Astros’ closer conversation

The possibility of the Astros making a move for a new closer has been an item for discussion since the season ended. First, Houston let the injured Roberto Osuna, who only pitched in four games in 2020, become a free agent rather than go to arbitration and risk having to pay him big bucks to not pitch. Second,

while Ryan Pressly did a workmanlike job as the closer in 2020 (1-3 / 3.43 ERA / 12 saves – tied for fourth in the majors / 1.333 WHIP), his 75% save percentage was below par and he was nowhere near the excellent reliever he showed in 2018 (1-0 / 0.77 ERA / 0.600 WHIP) or 2019 (2-3 / 2.32 ERA/ 0.902 WHIP) as the Astros setup man.

With high profile closers like Liam Hendricks and Brad Hand out on the market, it has been a natural progression to look at the Astros and wonder about their interest in bringing in someone to close and moving Pressly back to his natural “position”. Recently the Astros have been linked to the White Sox closer, free agent Alex Colome. Five Teams Showing Interest In Alex Colome – MLB Trade Rumors

Colome has been a very good closer since 2016 (17-17 / 2.62 ERA / 138 saves), but is coming off a season (2-0 / 0.81 ERA/ 12 of 13 saves) that may overstate how good he is and how much he makes.

Of course, this all comes back around to the basic question of how much value the closer has to the team, especially in the playoffs. The Astros won the 2017 World Series while their closer Ken Giles went 0-1 with a 27.00 ERA and never pitching after Game 4. The Dodgers lockdown closer, Kenley Jansen saved 2 games in that series, but famously blew the save in Game 2 (Marwin Gonzalez‘s dinger) and lost Game 5 (Alex Bregman‘s walk-off single). In 2019, Jose Altuve walked off the ALCS with a huge homer off of big-time Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman. Their opponent in the World Series, the Washington Nationals were only thereafter Brewers’ stud closer and former Astro farmhand Josh Hader spit up a 3-1 lead in the 9th inning of the Wild Card game. Both Liam Hendriks and Brad Hand have had failures in the postseason and neither have even pitched in a World Series. Probably the only true playoff lockdown stud was the Yanks Mariano Rivera who went 8-1 with a 0.70 ERA and 42 saves in his career, but even he let the D’Backs come back and win the 2001 WS on Luis Gonzalez‘s bloop single to center in the seventh game.

Still, it is a long road through the season and having a reliable closer is important, especially in preventing the kind of hangovers blown saves can cause to a bullpen. And with a bullpen like the Astros have that will include a number of youngsters, having a veteran on the back end can be a comforting thought.

Looking at the Tampa Bay Rays where Astros GM James Click came from might give some hints to what he may think about the subject of closers. The Rays were quite innovative in the use of their bullpen as they championed the concept of “openers” – using a reliever to start the game and flipping over to another pitcher to take over for the bulk of the game. In 2019, the Rays had 11 pitchers pick up saves, led by Emilio Pagan (20), Diego Castillo (8) and Jose Alvarado (7). In 2018, the 7 pitchers who had saves for the Rays included Astro Austin Pruitt (4) and possible future Astro Alex Colome (11).

Does this mean that Click will be more interested in having a variety of arms available to close for skipper Dusty Baker? In-house options include Pressly and young bullpen arms like Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor. If they pick up another starter, could they look at moving young stud Cristian Javier into the mix? If Josh James ever gets healthy and learns control could he and his 14.7 K/ 9 IP from 2019 move to the back of the bullpen? What about young Bryan Abreu, who showed a lot of promise in 2019? And the big whale of a question might revolve around someone we thought we would never see pitch for the Astros again, Justin Verlander. Verlander claims he wants to come back from TJ surgery and pitch again in 2021, likely out of the bullpen. If you had a Hall of Famer in your bullpen would you use him for mop-up duties or possibly to wrap up the back end of big games? Just saying…

So, this is your turn…..

