The World Champion Astros came to Orlando, FL largely with the intent of beefing up their relief corps. General Manager Jeff Luhnow came away with two pitchers and may have left their biggest question still unanswered.
Smith: At signing announcement
(c) Houston Astros
Replacing the departed Luke Gregerson is righthander Joe Smith. Despite having one of the top names to check into a hotel with, Smith has been making a name for himself as a fairly dependable sidearm reliever with some closer experience.
The Ohio native will turn 34 just before the season starts but he fanned 71 batters in 54 innings last year, splitting time with the Blue Jays and Indians. Smith has spent the bulk of his career with Cleveland and Anaheim and has compiled a 44-28 big league record with 30 career saves and a 2.97 ERA.
He'll be put into a mix with Will Harris, Chris Devenski and Joe Musgrove for the righty set-up role in front of closer Ken Giles. Smith's contract is a two-year deal for $14 million.
Next came the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday and the Astros pulled a shocker. Houston grabbed outfielder Anthony Gose from the Arlington Rangers for the $100,000 claim fee. As a Rule 5 claim, Gose has to stay on the big league roster the entire season or be offered back to the Rangers.
If that name sounds familiar, Gose was property of the Astros for less than a day back in 2010. That was when Houston sent Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia for pitcher J.A. Happ, infielder Jonathan Villar and the speedy prospect Gose who was drawing comparisons to Rickey Henderson while in the minors. Ed Wade flipped Gose later in the day to Toronto for the much-maligned Brett Wallace who never quite caught on as Lance Berkman's replacement.
Gose arrived in Toronto in 2012 and spent five big league seasons with the Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers as a .240 career hitter with minimal power. So why did Houston want to yank this guy away from the Rangers?
It seems rather than going out and signing a quality lefthander for the pen, the Astros have become overly creative. Francisco Liriano was nearly a disaster last summer and Gose, you see, has converted to a lefty relief specialist with an arm that can pop the mitt near 100 mph.
Gose made the transition in 2016 and has worked his way to Advanced A level in the minors. His stuff is as raw as one of President Trump's 5 a.m. tweets but if Astros pitching coach Brett Strom sees something there, he could be kept around all year as a reliever/pinch-runner/defensive option.
Houston also signed two players to minor league deals with invitations to spring camp. Catcher Tim Federowicz will compete with Max Stassi for the third catcher on the depth chart. As a big leaguer, he's hit .196 in parts of six seasons with the Dodgers, Cubs and Giants.
The other signee is righthanded pitcher Matt Ramsey who has yet to reach the majors despite being 28 years old. He's had just 5-1/3rd innings of AAA experience so he'll need a jaw-dropping spring to win a job with the parent club.
The Astros are also expected to sign their ninth-round draft choice, catcher Mike Papierski, on Monday. The switch-hitting backstop was a teammate of Alex Bregman at LSU.
- Bob Hulsey