Astros 2022 Winter Meetings Summary

SAN DIEGO — The Astros landed their top free-agent target — first baseman José Abreu — before they get to winter meetings, and they’re hoping to sign free-agent catcher Willson Contreras, who is said to be joining the Cardinals on a five-year deal Wednesday.

The Astros remained aggressive despite being the only team at the winter meetings without a general manager, as assistant GMs Bill Firkus, Charles Cook and Andrew Ball led the team’s contingent in San Diego while owner Jim Crane and adviser Jeff Bagwell stayed in touch , while they were back in San Diego Houston.

There is still a lot to do at the end of the winter meetings. The defending World Series champions have a stacked roster, but there are a few gaps that need to be addressed. And then there’s the search for the general manager, which Crane says likely won’t happen until after the new calendar year begins.

1. Left field:
The Astros are still interested in bringing free agent Michael Brantley back to Houston for a fifth season, but it will depend on his health. Brantley, 35, was just starting baseball practice after undergoing arthroscopic labrum surgery on his right shoulder in August. The Astros have also shown interest in free agents Michael Conforto and Andrew Benintendi, two left-handers who could make up for Houston’s mostly right-handed lineup. Jordan Alvarez will get playtime in left field but will get most of his at-bats at DH.

2. Catcher: The club’s pursuit of Contreras has shown how serious the Astros are about improving their catching situation. Martín Maldonado, the acting starter, is returning for another season while Christian Vázquez is a free agent. Maldonado struggled on the plate last season but is a trusted leader for a young pitching team. Catch odds Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz may need to start in triple-A if the Astros can land another backstop. Keep an eye on Oakland catcher Sean Murphy who would be up for grabs in a trade although the asking price will be high.

3. Left-handed reliever: Manager Dusty Baker’s desire for a left-hander prompted the Astros to acquire Atlanta-based Will Smith at Trade Deadline, but he didn’t playoff in the playoffs and is a free agent. The Astros have an enormous bullpen with righties that lefties can take out. Still, Baker would like a leftist or two in the mix to compete with Blake Taylor and Parker Mushinski in the bullpen.

The Astros did not select or lose any players in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, although they made four selections in the minor league phase.

Crane said the Astros weren’t done during Abreu’s Nov. 29 press conference, and said he’s ready to cross the Competitive Balance Tax threshold to meet the remaining needs. Firkus’ comments in San Diego reflected those sentiments.

“We’ve met with every single team over the last week and taped those discussions here,” he said. “As you can imagine, a lot of conversations and transactions happen here. So yes, we will keep trying to come back and compete again next year. We will do everything we can to improve this club: free agency, swaps, waivers… wherever we think we can improve this club.”

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