Graveman expected to miss '24 after shoulder surgery

January 16th, 2024

HOUSTON -- The Astros’ need to add a relief pitcher to their bullpen became magnified Tuesday after the club announced veteran right-hander was expected to miss the 2024 season following right shoulder labral surgery performed last week.

Graveman, acquired by the Astros for the second time at last year’s Trade Deadline, posted a 2.42 ERA in 23 appearances for Houston in August and September but didn’t pitch in the playoffs because of right shoulder discomfort. The team said Graveman underwent a program of rest and rehab before returning to a flat-ground throwing program in preparation for Spring Training, but the discomfort in his shoulder returned after he began throwing.

“Any time you miss a season, I don’t care who you’re with or what it is, it’s tough,” Graveman said. “I’ve done it once before and it was not really fun. I will say I grew a lot during that season, last time, when I had Tommy John surgery in 2018. I think I came out of it better, but it’s tough in this situation, knowing the team, and I really respect all the guys and think there’s a great thing going in Houston.”

The absence of Graveman punches another hole in an Astros bullpen that has already lost 185 innings from last season, with Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek becoming free agents. They remain unsigned, and the club has had contact with the agents for all three about a possible return in 2024. Astros general manager Dana Brown said finding relief pitching has been the focus the entire offseason.

“We got some internal candidates that we really feel good about, but our focus is still the bullpen,” Brown said. “Everything else about the club is really good. I feel like we have some internal candidates that are good, but we’re still in the market for relievers. It’s still the same focus for us. We’re in the market for relievers.”

Graveman, who turned 33 in December, was set to enter the final season of a three-year, $24 million deal he signed with the White Sox after helping the Astros win the AL pennant in 2021. The surgery was performed by Dr. Keith Meister in Dallas.

“We had kind of known what was going on and thought we could avoid surgery, but ultimately, at the end of the day, we had to choose this route to get back healthy, and [I'm] thankful that everything went smooth,” Graveman said. “I think there’s a pretty clear path to what I need to do to get back to pitching in the big leagues one day.”

The Astros return a dominating setup man in Bryan Abreu and veteran closer Ryan Pressly at the back end of the bullpen, and the club is hoping veteran Rafael Montero (5.08 ERA in 2023) can rebound and pitch as well as he did in 2022 (2.37 ERA) in helping Houston win the World Series. That earned Montero a three-year, $34.5-million contract extension.

The quality depth and experience in Houston’s bullpen is thin after that, but Brown remains bullish on some of the internal candidates expected to compete for innings this year. That group includes right-handers Ronel Blanco, Seth Martinez, Forrest Whitley, Shawn Dubin, Declan Cronin, Oliver Ortega and Dylan Coleman and lefties Matt Gage, Bennett Sousa and Parker Mushinski.

The price of free-agent relief pitching remains high, so the Astros might be more inclined to trade for a bullpen arm at this point.

“If we can go get one more [reliever] and use some of the candidates in-house, we feel like we’ll be good,” Brown said.

Among the remaining free agent relievers on the market are Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader, David Robertson, Brad Hand, Michael Fulmer and Ryan Brasier. Brown said the club has payroll flexibility to add a relief pitcher.

“We have the payroll to do what we need to do to continue to win here. I don’t think that’s an issue at all,” he said.