Astros look to ride momentum into Winter Meetings

December 5th, 2022

HOUSTON -- The Astros will head to the Winter Meetings in San Diego, which begin Sunday, without a general manager after James Click parted ways with the organization in the days following Houston’s World Series win over the Phillies.

That hasn’t stopped the Astros from being active in free agency, re-signing relief pitcher Rafael Montero to a three-year deal earlier this month and signing former White Sox slugger José Abreu to a three-year deal on Tuesday. Owner and chairman Jim Crane has spearheaded those signings with help from assistant general managers Bill Firkus, Charles Cook and Andrew Ball, as well as baseball operations advisor Jeff Bagwell.

Crane said he doesn’t expect to have a new GM in place until January, but the Astros should still be active in San Diego.

“We’ve got a few more holes,” Crane said. “I would say look at the catching, maybe another outfielder. You never have enough pitching. I think those are the spots that are very obvious.”

Key events

• Sunday, Dec. 4: HOF Contemporary Era ballot results released (Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro and Curt Schilling)

• Monday, Dec. 5: All-MLB Team announced

• Tuesday, Dec. 6: Inaugural Draft Lottery, AL/NL Relievers of Year announced

• Wednesday, Dec. 7: Rule 5 Draft

Club needs

The signing of Abreu fills the club’s biggest need of adding an impact bat to the lineup. Still, the Astros would like to find a left fielder. Free agent Michael Brantley hit .288 with 14 doubles, five homers, 26 RBIs and a .785 OPS in 64 games as the Astros’ primary starting left fielder in 2022, but didn’t play after June 26 and underwent right shoulder surgery.

The Astros are taking a wait-and-see approach with Brantley while showing interest in free agent Michael Conforto, a left-handed hitter who spent the first seven years of his career with the Mets. Conforto didn’t play last season while recovering from right shoulder surgery after slashing .232/.344/.384 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs in 2021.

Houston could also bring another catcher into their mix, while adding a relief pitcher, preferably a left-hander.

Potential trade candidates

The Astros have solid pitching depth, even with Justin Verlander reportedly heading to the Mets in free agency. But is it enough for them to consider moving one of their young, controllable starters to acquire another player? The team shopped José Urquidy this summer, but ultimately decided to keep the right-hander. The Astros have some relief pitching depth, too, with right-handers Seth Martinez and Phil Maton and lefties Blake Taylor and Parker Mushinski among those who could be moved in deals.

Prospects to know

The Astros will have a deep roster in 2023, but there’s opportunities for young players to make their mark. Last season, infielder David Hensley contributed down the stretch and made the World Series roster. Among the prospects who could make a similar leap in 2023 are outfielder Justin Dirden (Houston’s No. 11-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline) and pitcher Shawn Dubin (No. 20). Then there’s No. 4 prospect Pedro Leon, who could force himself into the center-field picture if he can refine his approach at the plate. This could be a make-or-break year for often-injured right-hander Forrest Whitley, the team’s No. 10-ranked prospect.

Rule 5 Draft

The Astros likely don’t have the roster flexibility to add a player in the Major League phase, but they have a few interesting prospects who are eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft. That includes 2021 Minor League Player of the Year, catcher Luke Berryhill, and outfielder Corey Julks, as well as the team’s No. 12-ranked prospect, pitcher Jayden Murray and No. 17 prospect, shortstop Cristian Gonzalez. Other prospects left unprotected include outfielders Jordan Brewer and Alex McKenna, shortstops Freudis Nova, Grae Kessinger and Alex De Goti, pitchers Brett Conine, Chad Donato, Nick Hernandez and Jayson Schroeder and catcher C.J. Stubbs.