The Astros made their two-year deal with veteran right-hander Báez official on Friday and will plug him into the back end of a bullpen that features Ryan Pressly and Smith, who sat out last season. Still, the Astros are looking to replace departed closer Roberto Osuna and have had talks with several top free agents, including Brad Hand, Alex Colomé and Trevor Rosenthal.
“It’s something that I think all of us would like to have, and it can certainly make you feel better about your bullpen than if you don't have someone who maybe has done it in the past,” Astros general manager James Click said Friday. “However, there are always guys who step up into that role every year. There are new closers every year, and our young talent on this roster did an impressive job last season in stepping up in some roles that, if we're being honest, I don't think that we thought that they might have been ready for, and our hand was forced because of a lot of different reasons.
“And so if we don't, by the end of Spring Training, by Opening Day, have someone who has done that job in the past, it won't mean that we don't think that we have guys on the roster who can step into that role and do it going forward.”
Báez, 32, doesn’t have experience as a closer. He has appeared in 355 games in relief in seven years with the Dodgers, posting a 3.03 ERA with a 1.096 WHIP and 131 ERA+. He threw 17 innings in last year’s shortened season, giving up six earned runs with seven walks and 13 strikeouts.
Since 2015, Báez ranks fifth among National League relievers in both appearances (335) and innings pitched (332). In his 31 career playoff appearances, which rank second in the Majors since 2014, he has a 3.99 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings pitched with a .210 opponents' average.
“You can't put too many guys on a list of what he has done over the past six or seven years of his career,” Click said. “He's certainly done it on some very big stages, and having a veteran like that in the bullpen, a strong arm, strong body, a guy who can take the ball and get big outs for us in big situations, there wasn't a lot to not like about him.”
The Astros now appear to have seven relievers locked into their 2021 bullpen, barring injury: righties Pressly, Smith, Báez, Stanek and Enoli Paredes, and lefties Brooks Raley and Blake Taylor. Click said it would be up to manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Brent Strom to find the best ways to use them in games.
Click has been aggressive in bringing in bullpen help because he knows the Astros’ depth will be tested following a shortened season in which the relievers didn’t throw nearly as many innings in 60 games as they will over 162 games in 2021.
“And having additional options, even if there may not be a clear path for them to playing time right now, we expect that over the course of 162 games that we will find ways to use them and use the depth on our roster,” he said.