HOUSTON – The Astros' need to add a relief pitcher to their bullpen grew even greater Tuesday after the club announced that veteran right-hander Kendall Graveman is expected to miss the 2024 season after undergoing right shoulder lip surgery last week.
Graveman, acquired for a second time by the Astros at last year's trade deadline, posted a 2.42 ERA in 23 appearances for Houston in August and September but did not make the playoffs due to right shoulder discomfort. The team said Graveman underwent a rest and rehab program before returning to a flat-ground throwing program in preparation for spring training, but the discomfort in his shoulder returned after he began throwing.
Graveman's absence punches another hole in the Astros' bullpen, which already lost 185 innings last season with Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek becoming free agents. They are not yet under contract and the club has contacted agents for all three about a possible return in 2024. Astros general manager Dana Brown said finding pitching relief was a focus throughout the offseason.
“We have some internal candidates that we feel really good about, but our focus is still on the bullpen,” Brown said. “Everything else about the club is really good. I feel like we have some internal candidates that are good, but we're still looking for replacement candidates. It's still the same focus for us. We are looking for resources.”
Graveman, who turned 33 in December, was set to enter the final season of a three-year, $24 million contract he signed with the White Sox after helping the Astros win the AL pennant in 2021 .
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 hopes veteran Rafael Montero (5.08 ERA in 2023) can rebound and pitch just as well 2022 (2.37). ERA) in helping Houston win the World Series. That earned Montero a three-year contract extension worth $34.5 million.
The quality depth and experience in Houston's bullpen is slim after that, but Brown remains optimistic about some of the in-house candidates who are expected to compete for innings this year. That group includes right-handers Ronel Blanco, Seth Martinez, Forrest Whitley, Shawn Dubin, Oliver Ortega and Dylan Coleman, as well as left-handers Matt Gage, Bennett Sousa and Parker Mushinski.
“If we can go, we’ll get another one [reliever] “If we bring some of the candidates in-house, we feel like we're going to be good,” Brown said.
Remaining free agents on the market include Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader, David Robertson, Brad Hand, Michael Fulmer and Ryan Brasier. Brown said the club has flexibility in payroll to add a relief pitcher.
“We have the salaries to do what we need to do to keep winning here. I don’t think that’s a problem at all,” he said.