Spots for relievers on Astros' roster up for grabs

December 10th, 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.

Unlike the last few years, when the Astros have had very few openings in what has been one of the best bullpens in the Major Leagues, the 2024 season will see several roster spots for relievers in play when Spring Training begins in two months.

General manager Dana Brown said on Thursday that the club will turn to internal candidates to fill some of the holes created following the departures of veteran relievers Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek, who are now free agents. Last season those three combined to throw 185 innings, which was about one-third of Houston’s bullpen workload. There are lots of innings up for grabs.

The Astros added a reliever -- right-hander Dylan Coleman -- in a trade with the Royals during the Winter Meetings, so he’ll be in the competition along with fellow righties Ronel Blanco, Seth Martinez, Forrest Whitley, Shawn Dubin and Oliver Ortega, as well as lefties Matt Gage, Bennett Sousa and Parker Mushinski. Closer Ryan Pressly and setup men Bryan Abreu, Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero will be returning to anchor the bullpen.

“All of these guys will get a real close look in Spring Training,” Brown said. “I'm excited about Whitley. He's been throwing the ball well this offseason, so all of these guys will have an opportunity, and these are legitimate guys that could potentially pitch between the fourth and the seventh inning. We feel really good about our two guys at the back end [Pressly and Abreu]. We just need to strengthen our middle core. If we could fill that from within, that would be outstanding.”

Coleman, 27, appeared in 96 games over the past three seasons, including 68 in 2022, when he posted a 2.78 ERA. Last season he walked 19 batters in 18 1/3 big league innings. He has options, which gives the Astros flexibility. His velocity dropped by about 2 mph last year, and he spent most of the season in Triple-A ironing out his delivery.

“Sometimes you have to buy low on relievers,” Brown said. “I learned my lesson when I was in Atlanta. When we got [Tyler] Matzek out of independent ball, he was outstanding. Sometimes these relievers, they take a step back and they work their tails off to come back. Glad to see that [Coleman] is already working hard to come back. … Sometimes we try to take a look at maybe some guys who could have a bounce-back year, and he was right there at the top of the list.”

The Astros may also be able to move starters José Urquidy and J.P. France to the bullpen, depending on how the rotation shakes out.

The trade for Coleman and the signing of free-agent catcher Victor Caratini to back up Yainer Diaz accomplished two key offseason goals for the Astros. Brown didn’t rule out adding an arm at some point, but the Astros are pacing to be above the competitive balance tax threshold of a $237 million payroll. (This will be officially calculated at the end of 2024.)

“The main thing was the catcher,” Brown said. “I didn't think that we had a current backup that we felt strongly about in the system. We feel like we got some guys who could spot start, like a [César] Salazar, but we wanted a true backup. So that was the main thing going in, and we feel like we accomplished that. In the meantime, we were still looking for some relievers and then we felt getting Coleman, we got some of that answered as well. Hopefully we can get him turned around and he could turn the corner.”