HOUSTON — The Astros addressed their biggest offseason need in a major way on Friday, agreeing to a five-year, $95 million contract with All-Star free agent reliever Josh Hader, pending a physical, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. . The team did not officially announce the deal.
Hader, a left-hander, returns to the Astros organization where he was named the club's Minor League Player of the Year in 2014, before being traded to the Brewers in 2015 in a deal that brought Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston. The agreement comes just days after the Astros lost veteran reliever Kendall Grafman for the season following right shoulder surgery.
Houston's bullpen was ruined with Hector Neres, Phil Maton and Ryan Stanek hitting free agency after combining to throw 185 innings last year. The addition of Hader gives the Astros a solid backfield with Ryan Pressly — who has made 90 saves over the past three seasons — and dominant setup man Bryan Abreu.
“We think we have a good team, and this adds a big piece to the back of our bullpen,” Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com. “With Presley and Abreu [and Hader]You have three quality guys, 7-8-9, wherever they pitch. “We think this gives us a good chance to reach the playoffs and participate in another world championship.”
According to Feinsand, Hader will earn $19 million per season with his new contract, which does not include opt-out or club options. The $95 million total exceeds the current value of Edwin Diaz's $102 million deal with the Mets signed last winter, which stood at $93.2 million after deferrals.
Hader's deal includes a full no-trade clause, per source, as well as a bonus for winning Reliever of the Year, named after Mariano Rivera in the American League. Houston will lose a pick in the 2024 MLB Draft because Hader rejected a qualifying offer from San Diego.
Hader is arguably the best left-handed pitcher in MLB, and had racked up five NL All-Star nods before hitting the free agent market for the first time. The 29-year-old has done that well, proving that his slump in 2022 was likely an aberration from his dominant 2023 campaign.
Hader turned into a superstar in 2023 for the Padres, pitching to a 1.28 ERA in 56 1/3 innings. He held opposing hitters to a .163 average and just a .224 slugging percentage. While Hader's strikeout rate of 36.8% was his lowest since his rookie year in 2017, his K rate still ranked in the 99th percentile in MLB.
Despite his struggles in 2022, especially after his midseason trade from Milwaukee to San Diego, Hader has been a reliable late-inning option throughout his career. He saved 33 games in 38 attempts for the Padres in 2023, appearing before the ninth inning just once all season. He hasn't been used as much as some closers, with his 61 appearances tied for 74th across MLB, but Hader has long been one of the most durable relievers in MLB. He has pitched 50 or more innings in every full season (not counting 2020) since 2018, and his only stint on the injured list of his career came after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Hader has elite stuff, and features heavily as a sinker who will average 96.1 mph in 2023 – Tied for sixth Among eligible left-handers. His arsenal also includes a slider that holds opposing hitters to a paltry .100/.151/.120 slash line in '23. Hader has an effective changeup as well, but he threw it just 3.4% of the time in 2023 and has never hit left-handed.
Name the Statcast metric, and there's a very good chance Hader is among the MLB elite on it. His expected wOBA in 2023 ranked third in MLB, with his expected batting average second only to Felix Bautista of the Orioles. Hader was above the 90th percentile in swipe rate (97), barrel rate (92), chase rate (92), and whiff rate (91) as well.
However, Hader struggled with walks, allowing a career-high 13.0% walk rate that ranked in the fifth percentile in MLB. This has been pretty much the only downside to the recovery campaign in 2023, a year after Hader was hit hard and barrel prices were headed in the wrong direction. Hitting with unusual power and the victim of some bad luck, Hader pitched to a 7.31 ERA in 19 games with the Padres in 2022. He finished the 2022 season with an ugly 5.22 ERA. But after righting the ship in his walk-off year, Hader has cemented himself as the jewel of the free-agent reliever class — not to mention one of the youngest relievers on the market.
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