The Astros made a splashy set of moves on Wednesday. Naturally, the TCB staff email thread overflowed with reaction.
After we got over the Taylor Swift stuff, we talked about the relief signings, too.
Here's some of our staff's thoughts on Houston signing Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, with an added question of what does this mean for super-prospect Mike Foltynewicz.
My emotions have gone from disappointed to ecstatic over just the first few days of the Winter Meetings. So is the life of most baseball fans though, I suppose.
Being completely honest, I was really hoping we would be able to reel in the big finish, who I felt was Andrew Miller. I was willing to go 4/$40, which seemed to be about where the front office drew the line. I was surprised they were even willing to add a 5th year option, reportedly. Although I was disappointed that we did not sign Miller, it seemed there were personal preferences from Miller that we just could not overcome (i.e. spring training is where he lives, so he gets to spend more time at home, or the fact that he preferred to stay in the AL East, since he had success there with the Orioles). No matter how much we could try, we simply could not change those facts. So although we offered more money, his preference is his preference, so I can completely respect that. I did walk away impressed with how aggressive the front office reportedly was. To offer the most years and the most annual salary? I think the rest of the league, agents, and players noticed that as well. Although we could not get to the finish line and ultimately sign him, I think the front office sent a positive message to the rest of the league, as well as to us fans. Maybe not, and perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I at least took resolve in it, right or wrong.
After two quiet days from the Winter Meetings; this morning happened. Luke Gregerson at 3 years/$18.5M is a valuable contract. He has been surprisingly consistent. I think playing in San Diego and then Oakland allowed him to fly under the radar to most. Heck, although I knew he was a solid bullpen arm, I did not realize exactly how good he was upon looking deeper into his numbers. He provides an instant upgrade the the big league team, which is something I believe many fans are ready for. Shortly thereafter, the icing on the cake was signing Pat Neshek to another very reasonable and valuable contract; 2 years/$12.5M. That provides the Astros with two very good relievers to team up with the incumbents Qualls, Sipp, Fields, Deduno, Chapman, Harris, and Veras (assuming we can bring him back at a reasonable rate). That list shows me both talent and depth. And even though I was among the biggest supporters and proponents of a Miller signing, I can objectively say that the duo of Gregerson and Neshek is probably more valuable to the Houston Astros than just Miller, or even just Robertson (and that is not even considering that the monetary cost is almost about the same, and the fact that it did not cost us a draft pick either!). I am optimistic and hopeful that the savvy, shrewd, and smart signings of both Gregerson and Neshek propels our bullpen from one that showed flashes of greatness last year, to a bullpen that is simply flat out great.
I am feeling better about this years bullpen "overhaul" for two reasons. First, there is something to build on. From 2013 to 2014, we were starting from scratch. Only 5 bullpen pitchers carried over from 2013 to 2014 (not counting guys who moved into starter roles), and a couple of them threw less than 10 innings total in 2013. All of them except Fields saw their workloads go down in 2014. Obviously not a lot to build a successful bullpen around. This upcoming season, in Qualls, Sipp and Fields we are carrying over 3 guys who gave us quality appearances in 2014. Adding Gregerson and Neshek, 2 guys with success at the big league level, should be a great boost for the team. David mentioned this in his post regarding how the bullpen would look in 2015. We seem to be going into the season with 75% of the spots filled (crossing fingers, knocking on wood, etc.).
Second, we didn't break the bank to sign one guy. I wouldn't have been against Miller if he had accepted our offer, but since we lost out on him we now have 2 players who have shown the ability to get batters out at this level. There will not be as many "trial and error" AAA callups like we have seen the last few seasons, There are only 1 or 2 spots to fill, and there are enough guys to fill them without stretching on a player that may not be ready yet, or is ineffective.
In regards to the Folty question, if he doesn't make it as the fifth starter, I think it would be a good time to start grooming him as a closer. Maybe he heads back to AAA to start the year, concentrating on controlling that cannon of an arm, then eventually moving him up to a closer role in the future.
After Hinch & Qualls both commented about how having one designated closer can help a bullpen, the additions of Neshek and Gregerson will make that decision even tougher. Throw in that Gregerson has bonuses tied to closing in his contract, and you have quite a strange situation. Qualls was very solid at the back of the bullpen last year unless his opponent was the Oakland A's. I'm all for Qualls remaining the incumbent closer until someone supplants him, except against Oakland. I hope to see Neshek pitching in high leverage situations against Oakland, who have slashed .154/.267/.154 against him. Granted that is an incredibly small sample size of 30 plate appearances, but one would assume that he matches up against the ground-ball pitcher destroying Oakland A's better than Qualls or Gregerson. I'd prefer Gregerson stay away from closing due to his higher "meltdown" rate compared to Qualls & Neshek. Regardless of who pitches in what spot, these are two excellent additions at a reasonable cost that will immediately make the big league team that much better.
As for Folty, I don't imagine he will break camp with the big league team. He didn't exactly blow away AAA last year, and his shot with the big league team didn't go much better. I think Hinch & Luhnow need to decide how Folty can best contribute at the major league level whether as a starter or out of the bullpen. My best guess is that it will be out of the bullpen, hopefully as a shutdown, fireball throwing closer. I hope he goes back to AAA for a few months to work on whatever it is that Strom tasks him with improving for a call up around June/July if he shows progress.