  • Do you think the Astros go out and get a closer in this off-season?
  • Who would you like to see them pursue?
  • Do you think they get additional bullpen help but stick with Pressly or another in-house option to close?
  • Who would that in-house option be?
  • Any chance that Verlander returns to pitch in 2021 and if he does, would he be the new closer?
  • Any thoughts on the overall value of closers, especially in the playoffs?

 

51 comments on “Astros’ closer conversation

  1. I haven’t even read your post, but I object to it.
    I cannot have a closer conversation because I am practicing strict social distancing. We will have to live with discussions from a distance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m of the opinion that you put as many good pitchers in the bullpen as you can find. I do not object to the Astros going out and paying good money for a good reliever as long as the Astros are flexible enough to have more than one guy who they trust to close out a game.
    One of the problems with closers folding in the playoffs is that their team has to ride them all the way by themselves for an entire season plus the playoffs. If you have a solid group of guys in that bullpen you can sit your closer and skip him and still get the job done with your other closer.
    So Colome and Pressly and Paredes might allow you to have a fresh closer every night. It spreads the really tense outings around so that one guy doesn’t have to perform the closing magic every single time you need him for over a 180 game season and playoffs.
    The other thing I would really stress is to get 8 guys in that bullpen who are good pitchers. If you have a guy like Biagini or Sneed that you are keeping in the bullpen for only blowouts(in one direction or another), then you need to get somebody else in there who matters. When you get to the playoffs and keep Sneed on the roster in case of a blowout and never use him, then you used another pitcher too much. If you have a young pitcher with great stuff down in the minors, bring him up to replace that guy who always gets hammered, or walks guys and then gets hammered.

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    • That guy, for me last year, Op was Luis H Garcia. He deserved a spot on playoff roster, we just didn’t have the room if Sneed had the “experience edge”.

      Everything you wrote was perfect. As I’ve gone to bat so often for the present cast, the favorites for bursting onto the scene all by mid-year; Whitley, Abreu, Cionel, Bielak. I’m telling you all, if there wasn’t every spot on roster needed, the Astros would absolutely callup Jojanse Torres, and Brett Conine in 2021. We have Solis Solomon Brown and Ivey sitting 97 too, without full effort!

      With Scrubb, Taylor, Raley, Javier, Paredes, Smith and Pressly already?

      James, and Pruitt are expected back.

      Colome would definitely move the dial, though.

      The JV question goes to: can Astros re-coup pro-rated insurance from the $26m of his salary covered? Meaning, if he pitches one month, does the insurance EVEN COVER time off? If no, then No Way Astros let him pitch in 2021. I could be corrected here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The only way I would use Verlander as a closer is if it his totally his idea, if he has an alternative training technique that he and the medical staff have agreed on for him to be a reliever and if he is sorely needed in the bullpen by the club.

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  4. I think whether the Astros go out and sign a closer will be more tightly tied to what their outfield looks like heading into the spring and their expectation for Alvarez. If I read him correctly, Click is more likely to follow the Billy Beane path for team building as opposed to the spend over the top ways of Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman. You take a couple young arms and give them bullpen assignments during Spring Training. If things aren’t going well through May, you go make a deal in June/July for a serviceable arm.

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  5. I think this will all depend on who they can get and at what price. I think the uncertainty of the COVID situation has all teams watching their spending more than ever.

    I think the Astros have a certain budget for their outfield situation, another starting pitcher, a closer and another catcher.

    We did not sign Springer, Brantley, JBJ, Jason Castro, Hendriks or Colome yet because what they are asking for is not within our budget for those positions.

    I would not put it past the owners to be colluding to keep their payrolls down. I think everyone is waiting to see how many games can be played this year and whether fans will be able to attend.

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    • I agree with you that if MLB has to have 2 or 3 months of games with reduced or no attendance, money is going to be very tight for a lot of teams and economic moves could rule the day.
      And I will go on record saying that, given the economics of no fans, I would just as soon see Garrett Stubbs as our backup catcher at league minimum than to pay 3-4 million to Jason Castro.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Does this not point out that there’s no way the Mets could have done this without Cano testing positive? Otherwise, “filthy rich” Cohen wouldn’t make this difficult. He’d pay George $150-ish, and call it a day. With no covid, GS should have made even more in a true bidding war.

