Dusty: Astros prioritizing hunt for pitching

December 15th, 2020

HOUSTON -- The George Springer decision -- will the free-agent outfielder re-sign with the Astros or be wearing another uniform next year -- remains the biggest dilemma facing Houston this winter, but the club’s hunt for pitching is on the front burner, as well.

Astros manager Dusty Baker, speaking with reporters via Zoom on Monday for the first time since the season ended, said the club is seeking bullpen help and some rotation depth despite having several young arms step up last season to fill key roles.

“It’s no secret,” Baker said. “We’re talking to some people now. You know, there hadn’t been a bunch of movement, not a bunch of players signing, but I imagine the next couple of weeks there will be more movement, and once some of the big boys -- so-called big boys -- get signed, then everybody else will probably check to see how the market is.”

Because of injuries, the Astros saw young arms Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor embrace bigger roles last season, with lefty starter Framber Valdez taking over for the injured Justin Verlander and having one of the best seasons by a lefty starter in the American League.

That gives Baker reason for optimism going forward, with Javier and Valdez in a rotation alongside Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr. and Jose Urquidy. Still, another veteran arm would provide some depth and insurance for some inevitable injuries. When it comes to the bullpen, the Astros need to decide what to do at closer -- anoint Ryan Pressly heading into 2021 or find one externally.

“Like I've always been told, you can never have enough pitching,” Baker said. “Right now, we're looking to shore up our bullpen, probably first. That’s a premium area right now, and then maybe you go to position players and you go to a starter, not necessarily in that order. But, you know, it's hard to fill all these things at one time, especially when these guys just became available a few weeks ago, a couple of weeks ago.”

Those decisions, ultimately, are up to owner Jim Crane and general manager James Click, and Baker tries to stay below the radar as much as possible. He said on Monday that he’s talked with Springer and fellow free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley in recent weeks but doesn’t want to be a bother. Recruiting pitches aren’t his thing.

“You realize this is a big turning point in their lives, which is going to affect our life,” Baker said. “And at some point in time, you have to just go home and live your life and then hopefully things will kind of work themselves out.”

Baker, 71, is entering the final year of his contract with the Astros in 2021 and said he hasn’t looked back too much on the 2020 season, in which the Astros shook off a 29-31 record to get within a game of reaching the World Series for the third time in the past four years. He’s more worried about avoiding the coronavirus, which has him wondering if the 2021 season will be altered in some way.

“I don't even know where baseball is on the list getting the [vaccine],” he said. “We just have to see after the first of the year. I'm not really sure. We don't even know if we're going to Spring Training. I haven't heard. We don’t know if we’re going to play a 162-game schedule, 140? There’s a lot of stuff still up in the air and a lot of it still has to do with the COVID situation.”