With seemingly limited financial resources this offseason, the Astros are now navigating how to improve a roster without spending too much. It's an easier said than done kind of job. While the main core of the roster is only a year removed from winning the World Series, there were losses on the margins. That same core has also become increasingly expensive, especially as Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker become one year closer to their impending free agency. These factors, in addition to some questionable contracts last offseason, have left Dana Brown in a spot where he needs to add to the roster but do so in a frugal manner.
At this juncture of the offseason, Brown’s biggest acquisition will likely be Victor Caratini, who now assumes the backup catcher role behind Yainer Díaz. Assuming his average annual value (AAV) breaks down to $6 million per season for two years, Caratini is perhaps the largest financial commitment from the organization in free agency. With the CBT looming large over the organization for 2024, it is plausible that the Astros prioritize future flexibility, specifically at the next trade deadline.
With those considerations in mind, it hasn’t been a surprise for Brown and the front office to target players already on the fringe of major league rosters. While the bench arguably needs at least one more bat, it is the bullpen that requires the most work between now and Spring Training. As I wrote earlier this week, the Astros ought to find their next relievers, not necessarily buy. To the organization’s credit, it has done exactly that since the start of the offseason.
Pitchers Acquired By The Astros This Offseason
- RHP Oliver Ortega
- RHP Kervin Castro
- RHP Luis Contreras
- RHP Dylan Coleman
Including left-hander Bennett Sousa, who was claimed off waivers in-season during September, the Astros have taken a flyer on multiple intriguing arms in recent months. To be clear, when I use the term intriguing, it doesn’t mean that I think all of these pitchers will be successful. There is at least one reason why these pitchers are available in the first place. With that said, there is always the possibility that an organization with a positive reputation concerning pitcher development could unlock something to make one or two of these pitchers stick.
Of all of the recent pitching acquisitions, however, only one was through trade: Dylan Coleman. Acquired from the Royals for 20-year-old minor league right-hander Carlos Mateo, Coleman has had a history of success in the majors, albeit relatively brief. The 27-year-old right-hander posted a 2.78 ERA/3.88 FIP in 2022, striking out 24.6% of all batters he faced in 68 innings. Walks were an issue — roughly 13% — and he possibly benefitted from some batted ball good fortune at times (.247 BABIP).
Still, the results in those 68 innings back in 2022 were promising. With a four-seam fastball that could reach the upper 90s in addition to a biting sweeper, Coleman demonstrated why he had success. As long as his command was good enough, he had the potential to become a key cog in a bullpen.
We’re all familiar with Houston’s success in pitcher development over the past decade. We also know about the organization’s fondness for a four-seam and slider/sweeper combination as the one Coleman possesses. For a club that has lost two high-usage relievers in Héctor Neris and Phil Maton, Coleman’s skillset could be a boon for this bullpen. I wonder if the front office and coaching staff will have Coleman concentrate his four-seam location more into the upper regions of the strike zone to help enhance any deception with his delivery. He doesn’t possess quite the same ride or release as someone like Cristian Javier has shown, but there are inklings of that kind of profile here with the right adjustments. As with the clip above against Alvarez, a four-seam fastball touching the upper 90s or even 100 MPH with even a hint of deception is a real weapon against major league hitters. With that sweeper in place as a complement pitch, it is becoming increasingly clear why Brown chose to trade for Coleman in the first place.
Alas, for a club like Kansas City to trade a promising reliever with multiple cost-controlled seasons, there is usually a reason. Those good times in 2022 were not to carry into 2023, as the right-hander continued to deal with a general lack of command, with his walk rate ballooning up to nearly 20%. But a loss of command wasn’t the only issue for Coleman, who also saw his average four-seam velocity alarmingly decline by 2.4 MPH. Considering the degree of that loss in velocity, it isn’t a shocker to see his command suffer as well. With overall diminished stuff, the former Royal posted an 8.84 ERA/7.02 FIP in 18 1⁄3 innings at the major league level. It was more of the same at Triple-A Omaha, where Coleman walked 32 batters in 30 2⁄3 innings. With that said, the strikeout potential remained present, as he struck out 32.7% of his minor league opponents.
Whether due to injuries, mechanical issues, or some combination thereof, Coleman’s stock took a noticeable dip in 2023. For this trade to benefit the Astros and Coleman, they first have to rediscover his pitch velocity, or, at least come closer to replicating it. I speculate that the even shakier command was due to him attempting to compensate for that decreased velocity. If that velocity bounces back, I’d venture to state that his command gradually returns. With that said, the right-hander’s command was never fantastic to begin with, but that is a secondary concern for now compared to pitch velocity.
But, say if Coleman’s velocity returns, I am curious to see how the Astros adjust his offerings to better optimize his performance. It is worth noting that the right-hander’s spin rate for his four-seam fastball was in the 93rd percentile back in 2022 when his velocity was at its most optimal point. However, his active spin on his four-seam was only 80.5%. In other words, there was some wasted spin on his four-seam that I venture to speculate that the Astros want to help cut down. As I alluded to earlier, Coleman’s profile is a potential fit in regards to implementing some ride, or, rather, the illusion of ride, to his four-seam fastball. Again, if his velocity returns, he has that and the spin rate to possibly embrace that approach. He hasn’t demonstrated it in the past (-0.06 degrees VAA AA in 2022, -0.13 degrees VAA AA in 2023), but the potential is certainly present. Sometimes that is all you need to find another diamond in the rough.
Ultimately, this is the type of trade I wanted the Astros to make entering the offseason, especially in light of their limited spending capabilities, self-imposed or not. Coleman represents the kind of pitcher who could blossom with the organization’s guidance, especially as one with a positive track record in pitcher development. A low-cost, low-risk move to potentially help bolster a bullpen that has felt the effects of past successes leaving.