One of the best relievers in baseball is officially off the market. All-Star closer Josh Hader reportedly agreed to a five-year, $95 million deal with the Houston Astros on Friday, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. He was ranked No. 9 on Yahoo Sports' list of this winter's top 25 free agents.
The contract, which is the largest for a relief pitcher in baseball history by present-day value, does not contain financial deferrals, according to Passan.
BREAKING: Star closer Josh Hader and the Houston Astros are in agreement on a five-year, $95 million contract, a source tells ESPN.
The deal contains no deferrals. It is the largest present-day value contract for a relief pitcher in baseball history.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 19, 2024
With the move, the Astros pick up the best reliever in baseball the past seven seasons and bolster an already strong bullpen. Since Hader made his debut with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017, he has posted the highest fWAR among MLB relievers. In his career, Hader, a lefty, has a 2.50 ERA over 388 2/3 innings and has struck out 648 batters.
Committing major resources to a closer is always a risky bet, but Hader has a strong track record of dominance and consistency. Aside from 2022, when he posted a 5.22 ERA in 50 innings, Hader has posted an ERA better than league average in every season that he has pitched in the majors.
Can Hader remain effective after a strong 2023?
Hader bounced back from that 5.22 ERA in spectacular fashion, posting a 1.28 ERA over 56 1/3 innings with the San Diego Padres in 2023, a performance far more in line with the overall numbers he has put up in his career. He has been an All-Star in five of his seven seasons in the majors and won the NL reliever of the year award three times.
Hader's 2023 bounce-back came with one significant warning sign, however, as his average fastball velocity declined by more than a full mile-per-hour last season. He averaged 97.4 mph on the pitch in 2022, and that dropped to 96.1 mph in 2023. Despite the velocity loss, the pitch was actually more effective, and batters hit just .190 against Hader's fastball in 2023. If the lowered fastball velocity was a strategic move by Hader, the decline is less worrisome. Generally, though, it's not a good sign when a closer with elite velocity starts to lose a few ticks on his fastball.
Hader was the best reliever available on the market
There's always some volatility to reliever performance year over year, but Hader is a good bet to remain effective in the short term even if he experiences some decline. His strikeout numbers were still strong last season, and the velocity decline didn't affect his performance.
At 29, Hader was also the safest elite reliever on the market. David Robertson and Robert Stephenson are the next-best relievers available.
Because of that, signing Hader was always going to require a multi-year commitment. This move by the Astros comes with risk — all reliever signings do — but Hader's recent track record suggests he'll remain a dominant pitcher, at least in the near term.