Astros' new execs prep for Winter Meetings

December 3rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Astros didn’t have a general manager at last year’s Winter Meetings; assistant GMs Bill Firkus, Charles Cook and Andrew Ball spearheaded the team’s contingent in San Diego while owner Jim Crane and advisor Jeff Bagwell stayed in touch back in Houston.

Firkus is no longer with the club, his departure a part of a front-office restructuring by first-year GM Dana Brown. A month ago, Brown promoted Gavin Dickey to assistant GM, joining Ball and Cook. Brown has also hired former D-backs and Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier as the team’s senior director of amateur scouting, according to a source. Ladnier replaces Kris Gross, who went to the Mets.

With a new-look front office, Brown can turn his attention to improving the Astros’ roster as the Winter Meetings begin today in Nashville, Tenn. The Astros, who in 2023 finished one win shy of reaching their fifth World Series in seven years, should once again be one of the favorites in the American League to reach the Fall Classic.

The Astros return most of their key players from last season and will be led by a new manager in Joe Espada, who spent the previous six seasons as the bench coach under A.J. Hinch and Dusty Baker -- both of whom won World Series in Houston. Espada will meet with the media on Monday afternoon while attending his first Winter Meetings.

Here's what you need to know about the Winter Meetings:



The Astros hit the Winter Meetings in search of relief pitching and a backup catcher. They will return closer Ryan Pressly and a dominant setup man in Bryan Abreu, so the back end of the bullpen remains elite. But three key relievers -- Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek -- are free agents. Neris (71 games), Maton (68 games) and Stanek (55 games) combined to throw 185 innings last season -- 33.9 percent of the team’s relief innings in 2023.

The Astros will return veteran Rafael Montero for the second year of his three-year deal, and Kendall Graveman -- acquired at the Trade Deadline -- will return after missing the postseason with a shoulder injury. Still, there’s a dire need for two or three bullpen arms. Meanwhile, Yainer Diaz will take over as the starting catcher, leaving room on the roster for a backup. Don’t rule out the Astros bringing back veteran Martín Maldonado in a backup role.


The emergence of Chas McCormick as the starting center fielder last year makes Jake Meyers more expendable going into 2024, especially if the Astros can find a left-handed-hitting outfielder to put in the mix. Meyers, who was Houston’s starting center fielder entering the 2021 playoffs before a shoulder injury derailed his career, is a superb defensive outfielder who figures to improve offensively with more playing time. Right-handed starter José Urquidy, who was on the trade block last year, is coming off an injury-filled season but is a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter when healthy and could bring value in a trade.


Right-hander Spencer Arrighetti (ranked as Houston’s No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline) was named the Astros’ Pitcher of the Year in 2023 after going 9-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 28 games, including 21 starts between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Sugar Land. He had 141 strikeouts, a 1.25 WHIP and a .217 opponent batting average in 124 2/3 innings, and he could push for a rotation spot in 2024.

Infielder/outfielder Joey Loperfido (No. 6) was named the team’s Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .278 with 79 runs, 27 doubles, three triples, 25 home runs, 78 RBIs, 65 walks, 27 stolen bases and a .880 OPS in 124 games between High-A Asheville, Corpus Christi and Sugar Land last season.

Kenedy Corona (No. 11) was added to the 40-man roster last month, which means he’ll be in big league camp next year. Corona, a versatile outfielder, played all but six games last season at Corpus Christi, where he slashed .244/.324/.449 with 20 homers, 61 RBIs and 31 stolen bases, making him a power and speed threat. Corona also earned a 2023 Minor League Gold Glove Award for his defense in the outfield, while playing primarily center field.


Coming off a monster 2022 season in Double-A and a strong performance at big league camp in 2023, outfielder Justin Dirden (Houston’s No. 14-ranked prospect) hit just .231/.314/.396 with 10 homers in 84 Triple-A games while dealing with a hamstring injury and now finds himself exposed for selection in the Rule 5 Draft.

Oft-injured outfielder Colin Barber (No. 8) is also eligible to be taken, along with outfielder Zach Daniels (No. 19), infielder Shay Whitcomb (No. 25), and pitchers Jaime Melendez (No. 27) and Misael Tamarez (No. 30). Whitcomb hit 35 homers last season between Double-A and Triple-A, tying for the Minor League lead. Tamarez’s 99-mph fastball could be intriguing to some teams, but he walked 60 batters in 101 innings last season.


Will the Astros re-sign third baseman Alex Bregman and second baseman Jose Altuve? Both are free agents in 2024, so it only stands to reason the club will continue to explore possible extensions before the season begins. Brown said shortly after he was hired on Jan. 26 that he was working on extensions with both, but no deal materialized.

Altuve, 33, has signed two extensions with the Astros, including a five-year, $151 million deal in March 2018 that runs through '24. He would like to end his career in Houston, and the feeling is mutual. It’s hard to envision him playing anywhere else.

Bregman signed a five-year, $100 million contract extension in March 2019 and remains one of the best all-around third basemen in baseball. Bregman, who turns 30 in March, would likely seek the kind of mega-deal in terms of years and dollars that Crane heretofore hasn’t been willing to hand out. It’s unlikely the Astros would trade him, though, considering they’re expected to contend for a World Series title in 2024.