The Astros and left-hander Josh Hader are reportedly in agreement on a five-year, $95MM contract. The deal has no deferrals, which makes it the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher in terms of present-day value. Edwin Díaz signed a $102MM deal with the Mets prior to last season, setting a new benchmark for a reliever, but there was some deferred money that dropped the present-day value and competitive balance tax calculation to around $93MM.
Hader, a CAA Sports client, will earn $19MM annually through the 2028 season. The southpaw can also collect an additional $1MM bonus for winning the Reliever of the Year Award, an honor he has already received three times in his career. The deal contains a full no-trade clause and no options, team or player alike.
On Thursday, Rome and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the Astros were “making a push” to sign the five-time All-Star. It came as little surprise that GM Dana Brown was looking to supplement a bullpen that lost several key players to free agency, namely Héctor Neris, Phil Maton, and Ryne Stanek. In addition, 2023 trade deadline acquisition Kendall Graveman is likely to miss the entire 2024 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. That said, Brown recently downplayed his desire to add another reliever. After the news broke of Graveman’s surgery, the GM told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com that the Astros were “still in the market for relievers,” but also said, “We got some internal candidates that we really feel good about.” In a similar vein, he told Rome, “We just may have to get one more body or one of our guys internally will step up.”
On top of that, Brown told reporters during the GM Meetings in November that he didn’t have “a ton” of payroll flexibility to work with. Thus, Astros fans began to brace themselves for a slow offseason, and rumors even began to emerge that the team could trade All-Stars Alex Bregman and Framber Valdez
In hindsight, the executive was clearly keeping his cards close to his chest. After all, signing the top reliever on the market to a record-breaking contract is just about the complete opposite of tightening the purse strings and hoping an internal candidate steps up. Indeed, Hader’s salary brings the Astros over the first luxury tax threshold and dangerously close to the second; according to Roster Resource, their CBT payroll sits at $254.6MM, less than $3MM away from the $257MM threshold. Houston has never paid the luxury tax before, although the team crossed the threshold in 2020 when there were no penalties for doing so.
Because Hader rejected a qualifying offer from the Padres, the Astros will lose their second-highest pick in the upcoming draft, as well as $500,000 in international bonus pool money. However, the extra penalties they could face as Competitive Balance Tax payors won’t kick in until next offseason; if the Astros remain over the CBT threshold throughout 2024 and sign another QO free agent next winter, they will forfeit their second- and fifth-highest draft picks, as well as $1 million in international bonus pool money.
The Astros don’t usually sign free agents with qualifying offers attached to them, just as they don’t usually exceed the CBT threshold. To that end, they don’t often sign $95MM deals. As Rome points out on X, this is the largest free agent contract the club has signed in Jim Crane’s 12-year tenure as owner of the Astros. Evidently, then, Crane and Brown have high hopes for what Hader can bring to the bullpen – and for good reason. The left-hander has long been one of the top relievers in the game. Across seven MLB seasons with the Brewers and Padres, he boasts a 2.50 ERA, 2.27 SIERA, and 165 saves in 190 chances. Since his debut in 2017, no pitcher (min. 5 IP) has struck out batters at a higher rate.
Hader, who turns 30 this April, looked as dominant as ever in 2023, ranking second among qualified NL relievers with a 1.28 ERA. Meanwhile, his Statcast expected ERA ranked third in all of baseball. What’s more, he recorded 33 saves in 61 games, crossing the 30-save threshold for the fourth time in his career. With a hard sinker and mystifying slider, he recorded 85 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings of work.
The presumptive closer will join right-handers Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu at the back of what could be the scariest bullpen in the American League. The Astros ranked fourth in the AL in bullpen ERA last season and first from the trade deadline through the end of the year. Although Houston has parted ways with several key contributors this winter, adding Hader goes a long way toward replenishing what was lost. The three departing relievers, plus Graveman, provided the Astros with 1.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) last season, per FanGraphs. Hader alone was worth 1.7 WAR in 2023 and has averaged 1.94 WAR per 60 games throughout his career. While he cannot cover the workload of four separate pitchers all on his own, he should provide his team with 50-60 valuable innings in the most high-leverage spots. The Astros could still use some more depth to fill out the bullpen, but their back-end trio of Hader, Pressly, and Abreu might be the best one-two-three punch in the game.
Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported the two sides were in agreement on a five-year, $95MM deal with no deferrals. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com first relayed the even $19MM salaries, no-trade clause and award bonus. Joel Sherman of The New York Post relayed the $1MM value of that bonus. Chandler Rome of The Athletic reported the lack of options or opt-outs.