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Astros: Why I Do Not Like the Hader Deal- Part 2

Updated: Feb 16

This was a Premium article, and it is now released to all. Please subscribe to the Premium Content to read.


On 1/19/24, the Astros made the huge move the Astros fan base has been begging for when they made a deal to sign Josh Hader. The Astros went even further than I expected them to go in this signing, and the fan base has a right to be VERY excited.


As a reminder we did say these things as we prepared for this offseason.


"We defined our financial limits understanding this team has huge extension and re-signing decisions to make. From our "Astros 2024-2025 Payroll Projection" article we concluded that the Astros had around $18-20M AAV TOTAL to spend on preferably one-year deals to stay under the CBT2 in 2024 and CBT3 in 2025."


"In our "A First Look At The 2024 Astros" we defined our primary team needs as these four areas:

  1. Backup catcher that would be an upgrade over Salazar or Berryhill (NOT Maldy- he would hurt this WAR)- Complete with Caratini- Grade A

  2. Good LHRP (with loss of Neris probably a second RP too)- Complete with Hader- Grade A

  3. LHSP that can pitch at least 100 IP- No

  4. Starting LHH OF that is strong vs. RHP- if payroll space is available- No"


The Hader deal means the Astros have spent $25M AAV now in this offseason. The Astros are slightly below the CBT2 right now, but more about that later.


What we are going to do at LarryTheGM is give you both sides of this transaction:



  • In the this article, we are going to explain the challenges - mostly financially- related of this deal and describe what the Astros MIGHT do to work through those challenges.


I made a video for both of the Hader articles here.


I want you to be well informed as Astros fans. This is a great deal. I spent nearly seven hours on Twitter/ X Spaces talking about this deal with really smart Astros fans. That has helped shape the framework of what I am going to share in these two articles.


Before I give you the content here, I am going to ask you- yes, you who came here to read THIS- to support the site.


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Now let's continue.


Who is Josh Hader - Revisited


We covered the positives in Part 1 but now I want to give you some potentially worrisome competitive data that may be a challenge for Josh Hader with the Astros. In Part 1 I showed how I think Hader has been addressing these.


Some Astros Historical Pitcher Comparisons


I pulled a database of Astros pitchers' career statistics from 2002 to 2023. I wanted to capture the data for pitchers in the Minute Maid Park era once the Astros learned how to pitch in MMP (not 2000-2001). It just so happens that some of the advanced metrics I am considering here don't start until 2002, so it's a win-win.


I compared Hader to this group of 46 pitchers (more than 100 IP) which includes greats (Cole, Verlander, Pressly) and, well, not-so-greats (Fiers, Fister, Lyles). I think it would help Astros fans to understand just how GREAT Hader matches into this group.


I showed you the highlights in Part 1.


Some lowlights

  • Line Drive %, and HR/FB- 32nd

  • BB/9- 37th

  • BB%, and Hard Contact %- 40th

  • Ground Ball/ Fly Ball, GB%, FB%- 46th


Over his career Hader has been and high Fly Ball rate pitcher and IF a hitter does make contact it tends to go a long way. Hader also needs to cut down on his walks to succeed at Minute Maid Park.


  • Current pitchers that walk batters close to Hader's career rate- Javier and McCullers.

  • Current pitchers that have fly ball rates close to Hader's career rate- Javier, Verlander and Neris

  • Current pitchers that have hard hit rates close to Hader's career rate- Garcia, Pressly, and Valdez


Hader brings a very interesting mix of strengths and weaknesses as a pitcher to the Astros. There are some warning signs in these comps and some good too.


The good news related to the above lowlights is that Hader may have been addressing some in 2023. Here are the same lowlights with the Hader 2023 ratings:


  • Line Drive %- 2nd!- This is a phenomenal improvement!

  • HR/FB- 1st!- This is a phenomenal improvement!

  • BB/9, BB%- 47th- Maybe Hader just walked more and got the next guy out

  • Hard Contact %- 4th- Another phenomenal improvement

  • Ground Ball/ Fly Ball (40th), GB% (37th), FB% (44th)- he is probably going to be a Fly Ball pitcher like JV.

One can argue some of these show that Hader is already addressing his weaknesses.


This is good because my biggest competitive concern is shown in these spray charts.


First Hader's 2023 chart with Petco Park as the background park (this does include road contact too.) These come from Baseball Savant.

Petco

There are a lot of outs on the Warning track. Notice however that Hader does NOT get pulled a lot. We discussed this in part 1. How would this spray chart work in MMP?

Minute Maid

It looks like four fly ball outs would be HRs and two singles would be HRs.


That would turn his 2023 line into.

HR 3 to 9

Hits 32 to 36

OPS from 0.508 to 0.638

FIP and ERA up about 1-1.5 runs per 9 IP


This would validate Hader's 2023 xFIP of 3.52 and the projections pegging him at 3.30 to 3.50 ERA/FIP in 2024. To be clear, that is not bad. It is about Pressly level in 2023. It is probably NOT a $19M/year pitcher, however.


This also does not account for the part that these hits could have been on the road. I just wanted you to understand the potential future challenges Hader might have at MMP.


So, the competitive worry remains. Despite Hader making improvements in hard hit rate in 2023, will it be enough to justify paying him what the Astros are? I honestly don't know.


Was signing Hader the Best Deal for the Astros?


