The Astros have a Rafael Montero problem. After dolling out $11.5 million for the next three seasons, the Astros have ended up with the worst qualified reliever in baseball.
His 7.76 ERA and 1.82 WHIP are outrageously high, and simply can't be part of a bullpen trying to win a World Series. It may not be likely the Astros DFA him and eat the contract in year one, but a 15-day IL stint for a reset should be in the cards.
The Astros should trade for Pierce Johnson to replace Rafael Montero.
Now, a quick look at his Baseball Reference page likely has you saying, "absolutely not." If the Astros are parting ways with Rafael Montero because he can't get outs, what are they going to do with a reliever with a 6.39 ERA?
Well, let's do a deeper dive. From 2020-2022, Johnson was 7-7 with a 3.39 ERA and 12.1 strikeouts per nine. So what happened?
Simple, Johnson is now a Colorado Rockie. He's throwing in Coors Field half of the time. In 19 games in the notoriously hitter-friendly Coors Field, Johnson has an 8.66 ERA. In his 15 road appearances, his ERA plummets to 3.38.
Oh...so exactly the same pitcher he has been for the last three seasons.
A quick glance at his Baseball Savant profile makes the fit even more interesting. Johnson is in the 95th percentile in curveball spin, while possessing above-average spin on his fastball.
Opponents are hitting .247 with a .506 slugging percentage off of his curveball, but again, this is heavily swayed by Coors Field. He's holding opponents to a .181 xBA and .358 x SLG on his curve. He also possesses a slider that is rarely used, but is above average in both horizontal and vertical break.
The Astros are known renowned for developing sliders, from Colin McHugh to Ryan Pressly.
Johnson's batted ball profile mirrors names like 2021 Carlos Rodon and 2021 David Bednar. Bednar posted a 2.21 ERA in 2021 while Rodon's was 2.37.
With the Astros emphasis on spin, he would be yet another acquisition that arrives, throws the daylights out of his curveball, and likely develops and leans into his slider more.
Johnson is an unrestricted free agent getting $5 million this year, but with Colorado going nowhere fast, the Rockies gain nothing by holding him. His 6.39 ERA mean he's not going to be remotely expensive, which is great news for a team with a depleted farm system.
The Astros need a reliable reliever. If Johnson isn't at Coors Field, he's exactly that, and his pitch repertoire mirrors so many of the Astros targets in recent memory. There are bigger name splashes out there, but Pierce Johnson could go a long way towards helping the Astros bullpen depth.