The Astros are having one of the best offseasons in the leagueRobinson Cano. The Texas Rangers picked up Shin-Soo Choo and traded for Prince Fielder. The Los Angeles Angels traded for David Freese. And the Oakland Athletics traded for Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson.
What have the Houston Astros done this winter to keep up with their AL West competitors? They've improved their bullpen, and their team as a whole by adding several key veterans, putting themselves in a good position to compete in 2014 -- and by compete, I mean not finishing in last place.
Tuesday the Astros announced the signing of Jesse Crain to a one-year deal, adding him to a bullpen that has vastly improved over the group that ranked last in the Majors with a 4.92 bullpen ERA, and their 29 blown saves tied for the most.
Crain was an All-Star in 2013, posting a 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the Chicago White Sox, striking out 46 and walking only 11 batters in 36 2/3 innings, including a 29-innings scoreless streak.
He was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays while still on the DL, dealing with shoulder problems, and wasn't able to throw a single pitch for the Rays because of biceps tendinitis that eventually required surgery, but he could be ready for Opening Day.
"I think there's a chance," he said. "But obviously that would be awesome if I could do that. Like I said, having this [signing] past us and getting a contract, I'm going to work on being healthy and moving on from there. It's better to take your time up front and make sure you're healthy instead of trying to rush through it."
The Astros expect him to be ready in time for the season, and hope he'll be able to compete for possibly the closer role during the spring. Assuming he can be healthy in time, Crain figures to be a great asset in Houston's bullpen, which can be one of their biggest strengths.
Crain will be joined in the bullpen by other new comers this offseason, including Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Anthony Bass, Darin Downs and Raul Valdes.
"When [Crain] is healthy, he's as good as it gets out of the bullpen," Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday. "This definitely shores up one of our big weaknesses of the team last year, which was the bullpen. I like our young guys, but I feel adding experienced relievers will help with their development and help them mature and help us win some games."
In the rotation, the Astros brought in right-hander Scott Feldman on a three-year deal. Feldman brings in the veteran experience that the Astros were looking for to help some of their younger starters settle in.
He'll come into the spring with a group of young starters looking to cement their roles as the future of the team's rotation, including Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock. Dallas Keuchel and Alex White will also try to show their stuff to manager Bo Porter and his coaching staff.
Jordan Lyles was another youngster that would have figured to be in the rotation next season, but he was dealt to the Colorado Rockies in the trade sending Dexter Fowler to Houston.
Fowler was a big addition for the Astros, who now have a set leadoff hitter for next season after having four players make at least 23 starts at the top of the lineup last season. Fowler will bring in his .365 career on-base percentage, and a little bit of pop in his bat that will make him one of the team's best offensive weapons.
The team's 40-man roster is now full at 40-men after the addition of Crain, and it's likely that we could be done watching the Astros make any more major moves this offseason with spring training just over a month away.
The AL West has done a good job of improving this offseason, and the Astros decided not to sit this one out. While the New York Yankees are busy spending over $300 million to make their team better, the Astros are making subtle, yet effective moves, to give them a great chance to finally break the streak of 100 loss seasons.
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