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With Josh Hader signing, Astros gear up for their own Last Dance

This might be Houston’s last chance to make a run with the core that’s brought them two World Series titles, and they’re determined to make the most of it.

Josh Hader of the San Diego Padres pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals on September 23, 2023 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

Okay, maybe invoking the Last Dance is a bit dramatic. Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and that’s always going to give the Houston Astros a solid foundation from which to build. Still, it’s hard not to see the writing on the wall: With Justin Verlander about to turn 41 and Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman set to hit free agency next winter, there’s a good chance that the sun is about to set on the Astros as we’ve come to know them — a group that’s defined the last decade or so in MLB, for better or worse.

All of which is to say that the 2024 season is setting up to be a very big one in Houston, and that’s not even to mention the way last year ended, with a Game 7 loss on their home field to their bitter in-state rivals. (Who then went on to win the World Series and make sure the Astros heard about it.) GM Dana Brown had every incentive to try and make a splash this winter — and on Friday, he finally pulled it off, signing All-Star closer Josh Hader to a five-year, $95 million deal.

If you want to, you could quibble with the price here. That’s a lot of years and a lot of money for a soon-to-be 30-year-old at a notoriously volatile position — one who, despite an excellent 2023 season, has already shown some signs of decline. (Hader’s strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, and his trademark sinker — while still great — showed significantly less velocity and ride, signs that the arrow is, if ever so slightly, pointed down.) It’s entirely possible that this contract doesn’t age well, and that in 2026 Houston is paying nearly $20 million for a closer it can’t trust to close games.

But the 2026 Astros are a 2026 problem. This time is staring down the barrel of a whole lot of change this time next year, and for as consistently competitive as they’ve been over the last decade, you simply never know how many bites at the apple you’re going to get. As long as Houston employs Verlander, Altuve and Bregman, they owed it to them to put the best possible product on the field in 2024 — and there’s no question that the best possible version of the Astros is a version that included Hader.

Houston’s lineup is already more or less set, give or take a left fielder. It was never going to be able to afford one of the top starters on the market, not with the price tags on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Aaron Nola and (reportedly) Blake Snell. The bullpen was the area for Brown to target, a unit that was good but not great in 2023 and had more than a few question marks behind stalwart closer Ryan Pressly and electric young righty Bryan Abreu. The prospect of trying to navigate a close postseason game with the likes of Rafael Montero and Dylan Coleman understandably didn’t inspire a ton of confidence. With Hader in the fold, however, Houston has a three-headed monster it can use to significantly shorten games, making a one- or two-run lead through five or six innings hold up. The lefty might not age particularly well, but in the short term, few are better: In his last 78 games, including the 2022 postseason, he’s allowed a total of nine earned runs.

Given Houston’s lack of activity elsewhere this offseason, running back more or less the same roster from last year would have felt a bit underwhelming, or at least incomplete. With Hader in the fold, however, the Astros are putting their money where their mouth is, refusing to go quietly into that good night. Some tough choices lie ahead, and it’s almost certain that one of — or maybe even both, if Scott Boras works his magic — either Altuve or Bregman are wearing another uniform next spring. right now, though, Astros fans have one year left of the good times, and their team seems hell-bent on making the most of it.