As much as I like Miller and Robertson as talented relievers, when the Astros were considering those signings, I pointed out that acquiring 2 good relief pitchers may be more effective at improving the bullpen than signing one elite reliever. The Astros already have an effective closer. The primary benefit of signing a late inning reliever is that it moves the lessor slotted relievers out of the highest leverage situations and bumps the worst two relievers off the 25 man roster. If you believe that the bullpen's worst pitchers would otherwise be below replacement or at replacement level, then it's possible that signing Gregerson and Neshek could add 2 - 4 wins. I'm not really concerned whether Qualls, Gregerson or Neshek is the closer-only that they will work high leverage innings.
I can't really answer the question about Folty yet. Let's wait and see if the Astros acquire a starting pitcher. If they don't, I think we may see Folty competing for the No. 5 slot in spring training, with a chance at being called up from AAA as a starter if he doesn't win the spot in the spring.
Are we seriously discussing having a different closer for one team because of 4 IP in 2014? To me, that's a mistake.
I don't love the idea of a designated closer in general, but I think it's a reasonable conceit to make to keep the players happy. And clearly, since the Astros are rebuilding the 2011 San Diego Padres bullpen, they still need to go out and get Heath Bell to close.
Overall, I like the shape, but the truth is (cue David Coleman) relievers are fungible. It's hard for me to get too excited... I mean, my favorite signing in 2014 was Jesse Crain, and we all know how that worked out. Granted, these situations are different, but I still can't get too worked up over it.
I've actually been a Pat Neshek fan since his days in Minnesota. He doesn't walk people (unless he's wearing a Padres uniform), and I think he makes an ideal setup man... in fact, I think a Neshek/Folty 8th/9th could be devastating because it creates a lot of difficult adjustments for hitters late in a game.
I really like the additions of Gregerson and Neshek, and I'll throw in the under-the-radar pickup of Will Harris as well. Considering the annual price tag of David Robertson or Andrew Miller, getting two relievers of similar quality for only a bit more than the price of one of those media darlings is a coup that makes me more excited than if the Astros had blown that whole wad on one high-profile guy. Gregerson was not only better than Robertson last year in terms of run prevention, he's been almost as good as Robertson for the last five years combined, and he's been light years ahead of Miller. He's also been healthy, which is not something Miller can claim either. Neshek was a legitimate all-star and finally had the season that everybody expected after breaking out with the Twins and then going down with constant injuries.
The reason I mentioned Will Harris though is because I was guilty of forgetting the Astros had claimed him several weeks ago. Harris has the chance to have the best strikeout rates in the Astros 2015 bullpen to go along with a minuscule walk rate that he's maintained his entire professional career. I still can't figure out by the Dbacks DFA'd him, but not much of what they've done lately has made a lot of sense.
I could see Foltynewicz being affected by these moves in a way that he and his family will find disappointing. He's young enough and green enough (in the majors) that perhaps the Astros can get some scouting-heavy front office to fall in love with the gas and overlook the fact that he doesn't strike out very many batters and walks a worrisome amount. A trade later in the off-season seems likely to me, with the alternative being Folty back in Fresno as a starting pitcher, trying to improve his command. But that's just a guess. There's so much talent it's hard to give him up and watch that talent flourish elsewhere. But after the bullpen spending frenzy, and with the Astros' competitive window beginning to open, and with guys like Sipp, Fields, Chapman, Downs, and Buchanan on the roster, it sure seems like Folty could be the odd man out.
P.S. Whoever "Greger" and "Robert" are...they raised some fine-pitching sons.
While the fan(atic) in me wanted something splashy, the logical person is even more satisfied with this. I was aboard with Miller, but the price was so high, and part of me was slightly happy that we didn't get ourselves locked into him. It was even more happy that Robertson didn't come here; I really, really didn't want to lose that pick over a reliever. Gregerson shouldn't be much worse than Robertson, in terms of actual wins and losses, and was a heck of a lot cheaper. Neshek strikes me as a slight overpay, but I'm fine with it; it's clear that that's what it was going to require to lure any free agents with other offers down here. I also get the feeling that Luhnow and Strom have plans for Neshek to help him avoid homers and improve his consistency.
To be honest, I was skeptical that Foltynewicz was going to be on the opening day roster before these moves happened. Now I see virtually no chance. I'd rather have Veras back, which seems like a real possibility. Heck, I'd rather have Buchanan and his solid, ground-ball-getting, multiple-inning-eating consistency. I think Folty is a reliever, and with his command, probably not even a great one. If the front office agrees, I see a great chance that they try to "sell high" while other teams might still have hope for him being a flame throwing starter. I'd say the chances he's on the opening day roster are virtually non-existent now, and there's a good chance he's dealt before then, too.
I will take a different, abbreviated track. Like most others, I like these moves, for basically the same reasons.
But I usually like every move my favorite teams make. I absolutely cannot be trusted to make unbiased judgments of acquisitions.
I think the problem is possibly that in a zero sum game, you're always trying to beat the odds. So even logically sound moves don't normally pan out.