Astros focus on adding veteran reliever, power bat
Luhnow continues discussions with fellow GMs on Day 1 of Winter Meetings
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After a whirlwind few days of wheeling and dealing leading up to the Winter Meetings, the Astros stayed out of the headlines during Monday's first day of baseball's annual industry-wide gathering at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who arrived in Central Florida on Monday afternoon after spending a few days celebrating his father's 80th birthday in Mexico City, said things were relatively quiet regarding his team, but he still remains committed to adding a veteran reliever and middle-of-the-order bat.
"We're not here to ride the rides," Luhnow said.
The Astros are coming off a club-record 111 losses and have been adding some veteran pieces to sprinkle around their young core. Within the last week, they traded for outfielder Dexter Fowler and signed starting pitcher Scott Feldman and relief pitcher Chad Qualls.
"Obviously, we had a lot of activity last week and we feel pretty good about what we accomplished coming into these Winter Meetings," Luhnow said. "We've had a lot of conversations with other clubs and agents about their players, but those are just starting to pick up steam. We'll see where they go."
The area where the Astros are expected to add some offense is at first base/designated hitter, where they'd like to throw players into the mix with Brett Wallace, Chris Carter and Marc Krauss. It seems likely at this point prospect Jonathan Singleton will start 2014 at Triple-A Oklahoma City after a so-so '13.
Houston beefed up its power last year with the addition of Carter, who belted a team-high 29 homers, and the emergence of Matt Dominguez, who had 21 homers, but they still ranked last in the American League in slugging percentage.
"We've got some different options left and right, but it's certainly the fact having a first base and DH spot allows us to potentially put someone else there," Luhnow said.
Luhnow says the club feels good about Jason Castro at catcher, Dominguez at third, Jonathan Villar at shortstop, Jose Altuve at second and their outfield mix of Robbie Grossman, Fowler, L.J. Hoes, Krauss and J.D. Martinez, so first baseman/DH remains a priority.
"Certainly if we can get someone whose offensive production can help us win more games, we'll make the necessary adjustments," Luhnow said. "We have a lot of guys we feel good about in our lineup for next year, but if we can add another piece, we will. Whether or not we accomplish that this week or something like that happens after the Winter Meetings, even in January or February, remains to be seen. We're going to try to be opportunistic, and if there's a player out there that fits our needs, we're going to be aggressive."
Despite signing Qualls to a two-year deal with an option, the Astros are still looking for a closer with experience. They've talked with representatives with Jose Veras, who spent the first half of last season as Houston's closer before being traded to the Tigers. The Astros blew 10 saves in August following Veras' departure.
"We'd like a guy that has some experience and someone we know can get outs late in games," Luhnow said. "That's what we were lacking in August when we blew a bunch of late leads. Qualls is a good step in that direction, and I do think [Josh] Fields and [Kevin Chapman] and [Chia-Jen] Lo and [Josh] Zeid are going to take a step forward -- hopefully, they will -- and do a better job. It's something we'd like to maybe have one more experienced guy."
There is a lot of relief pitching on the market, so the Astros should be able to find someone to fit their budget.
"We've got a lot of good choices still up on the board, but those things can change from one moment to another," Luhnow said. "There can be a run on relievers just like there can be a run on catchers and starting pitchers. We'll closely monitor it, but there's enough guys out there right now we feel pretty good we're going to get another good one."
The Astros' current approach is to acquire players for two- or three-year deals that won't handcuff them financially and won't be traded. They're not shopping off bargains like they were last year, but they also know it doesn't make sense to pay one of the top-tier free agents at this point.
"We're at the stage where we think we're going to see a significant improvement next year and want players to feel like this is their home," Luhnow said. "When you go out and bring in a player that can help you win immediately, they want to have some security as well. We're looking at this with a medium to long view, but also with some sense of urgency because we have to win more games next year."