For Houston Astros fans, this offseason may be one that helps get the franchise back on track. The team has already been linked to some high-profile names, so keep an eye on the Astros this winter.
Switching to the American League wasn't kind to Houston. Its 51-111 record was the worst in franchise history, and it marked the third consecutive season that the team lost more than 100 games. On the bright side, things can really only go up from here.
The Astros had a team payroll of around $22 million in 2013; that's the amount that some individual players make in a season by themselves. So, obviously, the team needs to start spending. And there are quality players on the market that can help the team get back to being competitive, so let's see if the team will start throwing money at players.
MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reported that Astros owner Jim Crane expects next year's payroll to be at least twice as big as this year's, which means that the team should be active in free agency.
Rumors are hard to follow, and moves can happen quickly. This article will be updated on a daily basis, which will make it easier for fans to follow along. This tracker will be a place that will keep fans current, so be sure to stay tuned in order to see what goes on with the Astros this winter.
Nov. 1: LHP Darin Downs claimed off waivers
Dec. 6: Signed LHP Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million deal pending a physical, via Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Dec. 7: Signed RHP Chad Qualls to a two-year deal worth $6 million, plus incentives, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, with a $3.5 million club option
Dec. 18: Claimed RHP Collin McHugh off waivers from the Colorado Rockies
Dec. 18: Acquired 1B/OF Jesus Guzman from the San Diego Padres in exchange for INF Ryan Jackson
Dec. 31: Signed RHP Jesse Crain to a one-year contract
LHP Erik Bedard (Age 34)
2013 stats: 32 G/26 GS, 151 IP, 4-12, 1 SV, 4.59 ERA, 149 H, 18 HR, 138 K/75 BB
C Jason Castro
The Houston Astros signed reliever Jesse Crain to a one-year deal, via MLB.com's Brian McTaggart.
Before getting hurt, Crain was arguably the best reliever in the league this past season. He went 2-3 with a 0.74 ERA and a 1.145 WHIP with the Chicago White Sox in 2013. He struck out 46 batters and walked only 11 in 36.2 innings over 38 outings.
Unfortunately for him, he didn't throw a pitch after June 29. Shoulder injuries forced the right-hander to miss the entire second half of the season, even after he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 32-year-old adds another good arm, when healthy, to a revamped Houston bullpen.
Crain has a career 3.05 ERA and a 1.231 WHIP in his 10-year career. He has not thrown a pitch for a team outside of the AL Central.
Houston has made another addition to its pitching staff. The club signed free agent Matt Albers to a one-year, $2.45 million contract with a $3.5 million club option for 2015, via FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Albers went 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.270 WHIP with the Cleveland Indians this past season. He appeared in 56 games and threw 63 innings in his only season with the Indians.
He got off to a rough start to his career, but he has been much better in recent seasons. He posted a 2.39 ERA and a 1.144 WHIP in 63 games between the Boston Red Sox and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012.
Albers started his career with the Astros. He pitched with the club from 2006 to 2007, and he has made four different stops since leaving. Now he will return back home.
It will be a different role with Houston this time around. In his first stint with the club, 20 of his 32 games were starts. He went 4-13 with a 5.87 ERA and a 1.599 WHIP over parts of two seasons with the Astros.
The 30-year-old has gotten his career on track since becoming a reliever, and he continues to get better.
This was another step to improving the bullpen, but the Astros could still make moves to get better.
With the first pick in 2013 Rule 5 draft, the Houston Astros selected left-handed pitcher Patrick Schuster from the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
The 23-year-old has spent five seasons in Arizona's organization, and he has yet to make it past Single-A.
In 2013, Schuster had his best season in the minors. He posted a 1.83 ERA and a 1.083 WHIP in 44.1 innings, spanning 55 appearances.
The Astros then traded Schuster to the San Diego Padres in exchange for cash to complete the trade for Anthony Bass.
Houston is looking to add to its bullpen, and MLB.com's Brian McTaggart wrote that the team is interested in Chad Gaudin and Jesse Crain.
The Astros would like to add one more reliever.
Gaudin went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.247 WHIP with the San Francisco Giants this past season. The 30-year-old made 30 appearances, including 12 starts, and threw 97 innings. He has pitched for nine teams in his 11-year career, including two stints with the Oakland A's. The right-hander hasn't been with the same team for back-to-back seasons since 2007.
Crain was one of the top relievers in baseball in 2013. The 32-year-old posted a 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the Chicago White Sox. The right-hander was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays while on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. He didn't pitch after June 29, which includes his time with the Rays.
Crain, who went to the University of Houston, spoke about the possibility of pitching for the Astros:
There's been a lot of teams that have called and shown interest, but now it's just a waiting game. It would be fun to be able to play here, living here and going to UH. I'm doing my own thing and getting ready and see how things play out.
The Astros are looking to add a quality arm, and they have a few targets.
Right-handed pitcher Lucas Harrell is drawing interest from other teams, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. After pulling off a trade for Dexter Fowler, teams see Houston as a realistic trade partner.
Harrell had a rough 2013 season.
