up. Texas' roster is loaded going 2024 even if they do nothing (which isn't likely) and has some young guys that are likely to be even better next season. The Mariners just added a power bat that they really needed and are likely to push to add another before the offseason is done.
Could the Astros blow everyone's minds and move a guy like Framber Valdez to free up payroll or trade for Dylan Cease and make a splash this offseason? Perhaps, but we are already past Christmas with little indication that Houston is moving with any urgency whatsoever. Right now, it seems like they would be lucky to add a couple bargain bullpen arms.