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Reliever Rafael Montero agreed to a three-year, $34.5 million contract that will bring the right-hander back to the Houston Astros’ dominant bullpen a week after the team rode its pitching staff to a World Series title, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN.
Montero, 32, thrived in his first full season with the Astros, posting a 2.37 ERA in 68⅓ innings and allowing just three home runs while striking out 73. The deal came together on a transformative Friday for the Astros, who saw general manager James Click reject a one-year contract from owner Jim Crane and leave the organization.
Re-signing Montero deepens an Astros bullpen that already will return closer Ryan Pressly, right-handed flamethrowers Ryne Stanek and Bryan Abreu, and solid righties Hector Neris and Phil Maton. It likewise continues the early trend in free agency of high salaries for relief pitchers, after the New York Mets signed Edwin Diaz to a five-year, $102 million contract and San Diego gave right-hander Robert Suarez a five-year deal worth $46 million.
Houston acquired Montero in a July 2021 trade from the Seattle Mariners and watched him blossom into the hardest-throwing version of himself yet, with a fastball that averaged 96.5 mph. Of the remaining relievers available in free agency, Montero topped a number of teams’ lists.
The contract is a bet on Montero’s 2022 more than his previous seasons. Once a well-regarded starting-pitching prospect, Montero bounced from the Mets to the Texas Rangers to the Mariners before landing in Houston, where he allowed two runs in 9⅓ innings this postseason and struck out 10.
With a ground-ball rate of greater than 50% and high strikeout numbers, Montero was bound to generate widespread interest and took advantage of it with a deal that exceeded industrywide expectations. In 182 career games, Montero has a 4.43 ERA as a reliever and struck out 213 in 201⅓ innings.