June 18, 2024

2:22pm: If Lauer is selected to the MLB roster, he will be paid a prorated basic salary of $1.5MM, according to Ari Alexander of KPRC 2. His contract also includes opt-out dates on July 1 and August 1, assuming he is not on the major league roster before those dates.

2:04pm: The Astros and Lauer have reached an agreement on a minor league contract, per Rome. The CAA client is now assigned to Triple-A Sugar Land, but given the nature of Houston’s rotation, he could emerge as an option soon if he performs well in his first few games with the organization.

1:40pm: The Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome writes that the Astros are interested in free agent left-hander Eric Lauer. The former Brewers and Padres southpaw chose to opt out of a minor league contract with the Pirates last week. As Rome points out, Houston General Manager Dana Brown was in the Blue Jays’ scouting department when they picked Lauer out of high school in 2013. Lauer ultimately chose to attend college, which paid off handsomely; the Jays drafted him in the 17th round in 2013, but three years later, the Padres took him with the No. 25 overall choice.

Lauer, 28, made his Padres debut in 2018 and spent the next two seasons on the team before being sold to Milwaukee with infielder Luis Urias for righty Zach Davies and outfielder Trent Grisham. He will be 29 in June.

After three unremarkable seasons in the majors from 2018-20, Lauer added a slider to his arsenal in early 2021 and appeared to be breaking out as a high-end rotation option. He had a 3.19 ERA and struck out 24% of his opponents in 118 2/3 innings that season (including a 2.41 ERA after adding the new breaking pitch). He continued his success in 2022, combining for 277 1/3 innings of 3.47 ERA play with a 23.8% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate during those two seasons.

Lauer suffered shoulder and elbow issues in 2022-23, and his health appeared to be a major concern last season. Lauer’s average fastball velocity dropped from 93.3 mph in 2022 to 91.2 mph last season. He had a 6.56 ERA in 46 2/3 innings, with a lower 20.4% strikeout rate and a higher 10.4% walk rate. The Brewers optioned the southpaw to Triple-A in an attempt to get him back on track, but Lauer struggled with a 5.15 ERA for their Nashville club as well.

Lauer began the 2024 season with the Pirates’ Triple-A team, having signed a minor league contract late in the winter. He pitched well for the majority of his tenure there, but his ERA rose from 3.95 to 5.52 after his final start, when he was hit for six runs in just two innings. The left-hander’s 29.1% strikeout percentage and 8.7% walk rate, on the other hand, resembled the 2021-22 version of Lauer rather than the 2023 version, which is a good indicator for the Astros and other interested parties. It’s also worth mentioning that Lauer has 4.111 years of MLB experience, which means that if he signs with Houston and is eventually added to the club, he’ll be controlled through 2025 via arbitration.

Houston could probably use more rotation depth, so pursuing Lauer makes sense. The Astros have had strong beginning pitching in recent years, but their rotation is now ranked 21st in the majors with 239 1/3 innings pitched and 26th with a 4.96 ERA. Astros pitchers have similarly dismal FIP (4.61, 28th), strikeout rate (21%, 21st), and walk rate (11%, second-highest in the MLB).


Why the Brewers are exercising patience with Eric Lauer - Brew Crew Ball


Those troubles came despite right-hander Ronel Blanco’s breakout performance earlier this year, when he hurled the 2024 season’s first no-hitter. The Astros currently have Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy on the injured list, and Justin Verlander, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez have all been sidelined.

Former top prospect Hunter Brown and fellow sophomore righty J.P. France have also had rough beginnings to the season, while in-house reinforcements Spencer Arrighetti and Blair Henley have also been hit hard. The Astros currently have Verlander, Valdez, Javier, and Blanco healthy in the first four positions of the rotation. That is a benefit in and of itself, but the club must continue to strive to get at least one of Brown, France, or Arrighetti back on track — or locate a more appealing candidate from outside the organization. If a deal comes together, Lauer might eventually factor into the bunch, given that each of Brown, France, Arrighetti, and Henley has an ERA of at least 7.16 on the season.

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