Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 11/13/13
Both the Astros and former closer Jose Veras are open to the idea of a Minute Maid Park reunion, although there haven’t been any talks with the 33-year-old free agent yet. Even if that fire’s not rekindled, the Astros want relief help. They had the majors’ worst bullpen last season by most any metric, including ERA (4.92). A brand-name closer or someone who’s simply done the job at some point isn’t a requirement, however. The Astros’ philosophy is that experience pitching in a tight situation is experience pitching in a tight situation, whether or not that situation matched the rather arbitrary criteria of a statistical save. “Veras was excellent in that role last year, and he had never done it,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday at MLB’s annual general managers’ meetings. “Josh Fields did a good job in that role at the end of the year, and I think he clearly deserves a chance to try and maintain that role. But we’re not going to be afraid to allow to give those key innings to guys who haven’t done that particular role before.” Playing waiting game Going after bigger-name free agents like Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour or Fernando Rodney, then, is not a necessity. Luhnow might be best served by waiting to see how the market unfolds before making any signings, regardless of position, and those names could be gone at that point. “I think you kind of wait for the dam to break, those first couple of signings to see where it’s going to go,” Luhnow said. “Some players and their representatives want to wait and see how the market develops before they commit. It’s still early. Like every year, there’ll be some good buys in the free-agent market, and sometimes those buys are early. But a lot of times they’re later, and the one thing I’ve always maintained is you don’t judge an offseason on where you are on Dec. 15 or Jan. 15. You judge it by where you are on opening day.” The Astros already added one reliever — lefthander Darin Downs from the Tigers on a waiver claim. Fields, Chia-Jen Lo, Kevin Chapman and Josh Zeid still figure to be pieces in the bullpen. Righty Alex White, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April, could fit in, too. “We’re going in with our eyes open,” Luhnow said. “There’s a lot of interesting players out there that could fit for us, and I think we’ve got a lot of players in our own organization. … There are a lot of options.” But as the Astros look to improve, there’s a twofold reality the team must combat. On one hand, relief pitching is particularly volatile year to year. On the other hand, relievers can often be paid beyond their worth, in part because of that volatility. “It’s a tricky one,” Luhnow said of the bullpen market, “because relievers don’t get a ton of innings in the course of any one year. So someone can be really good one year and just be mediocre the next year, or vice versa. Look at the year LaTroy Hawkins had (for the Mets). Did anybody expect that at his age? Probably not a lot of people did. The Mets obviously took a chance. “I think it’s inherently a risky market because of the small number of innings that they pitch and the inherent variability of pitching anyway.”
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