Astros GM: 'We're not moving Bregman'

Whitley being considered for bullpen role

December 5th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dana Brown has been coming to the Winter Meetings for more than 20 years in baseball during his career as an executive and scout with the Braves, Blue Jays and Expos/Nationals. For the first time Monday afternoon, he found himself in a suite surrounded by inquisitive reporters.

Such is life at the Winter Meetings for a general manager -- a position Brown took over less than a year ago. While speaking from the Gaylord Opryland Resort, Brown reiterated the Astros’ need for bullpen help and a backup catcher while shooting down speculation the club was considering trading star third baseman , who will be a free agent after next season.

"I think most teams understand that we're not moving Bregman,” he said. “I don't know where this whole Bregman rush is coming from, but it's certainly not coming from us because we need Bregman. He's a pillar for this club.”

Bregman and star second baseman Jose Altuve will be free agents after next season, but the Astros are going full-bore in their quest to return to the World Series after falling one win shy of their fifth American League pennant in seven seasons in 2023. Brown said there’s been no recent extension discussions with Bregman and Altuve or outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitcher Framber Valdez, who are free agents after ’25.

“We haven't had any discussions with those agents,” he said. “I'm sure at some point we'll circle back, but we haven't had any talks."

Whitley an option in relief

The Astros’ need for relief pitching comes on the heels of Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek becoming free agents after the three right-handers combined to throw 185 innings last year in Houston’s bullpen. Brown said the Astros have been in discussions about bringing back Neris, who posted a 1.71 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 71 games in ’23.

Brown said he’s “not interested in overpaying in the reliever market,” which many believe the Astros did last year when they signed Rafael Montero to a three-year, $34.5 million deal. Brown said Ronel Blanco and Seth Martinez could grow into bigger relief roles next year, along with former top prospect , who’s been a starter in his injury-filled career.

“We have some internal options,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we're not opposed to going outside the organization if we have to, if there's some kind of trade we can do to get better. But we do have some internal options that we feel good about. The Neris [role] would probably be a little tougher. We're going to really need someone to step up because he's been so good for us. Even with him, we’ve talked to his people and had some conversation with him potentially being a guy for us as well. But we just don't know right now.”

Whitley, the 6-foot-7-inch right-hander who was Houston’s first-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, has thrown only 267 innings in his Minor League career thanks to a suspension, the pandemic and a series of injuries, including Tommy John surgery two years ago and a shoulder injury last season. Brown said the Astros will get a fourth option year on Whitley.

“I'm excited about him coming into camp,” he said. “I think we have a need in the 'pen and we're just going to use him out of the bullpen. He has a real chance. We hope we get the Whitley that we saw in the scrimmage game that we played earlier in the year, I think it was in March. We're hoping we get that Whitley. We think he has a chance with his power to pitch, you know, somewhere between the fifth and seventh inning.”

Update on Garcia, McCullers, Graveman

Brown said right-handers , who missed the entire 2023 season and had forearm surgery in June, and , who had Tommy John surgery in May, are targeting a July return to big league action. Both are throwing off flat ground -- Garcia at 60 feet and McCullers getting close to that.

“I did talk to McCullers the other day, and he feels really good,” Brown said. “We're excited about that. Hopefully at some point we'll get him back. That would be a great boost.”

Brown said veteran reliever , who made 23 appearances with the Astros last season following a midseason trade with the White Sox, has begun throwing after a shoulder injury kept him out of the playoffs.