HOUSTON -- Astros general manager James Click hinted that the club is likely done making major moves this offseason after signing catcher Jason Castro and outfielder Michael Brantley to two-year deals to return to Houston in 2021. Those moves came on the heels of signing relievers Ryne Stanek and Pedro Báez earlier in January.
“I don't think that I can pinpoint a single area on our roster that we will be particularly aggressive about shoring up,” Click said. “We are having a lot of conversations with players that are still out there, as well as other teams, and sometimes we can address one area and then backfill with another move and try to recreate it that way. So there are innumerable options out there for us to chase down, and that's what keeps us busy and that’s what we'll be working on.”
Click didn’t rule out making some smaller additions, though the Astros have left the door open to a deal with free-agent closer Trevor Rosenthal.
The Astros lost star outfielder George Springer in free agency, along with outfielder Josh Reddick, relievers Roberto Osuna, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock, but they retained Brantley and added Castro, Stanek and Báez. Houston, though, will also get back veteran reliever Joe Smith, who sat out 2020 for personal reasons, and '19 American League Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez, the slugger who was limited to two games last year because of COVID-19 and surgery on both knees.
NEEDS PARTIALLY MET
The Astros began the offseason with two holes in their starting outfield with Springer and Brantley hitting free agency, along with Reddick. Kyle Tucker emerged as a force in the lineup last year and will start in right field. Though the club lost Springer to the Blue Jays, getting Brantley to return in left field was a big move for Houston -- a move that changed the tenor of its offseason. They also signed Stephen Souza Jr. to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training.
In a perfect world, the Astros would have added a veteran center fielder, too, but with their payroll sitting around $200 million, it appears the big moves are done. So what does that mean for center field? Myles Straw is likely to get a terrific chance to be the Opening Day starter. That’s clearly a dropoff from Springer -- as practically anyone would be -- but Straw is one of the fastest players in baseball. Houston’s lineup, which could have Alvarez for a full season for the first time, will certainly miss Springer, but Straw will need to make an impact with his speed and continue to grow with the bat.
The Astros now appear to have seven relievers locked into their 2021 bullpen, barring injury: Ryan Pressly, Báez, Stanek, Smith, Enoli Paredes and lefties Brooks Raley and Blake Taylor. Josh James is coming off hip surgery and will miss the start of the season, and Austin Pruitt is coming off surgery as well.
“If we don't go into the season with somebody who has a significant amount of experience closing the ninth inning, we still feel competent about the arms we have in the bullpen and the guys being able to step into that role,” Click said. “And again, every year there are new closers, there are guys who stepped into that role. I think that we saw young pitchers on our roster step into some big roles this past year, and maybe the next step for them is to step into an even bigger one in 2021.”
The signing of Castro to a two-year deal to join veteran Martín Maldonado gives Houston a solid group behind the plate. Maldonado started 46 of the Astros’ 60 regular-season games last year (77 percent), with Dustin Garneau serving as his primary backup. Castro will carry a much bigger workload in 2021, but he is looking forward to working with the respected Maldonado. Castro bats from the left side and Maldonado is right-handed.
“It is something that was a priority for us this offseason,” Click said. “We obviously feel good about the catchers that we had on the roster last year, but it's an area, like pitching, where depth can become a deficit very quickly. The physical demands of that position are obviously pretty strenuous. Adding somebody of Jason's character, his reputation, his knowledge of [pitching coach Brent Strom] and the pitching staff was a priority, so that makes me feel a lot better about the roster.”
Feb. 9: Cishek signed to Minor League deal
Cishek, who will get an invitation to camp as a non-roster invitee, has saved 132 games, which is nearly twice the total of the rest of the roster, with Smith (30) and Pressly (18) the only pitchers on the 40-man with more than five saves.
Feb. 6: Correa, Astros settle
The Astros avoided arbitration with Carlos Correa for $11.7 million, according to a source. Correa will headline a group of star shortstops in next year’s free-agent market.
Feb. 1: Souza signed to Minor League deal
Souza will compete for a backup outfield spot. In 482 career games, he has hit. 232 with 70 doubles, 71 home runs, 203 RBIs and 196 walks with a .416 slugging percentage and a .737 OPS.
Jan. 23: Pérez trade
The Astros created room on their 40-man roster, trading left-handed relief pitcher Cionel Pérez to the Reds for Minor League catcher Luke Berryhill.
Jan. 22: Castro signed
Castro, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Astros, returned to Houston on a two-year, $7 million contract and will split time with Maldonado. Humberto Castellanos was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man.
Jan. 15: Báez signed
Báez, 32, signed a two-year deal after playing the previous seven years with the Dodgers, appearing in 355 games in relief across seven years, posting a 3.03 ERA with a 1.096 WHIP and 131 ERA+. The right-hander threw 17 innings in last year’s shortened season and gave up six earned runs with seven walks and 13 strikeouts.
Jan. 7: Stanek signed
Looking for a chance to pitch meaningful innings on a team likely to contend in the AL in 2021, veteran reliever Stanek signed a one-year deal to join the Astros bullpen.
Dec. 2: Contracts tendered
The Astros tendered contracts to their three arbitration-eligible players: shortstop Carlos Correa, starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. and utility infielder Aledmys Díaz. They are considered signed players for 2021 at a salary to be determined.
Dec. 2: Pruitt signs
Lefty Pruitt, who wasn’t arbitration eligible, agreed to a deal for ’21 worth $617,500. He was acquired by the Astros last Jan. 9 and didn’t pitch in 2020. He underwent surgery on Sept. 2 to repair a hairline fracture by having a screw put in his right elbow.
Dec. 2: Sneed waived
The Astros requested unconditional release waivers on pitcher Cy Sneed, who is headed to pitch in Japan.
Nov. 20: Rule 5 Draft deadline
Right-handed pitchers Tyler Ivey, Jairo Solis, Peter Solomon and Forrest Whitley and infielder Freudis Nova were added to 40-man roster, and right-hander Rogelio Armenteros and infielder Jack Mayfield were outrighted. Armenteros was claimed by the D-backs and Mayfield by the Braves. The Astros also completed two trades with the Reds, sending right-handed pitcher Brandon Bailey to Cincinnati for cash, and sending right-hander Fredy Medina as the player to be named later in the Aug. 9 trade in which they acquired lefty reliever Brooks Raley.
Nov. 1: Raley’s option exercised
The Astros picked up Raley's $2 million option.
Oct. 30: Quartet elects free agency
Relief pitchers Osuna, Devenski and Chase De Jong and catcher Garneau cleared waivers and became free agents.
Oct. 30: Sanabria claimed
Right-hander Carlos Sanabria was claimed off waivers by the Royals.