HOUSTON — The Astros' need to add a relief pitcher to their bullpen was amplified Tuesday after the club announced that veteran right-hander Kendall Grafman is expected to miss the 2024 season after having right shoulder surgery last week.
Graveman, who was acquired by the Astros for the second time at last year's trade deadline, posted a 2.42 ERA in 23 games for Houston in August and September, but did not pitch in the playoffs due to right shoulder discomfort. Grafman underwent a rest and rehabilitation program before returning to a flat-court throwing program in preparation for spring training, but the discomfort in his shoulder returned after he began throwing, the team said.
“Anytime you miss a season, I don't care who you are or what it is, it's tough,” Grafman said. “I've done it once before and it wasn't really fun. I will say I've grown a lot during this season, the last time, when I had Tommy John surgery in 2018. I think I came out of it better, but it's tough in that situation, knowing the team “I really respect all the players. I think there's something great happening in Houston.”
Graveman's absence creates another hole in an Astros bullpen that has already lost 185 innings from last season, as Hector Neres, Phil Maton and Ryan Stanek become free agents. They remain unsigned, and the club has made contact with the agents of all three about a potential return in 2024. Astros general manager Dana Brown said finding comfortable offers has been the focus throughout the entire offseason.
“We've got some internal candidates that we're really good about, but our focus remains on the point,” Brown said. “Everything else about the club is really good. I feel like we have some good internal candidates, but we're still in the market for relievers. It's still the same focus for us. We're in the market for relievers.
Graveman, who turned 33 in December, was scheduled to enter the final season of the three-year, $24 million deal he signed with the White Sox after helping the Astros win the AL pennant in 2021. The surgery was performed by Dr. Keith Meister in Dallas.
“We kind of knew what was going on and thought we could avoid surgery, but ultimately, at the end of the day, we had to choose this path to get back healthy, and [I’m] “I'm grateful that everything went smoothly,” Grafman said. “I think there's a very clear path of what I have to do to get back to playing in the big leagues one day.”
The Astros return a dominant setup man in Bryan Abreu and veteran closer Ryan Pressly at the back end of the bullpen, and the club is hoping veteran Rafael Montero (5.08 ERA in 2023) can bounce and throw like he did in 2022 (2.37 ERA) in helping Houston To win the world championship. This led to a three-year, $34.5 million contract extension for Montero.
The depth of quality and experience in Houston's bullpen is thin after that, but Brown remains optimistic about some of the internal candidates expected to compete for roles this year. This group includes right-handers Ronnel Blanco, Seth Martinez, Forrest Whitley, Sean Dubin, Declan Cronin, Oliver Ortega and Dylan Coleman, and lefties Matt Gage, Bennett Souza, and Parker Moscinski.
The free agent pitching price is still high, so the Astros may be more inclined to trade for the bullpen at this point.
“If we could go get another one [reliever] “We're using some candidates internally, and we feel like we'll be good,” Brown said.
Free agent relievers remaining on the market include Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader, David Robertson, Brad Hand, Michael Fulmer and Ryan Brazier. Brown said the club has payroll flexibility to add a relief player.
“We have the salaries to do what we have to do to keep winning here. I don't think that's a problem at all,” he said.
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