Astros talk to Ryan Pressley before signing Josh Hader: ‘It’s the right thing to do’
HOUSTON — Getting a closer meant appeasing the other he was already working for, so Houston Astros general manager Dana Brown halted his rapid pursuit of Josh Hader to make a phone call. Brown said Houston’s courtship of Hader “crystallized in approximately 72 hours,” but could not intensify it before the team briefed Ryan Pressley on the possibility of a demotion.
“I didn’t want to move forward with this without talking to Presley,” Brown said Saturday afternoon during the team’s annual FanFest at Minute Maid Park.
“I think Pressley means a lot to this organization. His leadership in the clubhouse, his leadership in the bullpen, the things he’s done for this organization — all the saves in the postseason and all the saves in the season. He’s just been a pillar. But I wanted to talk to him because I know that It is the right thing to do.
The Browns and first-year manager Joe Espada called Pressley on Wednesday when it became clear the Astros were serious suitors for Hader. On Saturday, both men described Pressley as a “true professional” during discussions. Espada twice claimed that Pressley was “supportive” of the idea of adding Hader to what is now one of the best shortstops in baseball.
Whether those conversations left Presley content remains a mystery. He was one of 17 players who attended Saturday’s festivities at Minute Maid Park, but is the only player not included in the interview schedule distributed to reporters Friday afternoon — before news of Hader’s five-year, $95 million contract emerged. On Saturday, Pressley declined several requests for an interview through a team spokesman.
“Presley is involved in everything. He’s like, ‘Joe, I get it.’ We want to win. “This guy is one of the best shooters out there, and I understand that.” He’s excited. I’m excited. “Everyone is excited,” Espada said. “We now have to clarify how we will move forward, and we will begin these conversations here in the coming days.”
Speaking to the press or remaining silent does not change the basic fact: the situation is delicate at best. The Astros are a much better team with Hader, but maintaining perfect chemistry falls to Espada in his first season as a major league manager.
Espada said on Saturday that he had not yet spoken with Hader, who still must pass a physical before his deal becomes official. During six seasons as Houston’s bench coach, Espada established himself as an excellent communicator and someone players could easily relate to.
Both traits will be required to prevent an already embarrassing situation from becoming an additional distraction. Longtime teammates have echoed what Brown and Espada echoed Saturday — that Pressley embodies professionalism and puts the team’s success before his own — but he remains a human being who should enjoy feeling valued. To some extent, Hader’s signature might be seen as slight.
Pressley has 90 regular season saves, a 141 ERA+ and a 0.985 WHIP since becoming a full-time closer in 2021. He has not allowed an earned run in his last 22 2/3 postseason innings and has more playoff saves than any closer . In franchise history. He hasn’t done anything to deserve a demotion but he could get a demotion anyway.
“He’s the guy we went to. He finished a World Series for us. He was our guy,” said starter Lance McCullers Jr. “I think having him in the loop and keeping him on top of the situation goes a long way with the guys.” I think a lot of times teams just sign players and they might think: ‘This is the job.’ But there is a great human side to us here. I think the front office understands that. I think Dana, being a baseball guy and being in the game a long time, understands that. I think Ryan would probably appreciate that.
Espada believes in defined roles for players — “We owe it to them,” he said on Saturday — and sounded like a manager who would eventually name an independent closer. He sidestepped that question Saturday morning, claiming that “this will be over” when the team gets to spring training, but Hader’s salary and contract structure is not the kind given to setup linemen.
“We have an elite team, three elite players who can finish any game at any time,” Espada said. “I’ll sit down, and I would assign roles to those guys so they know exactly how they’re going to be deployed in the game. But (like) we’ve done in the past, if this is the eighth inning where there are some lefties and that might be a better pocket for some guys, this might be the one.” His role. But I would love to have a consistent role for these guys.
Even if these roles are defined, it is easy to imagine how fluid these roles are. The matchups and workload will determine how Espada handles the end of the games far more than any title he might assign in spring training.
Hader, Pressley and Brian Abreu will not be available for day-to-day action. All three relievers dominate on both sides of the plate, but if there is a pocket of lethal left-handed hitters in the eighth inning, the left-handed Hader would be a more logical option than Pressley or Abreu. Two from the right.
Hader hasn’t had more than three triples in a regular-season game since 2020. Pressley did so just twice last season and once in 2021. When asked Saturday if he viewed Hader as someone who would only get three triples, “I see when he comes in, he closes the inning, out, two outs, whatever,” Espada answered.
Hader still needs to meet Espada, along with coaches Josh Miller and Bill Murphy, before a clearer picture of his preferences emerges. The team signed Hader to create baseball’s scariest game, not to generate more controversy.
Presley doesn’t have the kind of personality conducive to inflaming that kind of emotion, and that was perhaps Brown’s most important takeaway from a phone call that otherwise could have been awkward.
“I got off the phone and was excited,” Brown said. “This guy is going to do whatever it takes to win. I’m getting more excited about it.”
(Top photo by Ryan Pressley: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(tags for translation) Houston Astros