HOUSTON — The Astros addressed their biggest offseason need in major fashion on Friday, agreeing to a five-year, $95 million contract with free-agent All-Star relief pitcher Josh Hader, pending a physical, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. The team has not formally announced the deal.
Hader, a lefty, returns to an Astros organization where he was the club’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2014, before being traded to the Brewers in 2015 in a deal that brought Carlos Gómez and Mike Fiers to Houston. The agreement comes just days after the Astros lost veteran reliever Kendall Graveman for the season following right shoulder surgery.
Houston’s bullpen had been gutted with Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek hitting free agency after combining to throw 185 innings in relief last year. The addition of Hader gives the Astros a potent back end with Ryan Pressly — who notched 90 saves over the past three seasons — and dominant setup man Bryan Abreu.
“We think we have a good team, and it adds a big piece to the back of our bullpen,” Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com. “With Pressly and Abreu [and Hader], you have three quality guys, 7-8-9, wherever they pitch. We think it gives us a nice chance to get to the playoffs and make a run at another World Series.”
According to Feinsand, Hader will earn $19 million per season with his new contract, which possesses no opt-outs or club options. The $95 million total surpasses the present-day value of Edwin Díaz’s $102 million deal with the Mets signed last winter, which was $93.2 million after deferrals.
Hader’s deal includes a full no-trade clause, per source, plus a bonus for winning the Reliever of the Year Award, which in the American League is named after Mariano Rivera. Houston will forfeit a pick in the 2024 MLB Draft because Hader turned down a qualifying offer from San Diego.
Arguably MLB’s premier left-handed reliever, Hader notched five career NL All-Star nods before hitting the free-agent market for the first time. The 29-year-old did so on a high note, proving his down year in 2022 was more than likely an aberration with a dominant 2023 campaign.
Hader turned in a stellar 2023 for the Padres, pitching to a 1.28 ERA in 56 1/3 innings. He held opposing hitters to a .163 average and just a .224 slugging percentage. While Hader’s 36.8% strikeout rate was his lowest since his rookie year in 2017, that K rate still ranked in the 99th percentile in MLB.
Despite his struggles in 2022, particularly after a midseason trade from Milwaukee to San Diego, Hader has been a dependable late-inning option throughout his career. He saved 33 games in 38 tries for the Padres in 2023, appearing before the ninth inning just one time all season. He wasn’t used as much as some closers, as his 61 appearances tied for 74th across MLB, but Hader has long been one of MLB’s most durable relievers. He has pitched 50 or more innings in every full season (not counting 2020) since 2018, and his lone stint on the injured list in his career came after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Hader possesses elite stuff, heavily featuring a sinker that averaged 96.1 mph in 2023 — tied for sixth among qualifying left-handers. His arsenal also includes a slider that held opposing hitters to a paltry .100/.151/.120 slash line in ‘23. Hader has an effective changeup as well, but he threw it only 3.4% of the time in ‘23 and almost never to left-handed hitters.
Name a Statcast metric, and there’s a pretty good chance Hader is among MLB’s elite in it. His expected wOBA in 2023 ranked third in MLB, with his expected batting average second to only Félix Bautista of the Orioles. Hader was above the 90th percentile in hard-hit rate (97th), barrel rate (92nd), chase rate (92nd) and whiff rate (91st) as well.
Hader did struggle with walks, though, allowing a career-high 13.0% walk rate that ranked in the fifth percentile in MLB. It was pretty much the only downside to a rebound 2023 campaign, a year after Hader’s hard-hit and barrel rates both went the wrong way. Hit unusually hard and the victim of some tough luck, Hader pitched to a 7.31 ERA in 19 games with the Padres in 2022. He finished the 2022 season with an unsightly 5.22 ERA. But after righting the ship in his walk year, Hader cemented himself as the jewel of the free-agent reliever class — not to mention one of the youngest relievers on the market.