There's been a lull in free agent spending since the Los Angeles Dodgers unveiled the cheat code for backloading contracts. Maybe it's the collective group of owners refusing to pay some downright ridiculous contract demands (Blake Snell 9 for $270M) or the onslaught of Regional Sports Network issues across Major League Baseball; either way, roster building has become a little more complicated for the non-elites. Another byproduct of this offseason is that teams are likelier to dish out one large contract and look for cheaper alternatives to round out the rest of their roster. That brings me to the Houston Astros, who just signed All-Star closer Josh Hader to a five-year $95M deal.
Josh Hader and a dwindling supporting cast
Don't get me wrong, Hader is a fantastic talent, but he is just one guy. A reliever who doesn't step up for the four, five, or six-out save, a la Edwin Diaz, but just got 'Sugar' money. That is why looking at the Astros' bullpen right now is essential, or better yet, let's take a peek at the relief talent that left the building in Houston.
The three-headed monster of Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek, and Phil Maton, who routinely locked down the middle innings for Houston, are all on the free-agent market. That trio of arms combined for a middling 1.5 WAR, but if you want to judge their effectiveness, look at the combined left-on-base rate (80.4%). Those three relievers were all in the team's Top 5 in LOB%, and now they are likely as good as gone, considering the money went to Hader.
Spotrac has a combined salary estimate for those key relievers of $15M, which is a low-end estimate, especially when reports have Neris, arguably the second-best reliever on the roster, wanting a multi-year deal north of $50M. There is no way the Astros can afford to bring back the entire bullpen, which ranked in the Top 5 in the American League last season. Another thing to remember is Kendall Graveman played a critical role for Dusty Baker's squad last season; he was just diagnosed with shoulder issues that will keep him out for the entire 2024 season.
Hinging your hopes on one big singing (Hader), a suddenly hittable Ryan Pressley, Bryan Abreu, who is due for regression, and a cast of characters shouldn't inspire confidence in Astro fans. However, Mariner fans should be tickled pink at the possibility of Scott Servais' lineup getting middle-inning at-bats against an unproven bullpen especially since they likely can't and won't bring back the arms that made a huge difference last season.