Astros’ Jose Urquidy being evaluated for elbow injury

Astros’ Jose Urquidy being evaluated for elbow injury

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Astros right-hander Jose Urquidy pulled himself from a minor league game after 43 pitches due to pain in his right elbow, manager Joe Espada told reporters (X link via Matt Kawahara of the Houston Chronicle). He’d been scheduled to throw around 60 pitches.

It’s a concerning development for a Houston club that will see Justin Verlander open the season on the injured list and knows it’ll be without Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia for the early portion of the 2024 campaign as well. Prior to this news, it looked as though Urquidy would join Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown and J.P. France in the Astros’ Opening Day rotation. That’s no sure thing now.

Urquidy, 28, missed more than three months of the 2023 campaign with a shoulder injury, which only makes further arm troubles all the more ominous. He pitched to a career-worst 5.29 ERA when healthy enough to take the mound, with the second-lowest strikeout rate (16.4%) and the highest walk rate (9.1%) he’s turned in during any big league season.

Prior to last year’s rough showing, Urquidy was a steady and arguably underrated member of the Houston staff. From 2019-22, he pitched 342 innings of 3.74 ERA ball with a below-average 20.3% strikeout rate but an excellent 5.2% walk rate. Durability has been an issue for the right-hander, but he’s been effective more often than not when he’s taken the ball.

The mounting number of injuries on the Houston staff could potentially spur the team to action. General manager Dana Brown said not even two weeks ago that he wasn’t in the market for more starting pitching … only to suggest the opposite to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle this week. Rome, citing a multiple anonymous sources, reported that the ’Stros are indeed still in the market for arms. Brown spoke in generalities when asked about Blake Snell, telling Rome: “As long as Snell is on the market, we check in to ask what is the latest. Nothing new as of now.”

It’s telling that those comments came even before today’s potential injury to Urquidy. Presumably, if there’s real concern that Urquidy might miss some time, that would only hasten the team’s desire to add to the rotation, whether in the form of Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Michael Lorenzen, Mike Clevinger or any of the other arms the free agent or trade market may have to offer. Crane did act aggressively and decisively when the Astros found out they’d lost setup man Kendall Graveman for the season, surprising many onlookers by signing Josh Hader to a five-year, $95M contract.

Snell, of course, would be the costliest free agent on the market in terms of financial outlay and future considerations. Because he rejected a qualifying offer, Snell would cost the Astros their second-highest draft pick and $500K of space from next year’s international free-agent bonus pool. Since they already punted a second-round pick to sign Hader, however, that’d “only” be a third-round pick.

Since the Astros are already at a projected $255.7M of luxury obligations (per RosterResource), signing Snell would push that figure past the $257M second-tier threshold and past the third-tier $277M threshold. That $277M line is of particular note, as crossing that barrier drops a team’s top pick in the following year’s draft by 10 places.

Any additional players signed by the Astros would be subject to penalty under the luxury tax, although because Houston didn’t pay the tax last year, they’re considered a first-time offender. That subjects them to much lesser fees than third-time offenders like the Yankees, Dodgers, Mets, etc. Houston would owe a 20% tax on the next $1.3M spent, followed by a 32% tax on the next $20M and a 62.5% tax on the next $20M. That tax would be based on the annual value of the contract.

A $30M AAV on a Snell deal, for instance, would cost the Astros around $12.1M in luxury taxes. That’s a steep price, but it’s nowhere near the 110% tax rate the Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers and others would face. Whether that makes it palatable enough for owner Jim Crane to further add to what’s already a franchise-record payroll by a wide margin remains to be seen.

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