This offseason, it appears the Houston Astros are interested in a trio of relievers. David Robertson, Sergio Romo, and Andrew Miller are all on the Astros radar, as reported by Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart.
Hear the Astros are going hard to get one of the top closers on the market. Among those on the wish list: Miller, Robertson, Romo.
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) November 14, 2014
The Astros have made it a top priority to acquire relief help this offseason for a bullpen that is in desperate need of it. The Astros bullpen posted an MLB-worst 4.80 ERA last season across 468 2/3 innings, resulting in an fWAR of just 0.4—good for 29th in all of baseball, above only the New York Mets -1.6 fWAR mark. The Astros were also hurt by posting an MLB-worst 67.7 percent LOB%, meaning they were last place in all of baseball at stranding runners’ on-base.
To solve this problem, the Astros are first looking to Robertson, Romo or Miller.
David Robertson is coming off his first full season as the New York Yankees closer, saving 39 games while posting an ERA of 3.08 across 64 1/3 innings. The right-hander has also had past success as the Yankees set-up man, as well. From 2011-2013, Robertson posted a sterling 1.91 ERA with a 12.0 K/9, 258 Strikeouts and a 1.11 WHIP across 193 2/3 innings. The 29-year-old Robertson is the youngest of the bunch and is reported to be after “Papelbon money”, which is in reference to the 2011 contract Jonathan Papelbon signed for 4 years/$50 million with a 2016 vesting option of $13 million—an AAV of $12.5 million. Since Robertson turned down the $15.3 million QO the Yankees offered him, any signing of Robertson would also come with the forfeiture of the teams top draft pick. In the Houston Astros case, this would be the competitive round pick they obtained from the Jarred Cosart trade last season due to the Astros first two picks—the 2nd and 5th overall—being protected since they are inside the top 10.
Sergio Romo is another story. The 2013 All-Star took over for Brian Wilson as the San Francisco Giants closer in 2012, saving 75 games since then. However, in 2014 the 31-year-old lost his closing role in June after his 5th blown save of the season. Romo posted a 3.72 ERA across 58.0 innings last season, seeing a rise in his BB/9 and HR/9—1.86 and 1.40, respectively—while also seeing a steep increase in his HR/FB rate from his 2013 total of 7.9% to the 13.0 percent rate it finished at in 2014. The right-hander is known for his devastating slider, yet according to PITCHf/x it was a much less-effective pitch for him in 2014. Posting a wSL total of 12.2 in 2012 and 11.7 in 2013, Romo’s slider was only 4.4 runs above average in 2014—a very steep drop from his previous two seasons, which might be the reasoning for his 2014 decline.
Jon Heyman reported via Twitter that “if [the] Astros don’t get Robertson, they may turn to Sergio Romo”:
if astros dont get robertson, they may turn to sergio romo
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 1, 2014
Romo is a solid option for the Astros. He could be a buy low candidate for a Houston team that could desperately use the bullpen help, while still allowing them to go out and compete on the open market and continue to add to their roster through free agency.
The last major candidate of this trio in the Astros search for a closer would be Andrew Miller. Miller, unlike Robertson or Romo, has played for multiple teams throughout his career. Pitching for the Detroit Tigers, the then-Florida Marlins, the Boston Red Sox, and—most recently—the Baltimore Orioles. The southpaw has also had an interesting career as well.
The 29-year old-Miller began his career as a starter until the Red Sox moved him to the bullpen full-time in 2012, where he posted a 3.35 ERA across 40.1 innings. Since 2012 the lefty has pitched much better, having posted a 2.57 ERA with a 2.37 FIP over that 133.1 inning span. While owning a 13.6 K/9 ratio over that 133 1/3 inning span, Miller has seen his BB/9 ratio drop from the 4.46 he posted in 2012 to the respectable 2.45 it finished at in 2014. What appears to have helped Miller the most is the development of a slider, which he used as 42 percent of his pitches—posting an astounding 14.6 wSL in 2014, which is a big jump from its 3.2 state in 2013. However while Miller is being looked at as a closer, it should be noted that he has never been a full time closer in his career.
Jon Morosi tweeted that Miller has offers above an AAV of $6 million, which would make his the highest paid non-closer relief pitcher:
Offers will make Andrew Miller highest-paid reliever ever (by AAV) who does not have closing experience; current record is $6M/year.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 21, 2014
While Miller is coming off of the strongest season of his career by far, the Astros might be able to buy him cheaper that the two previously mentioned and put him in a closer role. Since Miller is seen as not haven proven himself in the closer role yet, the price for him will surely be cheaper than most closers would normally be. For that reason, the Astros—who have the time to let Miller grow into the closer role—might be a perfect fit.
All three—Robertson, Romo, and Miller—seem to have different career paths that have lead them to this point. Robertson—Mariano’s successor—is probably the most consistent of the bunch; Romo plays the part of the fallen star that could return to form in the near future; Miller embodies the unproven lefty that has turned his career around of late.
All in all, the Astros have decided that the bullpen is where they need to improve this offseason, and it seems they will have to choose between which of these three will best help them with their objective of improvement.