HOUSTON -- Before he ever threw a pitch in a big league game, Josh Hader’s life had been impacted by the Astros. He was part of a team which included Lance McCullers Jr., Carlos Correa, Teoscar Hernandez and Tony Kemp that won the California League title for Houston’s High-A Lancaster affiliate in 2014, and a year later met his wife Maria while pitching at Double-A Corpus Christi.
That’s why Hader views his return to the Astros’ organization 8 1/2 years after he was traded to the Brewers as a full-circle moment. Hader was introduced to the media at a press conference on Monday at Minute Maid Park after signing a five-year, $95-million contract, slipping on his familiar No. 71 jersey alongside general manager Dana Brown and manager Joe Espada.
“You know how the baseball journey goes,” Hader said. “There’s a part in your career where things happen for a reason. Just for us to be back here and be able to join a great team that’s already put together from the top down, I think we all share the same goals and passion and that’s to win a World Series. And multiple. We’re just really excited to be here.”
Hader, a lefty, was the Astros’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2014 before being traded to the Brewers in ‘15 in a deal that brought Carlos Gómez and Mike Fiers to Houston. That wound up being a regrettable one for the Astros for a few reasons, including Hader blossoming into an All-Star closer with the Brewers.
The Astros began the offseason in dire need of relief pitching, prompting Brown to call Jeff Berry, Hader’s agent, on Tuesday. A deal was consummated in 72 hours.
“Oh, I’m very excited about this,” Espada said. “This is a big day. Adding someone like Josh to an already elite team, he puts us a step closer to achieving our goals, which is to win and get back to the World Series.”
It’s hard to imagine the Astros would pay Hader $19 million per season and not be the closer, but Brown and Espada continued to play coy on Monday about Hader’s role. Hader said he had talked to incumbent closer Ryan Pressly, and everyone continues to say Pressly is completely on board with the move.
“I’ve never met him before, but I always watched him,” Hader said. “We had a conversation introducing each other. We’re excited to get together and be able to see each other in the spring and learn from each other. This guy, you’ve seen what he’s done in the postseason.”
The Astros are down four relievers from last season -- Kendall Graveman will miss the season following shoulder surgery, and Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek are free agents -- but adding one reliever with Hader’s ability and track record has a major impact on the bullpen. He’ll join Pressly and setup man Bryan Abreu to give the Astros one of baseball’s most dominant bullpen combinations.
“It’s a great trio to be a part of,” Hader said. “It’s a scary one.”
Hader was a pawn in the early days of Houston’s rebuild, which has seen the Astros advance to seven consecutive ALCS, win four pennants and two World Series titles. He was traded to the Astros from the Orioles with outfielder L.J. Hoes on July 31, 2013, for pitcher Bud Norris, and two years later traded to the Brewers with fellow prospects Adrian Houser, Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana.
“It’s a special place here and obviously they’ve done great things for so many years now,” Hader said. “Obviously, to be a part of that for five more years is something that really got us excited.”
Hader watched closely as some of his former Minor League teammates with the Astros won World Series titles in Houston in 2017 and ’22, which only stoked his desire to win his first ring. His addition to a stacked Astros roster that finished one win shy of the World Series last year has him believing he can help bring a third title to Houston.
“When the team has already done that multiple times and they know how to get there and they know how to take it all the way through the playoffs, you can learn from something like that,” Hader said. “This is a relationship that is going to be longer than, I believe, five years. This is a commitment to myself, the organization as a whole, to this fan base and this community.”