Did the Texas Rangers ALCS opponent solve their 9th inning issues?

The best free agent reliever might be helping a rival of the Texas Rangers to solve an issue that plagued their team throughout the second half of 2023.
San Diego Padres v Oakland Athletics
San Diego Padres v Oakland Athletics / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

It was a pretty quiet Friday on the transaction front until Jeff Passan tweeted out that the Houston Astros had signed closer Josh Hader to a 5-year/$95 million contract. Texas had been rumored to be interested in Hader since the World Series ended in November. It was widely thought that Texas would sign Hader due to all of Texas's bullpen issues in 2023. Texas though does not normally invest significant dollars into the bullpen. They normally tend to rely on non-roster invitees and finding guys who are looking to bounce back from tough seasons. It never made sense that Texas would sign him, but it does hurt that he will be pitching for the Astros. Houston had a late-innings issue in 2023 and if Hader pitches well that fixes the problem. What does Hader bring to the AL West race and how can Texas respond to this signing?

Josh Hader and his impact on the AL West race

Houston will enter the season on a streak of winning the AL West three seasons in a row and six of the last seven. Texas had a chance to end that streak on the last day of the regular season in 2023, but lost 1-0 in a game that inspired their run to the World Series. Both Houston and Texas will be hanging banners on Opening Day. Houston for the AL West and Texas for winning the World Series. These two teams will enter the season as the co-favorites to win the AL West in 2024.

Hader will now join a great bullpen and will be teamed with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Presley as the Astros late-inning options. Each of these pitchers throw hard and each of them can close out the game. New manager Joe Espada will have multiple options on an nightly basis for how to close out a game. He can matchup with the righties and lefties or just have them pitch to a role. Abreu in the 7th, Presley in the 8th, and Hader in the 9th. If Houston can get a lead late they can hand the ball over to a shutdown bullpen staff and close out most games.

Houston quietly had an issue in that area in 2023. They did not have the lockdown staff that they had in 2022 that led them to a World Series. Ryan Pressly while good was not as dominant as he was in 2022. Pressly saw his ERA rise to 3.58, he blew six saves, and his batting average against rose from .181 to .220. He was still among the best closers in the league as he saved 31 games. He was not as good as he had been in the past, especially after the All-Star break when he had a 5.19 ERA.

Now Houston adds Hader, who is still a dominant closer. Hader in 2023 had a 1.28 ERA, 33 saves in 38 opportunities, and struck out 85 while walking 30 batters. His strikeouts ticked down from 2022 and walks ticked up, but he still maintained a low ERA and hitters only batted .163 against him. The contract he signed could be a bad long-term investment, but he will help the Astros win plenty of games in 2024.

Does Texas need to respond to this move by the Houston Astros?

This is not the AL East in the early 2000's when the Yankees and Red Sox would make moves to counter what the other team did. Texas has been more quietly addressing their bullpen this offseason. They signed Kirby Yates last month at the Winter Meetings, drafted a bullpen arm in the Rule 5 draft, and added a few pieces like Diego Castillo, trading for Daniel Duarte from the Reds, and adding a few minor leaguers to the 40-man roster as well. Yates could turn out to be a good signing. They have addressed their bullpen in a normal fashion for this team with minor moves rather than a big splash.

Texas has been linked to Hector Neris in free agency. It was rumored that Texas and the New York Yankees are both trying to sign the power right-handed relieve who pitched for Houston last season. Neris would be an improvement. He had a 6-3 record with a 1.71 ERA and struck out 77 batters in 68 1/3 innings pitched. The 34-year old reliever was a long-time reliever for the Phillies and has been in Houston for the last two seasons. He is in search of his third different organization.

Texas seems like they are still waiting for the Bally Sports issue to be resolved. The deadline for that appears to be February 1st. Hopefull,y a deal is reached before then so that Texas can make one or two more moves to help strengthen their roster heading to spring training next month. Houston signing Hader could make it more difficult for Texas to win the division in 2024. The ball is now in Texas' court to possibly respond to this move as they try to stake their claim as the best team in the AL West this season.

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