All-Star closer Josh Hader agreed to terms on a five-year, $95 million contract with the Houston Astros on Friday, significantly bolstering a team that has made seven consecutive appearances in the American League Championship Series, a source told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
The deal doesn’t include any deferrals, making it the largest ever for a relief pitcher in terms of present-day value. Edwin Diaz signed a five-year, $102 million deal with the New York Mets last offseason, but $26.5 million of it was deferred, giving it a present-day value in the neighborhood of $93 million.
The Astros’ pickup of Hader comes on the heels of news that Kendall Graveman, one of the team’s principal high-leverage relievers, would miss the entire 2024 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Hader’s presence in all likelihood means Ryan Pressly, who accumulated 90 saves over the last three years, will become the team’s eighth-inning reliever, though Hader displayed versatility to handle various assignments early in his career.
Regardless of how it shakes out, the Astros, who return the vast majority of the group that fell one win shy of the World Series last fall, will once again feature a devastating back end of the bullpen, with Bryan Abreu and Rafael Montero also in the mix. Houston’s Hader signing has the dual effect of eliminating him as an option for its division rivals. The Texas Rangers, who defeated the Astros in a hotly contested ALCS while on their way to their first championship last year, had been rumored to be in the mix for Hader all offseason.
A member of the Astros’ minor league system from 2013 to 2015, Hader made an All-Star team in each of his five full seasons in the major leagues and has established himself as arguably the game’s best closer. His 153 saves since the start of 2019 lead the majors. His 437 strikeouts in that five-year stretch are 59 more than the next-closest reliever.
The 29-year-old left-hander has done that while fashioning a 2.60 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. His devastating sinker-slider combination, thrown from a wiry frame that helps to maximize his deception, has netted him a career 15.0 strikeout-per-nine rate, the highest in history among those who accumulated at least 50 innings.
Hader anchored bullpens for Milwaukee Brewers teams that consistently overachieved before joining the San Diego Padres as part of a midseason trade in the summer of 2022. The deal saw the Brewers acquire Esteury Ruiz, who was later used as part of another trade to land standout catcher William Contreras, but parting with Hader while in the midst of another playoff run became a controversial subject within the Brewers’ clubhouse. Hader helped the Padres reach the National League Championship Series later that fall, then had another standout season for a star-laden Padres team that grossly underachieved in 2023, posting a 1.28 ERA with 33 saves and 85 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings.
Hader distinguished himself early on, not just for his electric stuff but also for his ability to pitch multiple innings late in games. In recent years, however, that hasn’t been the case; Hader has recorded more than three outs in a regular-season outing only once since 2019 and has generally been reluctant to do so, pointing to the danger of pitchers overextending themselves amid a long season. It’s unclear how securing his first major contract might impact his thinking.
Hader’s deal comes with full no-trade protection and doesn’t include any opt-outs or options, a source familiar with the contract told Passan. He will be paid $19 million annually and can collect an extra $1 million for winning the Reliever of the Year Award, which he previously claimed in 2018, 2019 and 2021.