Rafael Montero and the Astros have agreed to a three-year, $34.5 million contract, reports ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Montero is the third reliever to fall off the board early since being signed by the Padres Robert Suarez and the Mets held on Edwin Diaz.
It’s a significant deal considering Montero has just 0.1 bWAR in his career and an ERA just north of six last year, but it speaks to how good he’s looked since landing in Houston, and early value groups are setting top-notch relievers.
Montero, 32, pitched 68 1/3 innings out of the Houston bullpen this year in addition to the six innings that came off Seattle late last year. At that time, he had a 2.18 ERA with a 26.8% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate. . He had posted an ugly 7.27 ERA (albeit with decent peripherals) in Seattle last year before being acquired by the Astros Kendall Graveman agreement. In Houston, he has leaned more heavily on his fastball and reduced his use of sinkers and sliders. Hitters have had an incredibly hard time getting his pitches to even out, giving up just three home runs on the year (and one more in the playoffs) and ranking in the 91st percentile in average exit rate.
It’s certainly worth nothing that this isn’t the first time Montero has had success, only to crash soon after. The Rangers signed him to a minor league deal in 2019 after four unsuccessful years with the Mets, which ended with Tommy John surgery before the ’18 campaign. He became a valuable member of the Rangers bullpen that year, pitching 29 innings of 2.28 ERA ball. He regressed a bit in 2020, but the Rangers were still able to deal him to the Mariners for a couple of future – Andres Mesa and Jose Corniel — before the 2021 campaign, but things would work out for him in Seattle.
While it’s easy to look at that 2019 season with the Rangers and draw parallels to his past season with the Astros in the sense that it’s a single strong season among a broader array of poor output, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest he’s turned the corner for good. In 2019, for example, his peripherals were much less impressive than his actual production, and it was in a much smaller sample size (29 innings vs. 74 1/3 in Houston). After all, handing out any multi-year free agent contracts to relievers carries a lot of risk, and given how difficult it is to predict the future performance of relievers, there’s no guarantee that Montero will perform the way he did in 2022 over the course of a lifetime. this agreement.
This deal locks up a key player on their World Series winning team, but it’s curious to see such a big deal come a day after the team moved on from their general manager. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported that assistant GM Andrew Ball and senior director of baseball strategy Bill Firkus will lead the day-to-day operations of the Astros following the departure of James Click, though Rome adds that this does not necessarily mean the two will be in charge of Montero. agreement.
Houston’s projected payroll is now $164 million, per RosterResource, which is about $15 million at the 2022 mark. They have every opportunity to bring back Justin Verlander, while they could look for additions in center field, catcher and first base, so there’s a good chance their payroll will comfortably cover the $179 million cap starting in 2022.
Their bullpen was one of the strengths of their championship team this past season, and with Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu, Ryne Stanek, Hector Neris and the now-returning Montero, it’s shaping up to be one of the best in baseball again.
It also bodes well for the other best relievers on the market. Montero’s $34.5 million contract follows Suarez’s five-year, $46 million contract with the Padres and Diaz’s record five-year, $102 million contract with the Mets. Overall, relievers are getting paid handsomely to start free agency this year, and the agents of pitchers like Taylor Rogers and Kenley Jansen are sure to show their teams those contracts as price points in negotiations.
Photo: USA Today Sports.