HOUSTON -- The Astros were able to address one of their biggest needs prior to the start of the lockout by re-signing ace pitcher Justin Verlander to a one-year deal with an option for 2023, helping solidify a rotation that includes Lance McCullers Jr. and Framber Valdez. Houston still has work to do before the start of the season to round out its roster, but here’s a look back at what the Astros accomplished prior to Dec.
What deals have already gotten done?
The Astros made two moves prior to the start of the lockout, signing veteran relief pitcher Héctor Neris to a two-year, $17 million deal in November and bringing back Verlander for 2022 on a one-year deal worth $25 million (with a $25 million option for ‘23).
Verlander, 38, missed the entire 2021 season following Tommy John surgery that was performed on Sept. 30, 2020. Verlander started on Opening Day of the pandemic-shortened ’20 season and injured his right forearm. He rehabbed the injury the rest of the summer and suffered a setback late in the regular season, just prior to perhaps getting back into a game.
In 2019, his last full, healthy season, Verlander enjoyed one of the best years of his career en route to his second Cy Young Award. He made 34 starts and went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP in 223 innings. He threw his third career no-hitter and reached 3,000 career strikeouts, while whiffing 300 in a season for the first time.
Neris essentially replaces Kendall Graveman, whom the Astros acquired from the Mariners in July and lost in free agency. Neris struggled at times in the ninth-inning role in the first half of last season for the Phillies last year, but he found success once Philadelphia made him a setup man in July. The 32-year-old right-hander had 11 saves -- and six blown saves -- in the first half, then posted a 2.70 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 36 appearances in the second half.
Which players have the Astros lost in the offseason?
Relief pitchers Graveman and Yimi García, both acquired by the Astros at the Trade Deadline last year, have signed with other teams. Graveman signed with the White Sox and García with the Blue Jays. Lefty specialist Brooks Raley departed for the Rays. Starting pitcher Zack Greinke remains a free agent.
What’s up with Carlos Correa?
Correa returning to the Astros remains a possibility, though it’s probably unlikely. Correa has said he believes he’s the top free-agent shortstop on the market this winter, and the fact Corey Seager signed a 10-year, $325 million deal with the Rangers gives you an idea what Correa believes his value is. Also keep in mind that Correa recently switched agents, signing with Scott Boras, who negotiated Seager’s deal. Boras also represents shortstop/second baseman Marcus Semien, who got seven years and $175 million from the Rangers.
What is the biggest remaining need and who might they target to fill the hole?
With center fielder Jake Meyers likely to miss a couple of months into the regular season after undergoing surgery in November to repair a labral tear in his left shoulder, the Astros are looking for help at that spot. Don’t expect any big names here. Houston will be searching for a lower-priced free agent for insurance help in center if the club’s internal replacement -- Chas McCormick -- gets injured or doesn't cut it.
Are there any players they are looking to trade?
If the Astros can’t find a suitable free-agent outfielder, they could explore the trade market for a higher-caliber player. That means they’d likely have to give up one of their young starting pitchers from among a group that includes Framber Valdez, José Urquidy or Cristian Javier, but they’d have to be blown away by the return. Veteran starter Jake Odorizzi could also be traded if Houston can find a team to take on his contract.
What outstanding arbitration cases are on the docket?
On Nov. 30, the Astros tendered contracts for 2022 to each of their six arbitration-eligible players: Díaz, right-handers Rafael Montero, Phil Maton, Ryne Stanek and Josh James, and lefty Valdez.
By tendering contracts to those players, the Astros have them signed for the 2022 season with a salary to be determined. Díaz and Montero are arbitration-eligible for the third time and will be free agents after the ’22 season. Maton and Stanek are second-year arb-eligible, while Valdez and James are both arb eligible for the first time.
How many open spots are there on the 40-man roster?
When the Astros tendered contracts to their six arbitration-eligible players, they outrighted right-handed reliever Andre Scrubb to Triple-A Sugar Land. He will remain with the organization after clearing waivers. That leaves the Astros with 39 spots filled on their 40-man roster.
In November, the Astros added Peña, left-handed pitcher Jonathan Bermudez, right-hander Shawn Dubin and infielder Joe Pérez to their 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft. To make room for them, Houston outrighted two players -- left-hander Kent Emanuel and infielder Freudis Nova -- off the 40-man roster. Emanuel was claimed by the Phillies, while Nova went unclaimed and was assigned to Triple-A.