The 28-year-old went 6-17 with a 5.86 ERA and a 1.705 WHIP. Not only did he lead the AL in losses, but his 88 walks were also the most in the majors. He allowed 20 home runs, but he did a decent job of preventing them from being huge blows. Half of his home runs allowed were solo shots.
Teams see that he posted a 3.76 ERA and threw 193.2 innings in 2012. He still struggled with walks, but he struck out 140 batters in his first full season as a starter.
Harrell has shown some promise early in his career, and the Astros could dangle him to see what they could get in return.
Chad Qualls had a strong 2013 campaign, and the Houston Astros needed bullpen help. It looked like a logical fit, and FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that the Astros have signed the right-hander.
It will be a two-year deal worth $6 million, plus incentives, and there will be a club option worth $3.5 million.
The 35-year-old went 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 66 appearances. He walked only 19 batters and allowed only four home runs in 62 innings.
Qualls has pitched for eight teams in his 10-year career, including six since 2010. The veteran spent the first four years of his career with the Astros, but a lot has changed since then.
Miami wanted to bring the reliever back, but Houston was able to grab Qualls.
2013 Stats: 12-12, 3.86 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 181.2 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 6.5 K/9
Contract Status: Three years, $30 million
Scott Feldman gives the Astros a veteran starter to help lead what is a very young and inexperienced starting rotation.
While his numbers don't jump off the page, Feldman is a solid addition for Houston, especially given his ability to keep the ball on the ground.
Feldman isn't going to rack up gaudy strikeout numbers and will give up his fair share of runs and hits, that much is for sure. But he immediately improves what was a pretty terrible Astros rotation, and that the team was willing to spend in free agency has to be taken as a good sign.
2013 Stats: .263/.369/.407, 12 HR, 18 2B, 3 3B, 42 RBI, 19 SB
Contract Status: Will make $7.35 million in 2014, under team control through 2015
The Houston Astros have made their first big splash of the offseason by sending RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Dexter Fowler and a player to be named later, via the Rockies.
The 27-year-old is only two years removed from hitting .300/.389/.474 with 13 home runs, 18 doubles and 11 triples. This past season he dropped down to .263, which is where he was around from 2009 to 2011.
Although he had a down year, Fowler has a career slash line of .270/.365/.423. He has 83 career stolen bases through six seasons.
Fowler played in only 119 due to finger/wrist and knee injuries. He had recorded at least 10 triples in four straight years, but he finished 2013 with only three triples.
He had spent his entire career with the Rockies, but now he will switch leagues. There will have to be some adjustments made as he moves to the AL West.
Several teams had shown interest in Fowler, but it was the Astros that wound up with him.
The Houston Astros are trying to sign outfielder Adron Chambers, according to SB Nation's Chris Cotillo.
Chambers has spent his entire career inside of the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He has seen some time in the majors in each of the past three seasons, but there hasn't been much action for him.
The 27-year-old recorded four hits and 11 strikeouts in 26 at-bats this past season. He has gone 19-for-88 with a slash line of .216/.289/.295 over three seasons.
He has made the Cardinals' postseason roster in each of the past three seasons. The outfielder has hit only .083/.143/.083 in his postseason career.
In seven season in the minors, Chambers hit .277/.365/.392 with 31 home runs, 95 doubles and 41 triples. He added 105 stolen bases.
He was promoted to Triple-A in the middle of the 2010 season, and it has been the level that he has hit the best at. He has a slash line of .284/.372/.401 with 12 triples and 57 stolen bases.
Chambers can help a team with his speed. He hasn't gotten many chances for him to show what he can do with his bat in the majors, but his speed makes him an attractive asset.
Davis struggled in 2013. The 26-year-old hit only .205 with nine home runs and 33 RBI. He did hit 19 home runs in 2010 and 30 two years ago, so there is potential for the first baseman to provide pop to a lineup.
The Mets have Lucas Duda ready to play first base if they decide to trade Davis, and Houston could be a landing spot.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro has drawn "significant" interest and things could heat up once the top catchers are off the market.
However, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart wrote that the Astros expect Castro to be their starting catcher next year.
Castro hit .276 with 18 home runs, 35 doubles and 56 RBI before missing the final month of the season after suffering a knee injury. His average has increased each season, so there is a lot of promise in the young catcher.
The Astros have Max Stassi in the minors, but they are pretty thin at the position. That likely means that Castro will not be traded.
*Updated Nov. 1 at 3:40 p.m. ET:
The Houston Astros began their offseason by claiming pitcher Darin Downs off waivers from Detroit, according to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart.
Downs has pitched in 47 games over the last two years with the Tigers. He went 2-3 with five holds and a 4.34 ERA over 56 innings. He has allowed 54 hits, five home runs and 20 walks through his first two seasons.
The splits against Downs are staggering. Right-handed batters are hitting .301/.385/.496 with 28 strikeouts against him while left-handers are hitting .202/.255/.293 with 29 strikeouts.
He still has time to grow as a pitcher. The right-hander doesn't have much experience in the majors, but he has shown the ability to get left-handed hitters out.
It's not a big move, but it gives the Astros another arm for the bullpen.