April 20, 2024

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Astros pursuing Blake Snell: Sources

Astros pursuing Blake Snell: Sources

The Houston Astros are at it again.

In January, they signed closer Josh Hader, the top prospect on the free-agent market. Now, according to sources familiar with their discussions, they are engaged in a serious pursuit of left-hander Blake Snell, the best player on the market.

Snell, 31, is believed to be seeking the same type of contract recently signed by two other Scott Boras clients, Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman – a three-year deal with two opt-outs.

The Astros' need to add another starter intensified Friday when Jose Urquidi pulled himself from a minor league game after 43 pitches with a sore right elbow, according to manager Joe Espada.

Astros outfielder Justin Verlander will start the season on the injured list with a sore shoulder, but could be back by mid-April. Two other Houston starters, Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia, are still recovering from elbow surgeries and are not expected until well after the All-Star break.

The question is whether Astros owner Jim Crane is willing to sign Snell for the $30 million to $32 million annual salary he believes the pitcher is seeking. The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels have also been linked to Snell. But the Yankees have to pay a 110% luxury tax on every dollar they spend, meaning Snell will cost them more than double his salary. The lack of state income tax in Texas would be another advantage for the Astros.

Trading Urquidy, who earns $3.75 million, would have created some financial flexibility for the Astros, who have suspended the pitcher repeatedly in recent seasons. But with Arquidi's physical condition uncertain, the team almost certainly can't move him now. The list does not include any other obvious mobility salaries.

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Snell will fill a clear need for the Astros, not only for the present but also for the future. Verlander could become a free agent after this season if he doesn't pitch the 140 innings needed to vest his $35 million player option. Urquidy and Framber Valdez remain under club control for two more seasons.

The team's financial flexibility could increase in the coming years — third baseman Alex Bregman will hit the open market after this season, as will right fielder Kyle Tucker along with Valdez after 2025. But Houston is already expected to carry the largest payroll on Opening Day. The franchise has history. With Hader's signing, the club crossed the first luxury tax threshold for the second time during Crane's ownership.

Like Hader, Snell declined a qualifying offer. The addition of Hader cost the team its second pick in the 2024 MLB Draft, at No. 63 overall. A contract with Snell with an average annual value in the range he believes he would like would likely put the Astros $40 million above the first-round luxury tax threshold, pushing their first-round pick back 10 slots in the draft unless the pick falls in The top six.

If the Astros sign Snell, they would also have to give up their third and sixth-best picks — Nos. 102 and 193. For a team with one of the worst farm systems in baseball — and still short of first- and second-round picks in the two seasons following the sign-stealing scandal — it would be a steep price to pay.

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However, Crane is the same owner who traded two of his top prospects, Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford, for Verlander during last season's trade deadline. Hader's contract was the largest free agent deal during Crane's tenure. With Snell, the owner will redouble his efforts — and up the ante in the Astros' rivalry with their biggest rival, the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers.

The Rangers embarked this week on their attempt to trade right-hander Dylan Cease, who moved from the Chicago White Sox to the San Diego Padres. Texans ownership appears to have prevented the front office from re-signing another of Boras' clients, lefty Jordan Montgomery, while the team's future local television revenue is uncertain.

If Snell goes to the Astros, the intrigue will thicken. For Montgomery. For the Rangers. For the entire American League.

Go deeper

Are the Astros a good fit for Blake Snell?

(Top photo by Blake Snell: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)