Josh Hader may not sign up as Houston Astros closer after all

Josh Hader could be open to a more flexible role with the Houston Astros.

Josh Hader, San Diego Padres
Josh Hader, San Diego Padres / Denis Poroy/GettyImages

Josh Hader has spent the last few years operating under a "closer mandate" with teams. He was electric as the San Diego Padres' nail-in-coffin man last season, accumulating 33 saves in 61 appearances. He pitched 56.1 innings with a 1.28 ERA and 1.101 WHIP. He registered 85 K's, with a strikeout percentage (36.8) in the MLB's 99th percentile.

Pound for pound, Hader might be the best pitcher in baseball. He has been dominant in the full-time closer role since 2019. Last season marked his fifth career All-Star appearance. Back in 2018, he became the rare relief pitcher to finish top-10 in Cy Young voting.

The natural expectation was that Hader would continue to mandate closer duties in Houston, but not so fast. There's a chance Hader is the Astros' closer, but the 29-year-old is no longer requiring that role in Houston.

"We're all in the same boat to do whatever we can," Hader told the Houston Chronicle.

Hader explained the reason for his change in stance to MLB Network.

"[The closer demand] was one of the biggest things that a lot of people hovered over me, and it’s not something that I made up," said Hader, h/t the Houston Chronicle. "The arbitration system told me the traditional role of the closer is where the value is with relievers... I was told to my face what you’re doing is not worth it. So at the end of the day I had to protect myself, because if I don’t, the team isn’t going to protect me long term."

Hader's closer mandate in San Diego was related to aribitration, which meant an outmoded statistical barometer determined his annual income. Closers are more "valuable" to arbiters than middle relief pitchers. The more saves, the more money in Hader's bank account.

Now Hader has lined up a five-year, $95 million deal with Houston — all guaranteed. It's rare for relievers to receive that kind of long-term commitment, but for Hader, it means he is comfortable expanding his role a bit. The Astros already have two All-Star relievers on the roster, including veteran closer Ryan Pressly. Hader is a southpaw. Pressly is right-handed. Perhaps the Astros can play the matchups.

Josh Hader comfortable ceding closing duties with Astros

We shouldn't expect a huge spike in workload for Hader, but the Astros will have options over how he is deployed. Rather than preserving Hader for the ninth inning every game, the Astros can use the talented lefty to pitch out of middle-inning jams or as the setup man for Pressly. One has to imagine Joe Espada appreciates Hader's open mind.

That said, just because change is an option, that doesn't mean it's the best option. There is a reason Hader is so highly valued as a closer. It takes a special breed to operate under those stressful conditions. Hader is built for the moment. He doesn't let the pressure of closing games rattle him. The limited innings also allow Hader to pitch all-out in every appearance. His average fastball velocity (96.1 MPH) lands in the 85th percentile.

Don't expect the Astros to stray too far from the beaten path. Hader and Pressly may alternate back and forth, but Hader is easily the Astros' best ninth-inning bet. Houston's eyes are on the ultimate prize. Once the playoffs arrive, one has to imagine Hader will emerge as Houston's primary — perhaps even only — closer.

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