The Houston Astros put their depth to the test this offseason when they decided to consolidate their financial resources to bring in one of the best closers in the game in Josh Hader. In giving Hader a five-year, $95 million contract, the Astros have inched closer to the second luxury-tax threshold, preventing them from making other moves. This was a sign of the belief the front office had in the team's ability to fill the other holes in their roster with the current players they had in the system.

Alas, this decision appears to be backfiring for the Astros early on in the season. The Astros' starting pitching outside of Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez and Ronel Blanco has been questionable at best; Hunter Brown and JP France have been major disappointments, with that duo combining for an unsightly 10.90 ERA.

Now, Josh Hader may not have been exactly elite for the Astros in the early goings of the season, but given his track record, he should be back firing on all cylinders in no time. But Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic is wondering whether signing Hader to the big contract was the best idea for the Astros, as they could have chosen to spread the wealth around the roster instead.

“The Astros could have […] maybe divided the money among two relievers and a starter,” Rosenthal wrote. “The Astros should not have signed Hader if they were so worried about the tax. … Spencer Arrighetti, Hunter Brown and J.P. France have combined for a 12.12 ERA in seven starts — and they’re the three pitchers lined up to face the Braves the next three nights.”

Only 17 games have passed in the 2024 season, so it's too early for anyone to have any regrets about the whole situation. But the Astros have a 6-11 record, and they're staring at the face of a three-game set against the Atlanta Braves. As the old adage goes, regret always comes in the end, and it'll be interesting to see if or when they begin to feel it.

Astros' depleted starting rotation

The Astros are currently down five starting pitchers; all of Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy, and Luis Garcia were already nursing injuries prior to the start of the season. And then to make matters worse, Framber Valdez, who was solid in his April 2 start against the Toronto Blue Jays, landed on the 15-day Injured List due to an elbow injury.

This is another of Rosenthal's points of contention; starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery, who ended up signing a one-year, $25 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, could have been a target for the Astros to help fill their starting pitching void. Instead, Josh Hader, while an elite weapon in the ninth inning, doesn't provide the flexibility that Houston needs at the moment.

“Lefty Jordan Montgomery and righty Michael Lorenzen were still on the open market even after Snell signed on March 18. … General manager Dana Brown certainly should not have claimed that the team’s internal options were just as good as the available free-agent starters,” Rosenthal added.

Spread the wealth and keep the band vs. Josh Hader

This past offseason, a trio of quality Astros relievers — Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek and Phil Maton — departed via free agency. Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu were still around to give the Astros quality late-game weapons, and there was no better reliever available on the market than Josh Hader. But Rosenthal is wondering whether or not the Astros would have been better off keeping the band together, as doing so would have barely cost more than what it took for them to sign Hader.

“Neris, Stanek and Maton will earn a combined $19.25 million in 2024, or just slightly more than Hader. The Astros could have signed other relievers they preferred for less. … They still would have had Abreu and Pressly in the late innings,” Rosenthal wrote.

Nonetheless, it's early in the season. Barely ten percent of the season has passed. The Astros are a contending team, until further notice. But the early signs of worry regarding a drop-off for a perennial American League contender are there.