      Astros could offer 4/$100m. The 4-yr option is better for HOU, why not just pay him a little more for the service. However, the bottom line imo was: he never was even considering HOU because of same reasons Morton chose Tampa … to be close to home and a little more security of being employed that extra year.

      To me it’s a no-brainer mostly to leave the scarlet letter ‘cheater’ talk behind, end of story next. We have some awesome OF options otherwise.

      My question is this? Over or Under Aledmys Diaz starts 70 games in LF? There’s your three 4th OF’s; Straw, McCormick, Diaz. Pedro Leon, Jose Siri or BDLC by mid-year is the plan. I really have no worries with this plan. I’m not trying to “replace production lost” but for the core to Do Their Job, and all will be fine with a few filler-role fellows. We can re-fit at sea during the year, or deadline. Or trade off pieces for a 2022 run.

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      • I pick under 70 on Diaz in LF
        I think the OFs will be Brantley (wishful thinking), McCormick, Tucker with Siri or Straw as 4th. Diaz can help out and boy I am hoping Leon gets picked up and ends up in there by mid-year.
        In truth I don’t think they will actually bring Brantley back – but that spot may well be free agent OF not yet signed.

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  6. If the Astros go into ST having signed Pedro Leon, I would be very surprised if Siri and Leon would not make the team.
    I am going to include the Reds top 30 prospect list from 2019 which has MLB’s scouting report on Siri. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2019/?list=cin. Read that complete scouting report on him and then add to it that he has spent the last 14 months working on his hit grade, which was a 45. What we are seeing from him in the Dominican is that his work on cutting down on K’s and getting his BA up is paying off. Add that to his plus-plus grade on speed, his plus grade on power, his plus-plus grade on arm and the fact that he was a major league caliber CFer back in 2019, according to MLB.com. and we might have made a great pickup here.
    Siri was put on waivers because the Reds needed a 40-man spot for Castellanos. That may end up being a really good thing for the Astros.

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    • It’s nice when other teams’ experts in the hitting development do the heavy lifting (in Siri’s case). He reminds me of my thought to look into Rez Castillo (another cuban who never quite made it in BOS), but a scout told me he was never more than a 4th.

      Same with Zach Daniels who benefitted from great instruction to help him find his power. We’re looking for same exponential growth from high upside Pena Nova and will know within a few months into the season.

      Two guys nobody talks about are; Jake Meyers CF and CJ Stubbs C/1B/OF big arm and slugging. We will see how they do in 2021 to know if we have something in 2022.

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    • Without even thinking about it, I started looking at K% and BB% a couple of years ago. The K/9 and BB/9 just did not tell me enough. It’s one of the reasons I started relying on Fangraphs instead of Baseball Reference to evaluate performance. I like BR for a wider view of the player, including salary and awards.

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  7. I’m looking forward to Pressly remaining my 8th inning closer. That’s his happy place. And sure, if we can get an elite tried and true 9th inning guy, by all means. But if guys like Paredes, Abreu, James and others can throw enough strikes, they’ve got the stuff to get those three big outs late. If we end up using a batch of guys, there will be some youthful implosions, but I think we’d also see more dominant performances than not.

    Speaking of my favorite Astro, if he wanted to come back, I think Crane would pay him. But I figure he’s already moved on. He has not said goodbye though has he?

    GoStros1, I’m not quite envisioning the awesome options you speak of right now though. Which of these awesome options do you want to pencil in for Opening Day most?

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    • Not the one option, but the many. I just don’t think we will pay Brantley what he’s worth, or can get elsewhere. There’s a series of tiers lower from Pillar Grossman to Marisnick to Siri; and honestly I don’t see a huge drop off from Straw McCormick on any of those. Not yet anyway, if we throw out 2020 small & odd samples. All I’m saying is we can figure out a lot more after runnning simulations of Spring performances, as to where our Laid Off for a Year Prospects staff has been tracking toward. The Fall Instructionals and Dominican Winter League has alrady garnered rave reviews from Click/Putila. I simply lean toward “stand-by” rather than “we *need* this guy or that guy.”

