Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Astros still searching for primary backstop

@brianmctaggart
December 16, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- While deals were being struck all around them, the Astros left the Winter Meetings without acquiring any players. Houston hit San Diego searching for a catcher, starting pitcher and relief pitcher, and it wasn't able to reach any deals. The Astros watched Gerrit Cole agree to a

SAN DIEGO -- While deals were being struck all around them, the Astros left the Winter Meetings without acquiring any players. Houston hit San Diego searching for a catcher, starting pitcher and relief pitcher, and it wasn't able to reach any deals.

The Astros watched Gerrit Cole agree to a record deal with the Yankees in a move that probably swings the balance of power in the American League to the Bronx, but Houston's payroll limitations didn't allow the club to approach the kind of money Cole received from New York.

"It's always my preference to do something at the Winter Meetings," Astros president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We also came into the Winter Meetings with a more complete team than we've ever had before."

BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS

1) Catcher: Houston doesn't have a starting catcher, but it hasn't ruled out bringing back Robinson Chirinos, who's a free agent. There is also club interest in former Astros catcher Jason Castro, a free agent who lives in Houston. The club previously signed Dustin Garneau, who along with prospect Garrett Stubbs are the only catchers on the 40-man roster.

2) Starting pitching: It's not a given that the Astros could add a starting pitcher, and if they do, it would be on the lower end of the market. The club doesn't have enough payroll flexibility to shop at the top end of the pitching market. Cole's signing leaves Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation with Lance McCullers Jr. set to return from Tommy John surgery. There is a bevy of arms to fill out the rotation, but a veteran is needed.

3) Relief pitching: Much like the Astros' starting-pitching situation, there are a couple of key free agents -- Will Harris and Joe Smith -- who are still on the market. Houston would have to bring back the steady Harris at the back end of the bullpen with Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. Again, the Astros don't have a lot of money, and they have a bigger priority with trying to find a catcher.

RULE 5 DRAFT

The Astros lost three Minor League players in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, which came at the conclusion of the Winter Meetings. The Orioles took right-hander Brandon Bailey with the No. 2 overall pick, the Mariners took right-hander Johan Ramirez with the sixth pick and the Red Sox took shortstop Jonathan Arauz with the 17th pick.

The Astros didn't select any players, despite having some openings on their 40-man roster. All three players they lost have yet to reach the big leagues, but they must stick on the Major League roster of their new teams next season or be offered back to the Astros.

"We woke up this morning thinking we'd lose one or two," Astros special assistant to the general manager Kevin Goldstein said. "But we knew that we had some guys off the roster who had a little bit of selection risk, and we saw [what] happened. We thought we'd lose one or two, and we lost three. I don't use the word 'loss.' I think we have three guys taken, and we don't count them as a loss until they stick on the roster all year for the big league teams that took them."

GM'S BOTTOM LINE

"There's not a sense of any sort of disappointment. We have a strong team for next year, and we're going to win a lot of games. We've got a lot of holes to fill, but we've got plenty of time to fill those." -- Luhnow

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