With Hader in the mix, what's next for Pressly?

January 21st, 2024

HOUSTON -- Once the Astros zeroed in on signing free-agent closer , general manager Dana Brown and manager Joe Espada made sure to call Ryan Pressly. That came out of respect to Houston's incumbent closer, who may be forced into a new role with the addition of a five-time All-Star in Hader.

Both Brown and Espada said Pressly was completely on board with the addition of Hader, whose 153 saves since 2019 are the most in the Major Leagues in that span. The signing of Hader is awaiting the left-hander passing a physical, but Brown and Espada addressed his acquisition at the team’s annual FanFest on Saturday at Minute Maid Park and how it impacts Pressly.

“I think Pressly’s been outstanding for this organization as the closer,” Brown said. “He’s been outstanding in the postseason. I think it’s very important that you be a professional and that you loop players in when you’re making moves.”

Brown said the deal to sign Hader a five-year, $95-million contract came together in about “72 hours.” The Astros have been looking to upgrade their bullpen the entire offseason with Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek hitting free agency and Kendall Graveman having season-ending shoulder surgery last week.

“We’re still in the market to get better,” Brown said.

Pressly, 35, has been the Astros closer since the 2020 season and is one of only four relievers to compile at least 100 saves in that stretch. An All-Star with Houston in 2019 and 2021, Pressly has saved 90 games over the last three seasons and is a perfect 14-for-14 in save chances in the postseason.

“Pressly is a pro,” Espada said. “He really wants to win. He’s a team guy. He’s all in. We had an opportunity to improve the team and he said, ‘Why not, if this guy can make us better?’ We made him aware and he’s excited about the fact we added Hader to the team.”

Pressly, who’s in the last year of a two-year, $30 million contract (with an option for 2025), is one of the most popular figures in the Astros clubhouse. He was on the mound when the Astros clinched the World Series title in '22 and had 31 saves in '23. His 107 saves are fourth-most in club history.

“I think that Pressly means so much this organization,” Brown said. “His leadership in the clubhouse, his leadership in the bullpen, the things that’s he’s done for this organization -- all of the postseason saves and all of the in-season saves. He’s just been a pillar, but I wanted to talk to him because that’s the right thing to do. He was a true professional. I hung up the phone and I was excited. This guy will do whatever it takes to win.”

Pressly attended FanFest, but a team spokesman said he didn’t want to be interviewed. Pressly’s teammates, though, were thrilled at the addition of Hader, who will combine with Pressly and Bryan Abreu to form one of baseball’s best bullpen back-end combos.

“We’re super excited to be on his team and be his teammate and welcome him here,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “Looking forward to a great year.”

Espada said he’d prefer for his relievers to have set roles, which means identifying a closer. He wasn’t ready to do that on Saturday.

“That’s going to play out itself,” he said. “We’re just excited to have Hader on the team. Our back end just got that much stronger. The ninth inning will play out.”

Hader turned in a stellar 2023 for the Padres, pitching to a 1.28 ERA in 56 1/3 innings. He held opposing hitters to a .163 average and just a .224 slugging percentage. Hader’s 36.8 percent strikeout rate was his lowest since his rookie year in 2017, but that still ranked in the 99th percentile of baseball.

“I think a lot of times teams will just sign guys and think it’s a business, but there’s a big human aspect we have here and I think the front office understands and Dana, being a baseball man and being around the game so long, understands that,” pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. said. “I think Ryan probably appreciated it and I think there’s going to be great opportunities for all the guys to step up and fill into their roles. If I know Pressly, he said he wants to win a World Series and do his part. He's great teammate.”