Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Offseason checklist: Astros' needs and moves

@brianmctaggart
January 15, 2020

HOUSTON -- A relatively quiet offseason for the Astros in terms of player transactions has been overshadowed by turmoil in the front office, culminating with manager AJ Hinch and president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow being dismissed in the wake of MLB’s report into the sign-stealing scandal.

HOUSTON -- A relatively quiet offseason for the Astros in terms of player transactions has been overshadowed by turmoil in the front office, culminating with manager AJ Hinch and president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow being dismissed in the wake of MLB’s report into the sign-stealing scandal.

The Astros, who won 107 games but lost to the Nationals in seven games in the World Series, will look to put any controversies behind them in 2020, with a team that’s built to win another AL West title and contend for a World Series title. First, they will have to replace Luhnow and Hinch, and it’s expected the club will try to have both chairs filled by early February.

The Astros, with a record payroll that’s set to exceed the luxury tax threshold for the first time in 2020, faced significant financial limitations while addressing the few holes they had entering '20. Here’s a look at what the Astros did this offseason:

NEEDS ADDRESSED

Catching
Both of Houston’s primary catchers in 2019 -- Robinson Chirinos and Martín Maldonado -- were free agents. The Astros brought back Maldonado, in addition to signing Dustin Garneau, while Chirinos was reunited with the Rangers. It appears Houston will hit '20 with Maldonado and Garneau as its catchers, with Garrett Stubbs in the mix. Stubbs has also played the outfield and will play some infield this spring to expand his versatility.

Relief pitching
The Astros brought back sidearm thrower Joe Smith to add to the bullpen that will include 2019 All-Star Ryan Pressly, whose second half was derailed by a knee surgery, as well as closer Roberto Osuna, Josh James, Brad Peacock, Joe Biagini, Chris Devenski and Bryan Abreu. Will Harris will not return, as he signed with the Nationals. The Astros will also give a look to 24-year-old Blake Taylor, who was acquired from the Mets in the Jake Marisnick deal.

Starting pitching
A pair of former Cy Young Award winners return in Verlander and Greinke, and Lance McCullers Jr. is set to come back after missing all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery. Beyond that, the rotation will have competition at the bottom. Houston traded for right-hander Austin Pruitt, and he'll join Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock, Framber Valdez, Josh James and prospects Forrest Whitley and Cristian Javier in battling for the final two spots.

MOVES MADE

Jan. 13: Hinch and Luhnow dismissed
After MLB suspended Hinch and Luhnow for one year -- in addition to taking away the Astros’ first- and second-round Draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and fining them $5 million -- owner Jim Crane took it a step further and dismissed them. Crane said Hinch and Luhnow should have done more to stop the player-driven sign-stealing operation the team used in 2017 and into 2018.

Jan. 9: Pruitt acquired in three-player trade
The Astros acquired Austin Pruitt from the Rays in exchange for a pair of Minor Leaguers -- right-hander Peyton Battenfield and outfielder Cal Stevenson. In a corresponding move, Houston designated right-hander Dean Deetz for assignment, keeping its 40-man roster full.

Dec. 23: Maldonado returns
Maldonado, whom the Astros acquired at the Trade Deadline in both 2018 and '19, was signed to a two-year, $7 million contract and will apparently serve as the team’s starter with Garneau as the backup. Maldonado played for the Royals (74 games) and Cubs (four games) last year before the Astros traded for him July 31. He appeared in 27 games in the regular season for Houston, slashing .202/.316/.464 with six homers in 98 at-bats and also homering in the World Series. A Gold Glove winner in ’17, Maldonado brings stability and leadership behind the plate.

Dec. 16: Smith inks two-year deal
Smith, who spent the previous two seasons with Houston, was signed to a two-year, $8 million deal. In 84 relief appearance with the Astros in 2018-19, he went 6-1 with a 3.06 ERA and .208 opponents’ batting average. He missed the first half of last season following Achilles tendon surgery and posted a 1.80 ERA in 28 regular-season appearances, and he tossed eight scoreless outings in 10 postseason games (3.12 ERA).

Dec. 5: Marisnick traded for prospects
The Astros addressed their surplus in the outfield by dealing veteran outfielder Jake Marisnick to the Mets in exchange for a pair of Minor Leaguers, a move which likely frees up Myles Straw to assume Marisnick’s role of backup outfielder who brings plus defense and speed. The Astros acquired 24-year-old left-handed pitcher Blake Taylor and 19-year-old outfielder Kenedy Corona from the Mets, with Taylor seemingly set to complete for a spot in the bullpen next year.

Dec. 2: Sanchez non-tendered
The Astros elected to non-tender right-handed starter Aaron Sanchez, making him a free agent. Sanchez made only four starts following his trade from the Blue Jays and then had surgery to repair a torn capsule in his right shoulder, putting him out until the middle of next season.

Nov. 26: Astros sign Garneau
Garneau, 32, appeared in 35 games last season, while splitting his time between the Angels and Athletics. He hit .244 with five doubles, three home runs, 14 RBIs and a .350 on-base percentage in 27 starts. One of his homers came off Cole in July.

Nov. 18: Gurriel renegotiates contract
First baseman Yuli Gurriel agreed to a contract for 2020 worth $8.3 million, up from the original $8 million, with an opportunity to earn $250,000 more in bonuses. As was determined when he signed his original five-year, $47.5-million deal in 2016, he will become a free agent after the 2020 season.

Nov. 4: Qualifying offer to Cole, Devenski option rejected, Emanuel added
The Astros gave a $17.8 million qualifying offer to Cole, who rejected it on Nov. 14. In addition, left-handed pitcher Kent Emanuel was added to their 40-man roster, McCullers Jr. was reinstated from the 60-day injured list and the club declined the 2020 option on Chris Devenski, who remains with the team as an arbitration-eligible player. Emanuel would have been a Minor League free agent had he not been added to the roster.

Oct. 31: Eight players hit free agency
Chirinos, Cole, Harris, Maldonado, McHugh, Rondón, Smith and Wade Miley became free agents.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.