      Chas McCormick has hit at every level, it’s only natural to see what happens if he gets 100 straight ab’s. For my part, you’re going to be surprised. He has excellent plate control. He hits bad pitches as well as old Altuve, and he’s scrappy. A disruptor like Straw and Tucker. It’s a little bit different brand, a different phase, as Strom descibed the new pitchers debuting. We’ve been drafting speed agility guys like Brewer and Barber, it’s a trend away from the HR launch angle craze. I admit Brantley is a better contact hitter, but if the budget doesn’t allow it, doesn’t matter what we’d rather have.

      Like

    • Oh – I don’t listen to all that stuff… there are always all those rumors about seeing so and so at such and such’s facilities, but it means nothing until they sign on the line that is dotted….

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  8. His character alone on the field is not everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for sure!

    I cannot imagine after the HUGE public relations hit Astros took trading for Osuna they’d be interested in Yasiel Puig, after recent lawsuit from LA. But they are, according to Feinsand.

    I know it’s not popular, and I took a lot of heat over Osuna too, but if Astros do the vetting and feel “Ok” about it, he’s by far the best talent of those on the table in his price range. I cannot imagine further that we’d EVEN be in talks unless our Cuban guys vouch for him.

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  9. I like Colome. He is 32 and that is right in the wheelhouse for a reliever.
    He is right handed. We have Taylor and Raley and Cionel Perez to face lefties and most of the teams we want to face are predominantly RH hitting teams.
    The Angels, A’s, Mariners and Yankees are very RH hitting teams. Texas has LH batters, but they are not as good and strike out quite a bit.
    Colome is capable of closing but is not strictly at that premium closer price.
    How are the Astros going to be able to afford Hendricks? If they can, that’s really nice, too. As everyone here has said at least once “it’s not my money”.

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    • Sadly, I was late to the scene, really noticing Colome for the first time dominating for the Dominican at World Baseball Classic. What a team they had that got polished off!

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  10. One other thing to consider. If you use “Closer by Committee” then you are not forced to use any one or three of them in a certain situation. Egos of players get in the way sometimes. When Stromie calls the bullpen phone, it would be nice that he gets to pick instead of the scoreboard demanding a certain pitcher.

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    • My thought is it would be similar to the top of the ninth and you have a one run lead. Leading off should be Yordan, but because you don’t need another run, you sit him and pinch hit with another batter. (The situation should not “automatically” dictate your line up in my opinion.)

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    • AC, It’s absolutely a good point on not hamstringing yourself, nor letting the opponent know who’s pitching; and on not paying extra for Closer incentives. We are fortunate to have avoided that with Osuna and Pressly. Ryan does have a vesting that Op mentioned before.

      What I’ve come to realize is you have to do public interviews and claim there’s One Guy, but the reality from Rays philosophy is you want to keep their offense on the defensive by showing them multiple arm angles and varying speeds. I think we’re in good hands on this front! Having Paredes Javier, or even Blake Taylor at this point is good depth with Pressly. Colome would be awesome, though.

      Maybe even by acting like we’re “In On” Hendriks, it will drive the Dodgers price up!

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    • I agree with you that this is how it should work. I can’t really recall a time where it did work though. Unless the manager tells the guys ahead of each game who the intended closer will be you will see egos getting into the way. The exception is where they have a gameplan that a specific pitcher matches up better against certain hitters and want to lean on that…but again it takes preparation and communication. I’m not sure either of those are really in Dusty’s wheelhouse.

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      • I think it was just my old age showing. One reason that I quit watching the NBA a decade or more ago was when you read the story of yesterday’s win, even though the team won the game, some prima donna would be complaining he didn’t get his “minutes.” In a team sport, let’s play for and cheer for the team.

