SAN DIEGO — The Astros landed their top free agent target — first baseman José Abreu — before the Winter Meetings, and were hoping to sign the free agent catcher Willson Contreras, who reportedly ended up going to the Cardinals on five-year deal Wednesday.
The Astros remained aggressive despite being the only team in the Winter Meetings without a general manager, as assistant GMs Bill Firkus, Charles Cook and Andrew Ball led the team’s contingent in San Diego while s -owner Jim Crane and consultant Jeff Bagwell stayed in touch while back in San Diego. Houston.
As the Winter Meetings end, there is still work to be done. The defending World Series champions have a stacked roster, but there are a few holes that will need to be addressed. And then there’s the general manager search, which Crane said likely won’t happen until the start of the new calendar year.
GREATEST REMAINING NEEDS
1. Left field: The Astros are still interested in bringing back free agent Michael Brantley for a fifth season in Houston, but that will depend on his health. Brantley, 35, just started baseball drills after undergoing arthroscopic labral repair on his right shoulder in August. The Astros have also shown interest in free agents Michael Conforto and Andrew Benintendi, a pair of left-handed bats who could balance out Houston’s predominantly right-handed lineup. Yordan Alvarez will get playing time in left field but will get most of his at-bats at DH.
2. Catcher: The club’s pursuit of Contreras showed how serious the Astros are about improving their catching situation. Martín Maldonado, the historic starter, is returning for another season, while Christian Vázquez is a free agent. Maldonado struggled at the plate last season but is a trusted leader for a young pitching staff. Catching prospects Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz may have to start in Triple-A if the Astros can land another backstop. Keep an eye on Oakland catcher Sean Murphy, who could be had in a trade, though the asking price will be high.
3. Left relief: Manager Dusty Baker’s desire for a left-handed reliever led the Astros to acquire Will Smith from Atlanta at the Trade Deadline, but he was unused in the playoffs and is a free agent. The Astros have a tremendous bullpen with righties who can get lefties out. Still, Baker wants a lefty or two in the mix to compete with Blake Taylor and Parker Mushinski in the bullpen.
RULE 5 DRAFT
The Astros did not select or forfeit any players in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, although they did make four selections in the Minor League phase.
BOTTOM LINE ASSISTANT GM
Crane said the Astros weren’t ready to make moves during Abreu’s Nov. 29 press conference and said he would be willing to go over the Competitive Balance Tax cap to fill remaining needs . Firkus’ comments in San Diego echoed those sentiments.
“We checked with every single team in the last week and captured those discussions here,” he said. “As you can imagine, there are many discussions and transactions taking place here. So yes, we will continue to pull everything we can to try to come back and go back next year. We’re going to do everything we can to improve this club: free agency, trades, waiver claims… wherever we think we can improve this club.”