This transitions us to a discussion of value and salary. If the projections ARE RIGHT and I just showed why they may be, paying $19M AAV for 1.2 projected WAR is a really questionable investment.


For example, which of these is a better deal?


  • RP- 1.2 Projected WAR- $19M AAV / Five Years

  • SP- 3.2 Projected WAR- $22M AAV / Five Years


That is Hader vs. Montgomery. I would have preferred to sign Montgomery, package Urquidy (and his $3.75 2024 salary) in a trade with a good prospect to a team desperate for a starting pitcher that will give the Astros a pre-Arb RP.

Free Agent Relief Pitchers

Here is the thing, however. Relief pitchers are NEVER going to look like the wise investment.


Here are the Free Agent RP signings this offseason (and a few still projected) and the Fangraphs WAR projections. In the far right column, I have sorted this list based on the cost of the projected WAR to be delivered.


You can see the Hader signing is relatively expensive.



Best FA RP

If I filter this list of Free Agent RP down to the true difference makers, the story gets worse. Hader is THE most expensive option at RP.


However,

  • The Astros were never going to sign Chapman

  • I don't think they were a realistic option for Matsui

  • The Astros were never going to sign Kelly

  • Lopez was signed quickly by the Braves in November

  • The Astros chose the expensive LHRP Hader over the expensive RHRP Stephenson.

This is life in the MLB.


I saw another post that while from a Yankees fan is a fan concern for the Astros.

The Astros have allocated their payroll:


The Astros have $55M allocated to the bullpen. This is 25% of their core payroll (just arb and contract players). This seems excessive.


This flows to my biggest issue with pursuing high end RP help for 5 years- the payroll.


Financial Impact to the Astros in 2024 and Beyond


I know some of you will want to stop reading at this point. You don't care and think the Astros should and will compete with the Mets, Dodgers, and Yankees in their Payroll. You don't want to hear that those teams have MASSIVE revenue advantages over the Astros.


Listen to me know and hear me later. Jim Crane can spend whatever he wants with his payroll. I have no reason to believe that in an environment that he has LOST $20-50M per year in revenue on the implosion of the RSN that Jim Crane, who is ALREADY running the highest payroll in the HISTORY of the Astros intends for that payroll to grow another $40M+ dollars in order to extend all three of his core position players.


To say it another way, Astros fans can hope and should expect Jim Crane to extend Altuve probably in a nice ceremony in early to mid-March.


I don't want to reset everything I have said about the payroll in detail. If someone wants the numbers and details that lead to this summary, I can provide that separately.


In the table below I show you the payroll in

  • 2024 - with the current roster

  • 2025 and 2026

    • With the Astros only extending Altuve

    • With the Astros only extending Altuve & Tucker

    • With the Astros only extending Altuve & Bregman

    • With the Astros only extending Altuve & Tucker & Bregman


For each scenario, I show the CBT Payroll, the CBT Tax, and therefore the effective CBT Payroll.

Astros Payroll Summary

In the calculations, I have ALREADY assumed Valdez will NOT be on the team in 2025. I think he will be traded a year from now. If that does not happen the numbers for 2025 should be $20-25M higher.


I color coded each CBT Payroll if

  • Under the CBT1 level (<$237M in 2024 and <$241M in 2025)

  • Over CBT1 and under CBT2 ($241M- $261M in 2025)

  • Over CBT2 and under CBT3 ($261M- $281M in 2025)

  • Over CBT3 and under CBT4 ($281M- $301M in 2025)


You may be asking what is the point of these numbers?

  • I do not think the Astros will EVER run a payroll over the CBT3

  • This means under the current roster construction (and assuming Valdez is gone before 2025), the Astros do NOT have room to extend Altuve, Bregman, and Tucker.

  • If the Astros do not trade Valdez before 2025, I am not certain they would even run a payroll up to the CBT3 limit; and therefore, they would not be able to extend Altuve and Bregman nor Altuve and Tucker in that scenario.

  • Before the Hader signing, the Astros MIGHT have been able to extend Tucker or Bregman in addition to Altuve.


My advice to you is enjoy the ride with Bregman, Tucker, and Valdez in 2024. At most one of them is likely to be an Astros player in 2025.


The best case scenario is probably this at this point:

  1. Extend Altuve in in March 2024

  2. Trade Valdez in November/ December 2024

  3. Settle Arbitration with Tucker in January 2025

  4. Extend Tucker long term in March 2025


I would have preferred to trade Tucker and extend Bregman but I don't think that will happen.


It is not fair to say that signing Hader has cost the Astros the possibility of keeping Bregman and Valdez, but it is not far from being the truth.

If the Astros can find someone to take on Urquidy's salary that might be a $5-7M help to the payroll in 2025.


You might dismiss all of this. You might believe that the Astros were never going to extend Bregman or that they would trade Tucker and Valdez before the 2025 season. The 2025 season has always been the most challenging year financially. After 2025 Verlander, Abreu, Pressly, and Montero all come off of the payroll if they are not extended.


We will see how far Jim Crane will actually extend the payroll in 2025 after making the Hader move. Anyone calling him cheap is simply uninformed.


So, there you have it. These are the reasons why I do not like the Hader deal from a competitive and financial perspective.


I believe the competitive advantage Hader provides makes the deal an expensive but worthwhile one. I do think the financial constraints the deal places on the Astros are probably THE most problematic part of the Hader signing.




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