At the risk of sounding like a broken record for the eighth time since October, the Astros have to address their bullpen in some fashion or another this offseason. You know, I know it, and they know it. Based on the rumors circulating, general manager James Click appears intent on doing just that by Spring Training. I mean, a 12.4 percent walk rate in a shortened season doesn’t inspire much confidence for a possible full season in 2021. While the rookies did an admirable job with multiple veterans lost to either free agency, injuries, or opting out due to the pandemic, the lack of top talent in the bullpen was a real liability.
As currently situated, the Astros bullpen is headlined by Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith, and a bunch of names that you’d not recognize if you didn’t follow baseball closely last season. Yes, there were success stories (Brooks Raley, Enoli Paredes, Cristian Javier, Blake Taylor), which did fortify the club’s depth for the immediate future. That’s always a positive development for any club, especially when those players aren’t expensive.
But there was a lack of top arms to turn to when the stakes were high in the regular season or the postseason. In the Wild Card series against the Twins, it was clear that the Astros were aiming to keep the ball in the hands of their most trusted pitchers. Two relief appearances, for example, were handled by Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez for eight innings, both of who had experience as starters in 2020. The only “true” relievers used in that series were Ryan Pressly and Brooks Raley for a grand total of 1 2⁄3 innings. Much like the Nationals in 2019, the Astros used the postseason format to their advantage by limiting the number of pitchers utilized. That advantage did fade away in time, however, in each subsequent round, which eventually forced Dusty Baker’s hand in those series. The ALCS against the Rays stands out as that series eventually reached a do-or-die Game 7.
Enter this offseason where the Astros are looking at multiple relievers to help fortify their bullpen. Alex Colome is the latest name to enter the fray and he represents an intriguing option that Click is familiar with from their time together in Tampa. Liam Hendriks is the obvious target along with pitchers like Brad Hand and Trevor Rosenthal as noted by Mark Berman of Fox 26.
According to MLB sources the #Astros are diligently working toward signing multiple free-agent relievers, both at the top of the market and in the middle and among the relievers they’ve targeted includes Liam Hendricks, Brad Hand, Alex Colome and Trevor Rosenthal.— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) January 7, 2021
With anywhere from $35 to $37 million available under the tax threshold of $210 million, the Astros clearly have the budget to address the bullpen, especially if George Springer and Michael Brantley sign elsewhere. From what I can gather based on the rumors, the bullpen appears as if it is priority number one for Click with the outfield and backup catcher situations to figure out later. Odds are that the club is willing to spend more for a premium reliever or two then search for a bargain to address the outfield as Spring Training approaches.