While the Texas Rangers shored up their starting pitching in the offseason, the Houston Astros went in the opposite direction, aggressively remaking their everyday lineup.
The Astros traded with the New York Yankees for power-hitting catcher Brian McCann. They commandeered old favorite Carlos Beltran from the Rangers with a one-year, $16 million contract. They shelled out $52 million over four years for outfielder Josh Reddick and added outfielder Norichika Aoki, a .286 lifetime hitter.
To the consternation of some fans, Houston didn’t overhaul its rotation, bringing in only knuckleballer Charlie Morton on a $14 million, two-year contract.
Mike Fiers and Chris Devenski, two pitchers in Austin on Thursday for the Astros’ winter caravan stop, view that as a vote of confidence.
“Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don’t make,” said Fiers, 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA in 2016. “Management is always going to look to improve the team, but we’ve got enough pitching to win.
“Statistically, I had one of my worst years, but I learned from it and have every reason to believe I’ll bounce back. You can say the same for Dallas Keuchel. We’ll have a healthy Lance McCullers this year, too.”
The bottom dropped out for Keuchel, who digressed from a 20-8 Cy Young Award season in 2015 to 9-12 in ’16. McCullers, one of the top young arms in the game, made just 14 starts because of injuries. Collin McHugh had the highest ERA (4.34) in his three years with the team.
“We had some things go wrong, but we finished fifth in the league in ERA,” said Devenski, who opened a lot of eyes as a rookie with a 2.16 ERA in 48 appearances, mostly in relief. “Give this staff a fresh start, and I think it will prove itself.”
Houston had the fifth-best ERA in the league — Texas was 13th — but was left in the dust by the Rangers because it couldn’t bash with them.
Enter McCann, who has swatted 20-plus home runs for nine years in a row. Beltran has 421 career homers and 1,536 RBIs. Reddick is a year removed from a 20-homer, 77-RBI season in Oakland. Aoki has a career .353 on-base percentage. Houston also will have a full season of blue-chip prospect Alex Bregman and Cuban defector Yulieski Gourriel, signed to a $47.5 million, five-year deal.
“We added four major pieces in the offseason, and all those guys are veterans,” said Fiers, who threw a no-hitter shortly after being a trade deadline acquisition by the Astros in 2015. “This gives us a really nice blend of youth and experience.”
Added Devenski, “A lot of teams will be aiming for us this year.”
Yet it all comes back to beating the two-time defending American League West champion Rangers, who were 15-4 against the Astros last season, accounting for the entire 11-game difference in the standings.
“Those games were pretty intense, and it hurts a little bit more losing to them,” Devenski said.
Fiers, told that Austin is a battleground market for the two teams, gave his sales pitch for supporting the Astros.
“The Rangers have had their time, they had our number, but we’ve gotten a lot better and will be coming after them with more weapons than we’ve had,” he said. “If you start now with the Astros, you don’t have to worry about jumping on the bandwagon.”
What’s new: The Astros are opening a $148 million spring training complex, shared with the Washington Nationals, in West Palm Beach, Fla., as the club moves south from Kissimmee. Highlighting the complex is the 6,500-seat Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Feb. 14: Pitchers, catchers report to camp.
Feb. 25: Exhibition opener at Tigers
March 1: First home exhibition, vs. Marlins
April 3: Opening Day, vs. Seattle, 7:10 p.m., Minute Maid Park