        Reminds me of the story of when Brad Corbett (who made his money in PVC pipe) was the owner of the Rangers. He was meeting with Billy Martin and Willie Davis. Corbett tells Davis if he signs with the Rangers he is going to play centerfield and bat in a certain sport and he is going to do this and that. After several minutes, Corbett asked Billy Martin what he thought about it, and Martin turned and said, “”You know as much about baseball as I do about pipe.”

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      • Martin managed Davis to his worst season in 18 years, too. He started 42 games in CF for Billy in ’75. My total guess is Martin said that because they were paying a 35-yr-old $110,000, and Billy knew his best years were behind him. In fact, Davis had a better year in StL, and SD the following.

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    • Strom really believes Bryan Abreu can be a Starter, he said on a recent podcast, which matched up with my thinking a year ago, he should be in Astros Top#3 range. Strom’s word was a proof of this belief in him.

      What keeps his risk high & out of the top 10 would be, never being able to command the count with control of his fastball. In my opinion, this jeopardizes even his effectiveness as last season struggles in a relief role. Strom’s comment essentially goes to, “we can make it happen, and we just need him to work on it and get back to him later since he has 1 option (Bielak, 2; Garcia, 3; Cionel ZERO).” That is where Bryan is, a potential SP3 who is seeking confidence and command with a little time to burn. He has one of the filthiest curve slider combos around.

      Speaking of that, Andre Scrubb. I consider him at the same place Framber was in 2019. Nerves at the big league level, and a curve that is so active, it’s nearly impossible to know how high to start it, without bouncing short of the plate. It’s that devastating. Here’s where I wish Greinke and McCullers would come in, to show these guys how to take off velocity while still being able to tunnel down the same initial deceptive track. How to turn sliders into tamer cutters that can create different horizontal movement. Enjoy how the master did it.

      I don’t think these pitchers lack the ability to throw strikes, and “that is why he gave up so many walks.” Many times, he’s just avoiding how the count would demand he “give in,” and simply knew a walk is better than giving up bigger damage. That is fine until he’s forced to pitch to a small square broken into 16 zones over the plate. The trial by fire Scrubb went through taught him just how precise he has to be at this level.

      Like

      • One of the things I found interesting when Framber was having such success was when they showed a strike zone graphic with where all the strike 3 curve balls were placed. It was not that all of the curves were down the middle. A lot of them were not even in the strike zone. But they were close enough or placed correctly to look like potential strikes or too close to take.
        Pitching is an art with physical repetition along with the mind control involved and it is no wonder that pitchers many times mature later than position players.

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  11. On a personal note, I would like to report that we got our first Covid vaccine shots at the hospital last night. Today I am sore all over, I can not pick up a quarter if dropped on the floor, I can’t remember if I ate breakfast, I walk into the door frames when entering a room, and have frequent needs to visit the bathroom. In other words, it is the same as yesterday and the day before. (No side effects. )

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Grossman is going to sign a 2/$10m with Tigers.

    That is $1m/yr less than I guessed.
    Dang, what a depressed market!
    Players are convinced to take guaranteed years for less money.

    Liked by 1 person

      • He made $3.725m after 1.2 WAR in a 3rd of a season plus playoffs.

        Let’s say 1 WAR is lower than most say = $7m
        He’s had a career of almost 7 WAR after having only made $9m
        I’m calling him a bargain by these standards.

        Springer extrapolated from 1/3 season at 2.2 WAR for $21m, should have been paid 40+ you’re right.

        Laureano, please don’t remind me. I was having a good day. HaHa

        Liked by 1 person

    • And Siri, don’t sleep on him.

      It should not be overlooked that Domincan Winter ball is something akin to very good AAA, current and former MLB players. Pretty stiff comps!

      I think if Pena begins in Corpus, it will only be because we still have Duarte and A Sierra, who have seniority. That won’t last long, and if Correa is still with us throughout 2021, there’s no need to rush Jeremy.

      Like

      • Not only that, but with consolidated minor leagues the competition will be better than ever because weaker players will have been weeded out of systems and AA will have better players and thus, stronger teams.

        Like

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