Cardinals Sign Ex-Astros Reliever Josh James to Minors Contract

photo: Josh James (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

St. Louis Cardinals announcement

We have signed RHP Josh James to a minor league contract for the 2024 season. James, 30, appeared in 87 games with Houston (including 14 postseason games) from 2018-21 and has struck out 13.3 batters per 9 IP over his MLB career.

Brian Walton’s take

In an offseason that has included five minor league signings from independent ball, none of whom have major league experience, James stands out.

The native Floridian also lived in the US Virgin Islands before finishing his collegiate ball at Division II Western Oklahoma State College. James was selected by the Houston Astros in the 34th round of the 2014 draft and primarily worked as a starter in their system until becoming a reliever in the majors.

In the upper levels of the minors, the right-hander experienced an increase in velocity from the mid-90s to 100 mph and was named the Astros’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2018. James debuted with Houston in September 2018, and in the ALCS, one of his pitches was measured at 102.4 mph.

In 2019, James set the Astros’ rookie single-season record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher with 99. His K rate was 14.7 per nine innings.

Josh James

In October 2020, James had surgery to repair a labral tear in his left hip and was also dealing with elbow soreness, which was addressed via injection. He returned in August 2021, but was ineffective and bounced back and forth between the Astros and their Triple-A affiliate. James also reportedly dealt with hamstring and back problems.

Eligible for arbitration heading into 2022, James and the team settled for a $800,000 salary.  That season was pretty much a loss as he was on and off the Triple-A injured list several times due to a right lat strain and did not appear with Houston at all. He was limited to 30 appearances for Sugar Land, posting a 6.51 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 17 walks in 27 2/3 innings. In late September 2022, James had surgery on his right flexor tendon and two months later, he was non-tendered by the Astros.

In 73 career games including six starts for Houston, the 6-foot, 234-pounder has a 4.64 ERA and a .204 batting average against.  As noted, James has a career 13.3 strikeout rate per nine innings, but his walk rate is an unpleasant 5.2 per nine.

James, who turns 31 years of age in early March, did not pitch in 2023 so this signing marks his return.

This is a low-risk gamble by the Cardinals that James can put his long list of injuries behind him and earn his way back into the majors. The announcement did not include mention of a non-roster invitation to St. Louis’ camp and he will initially be assigned to Triple-A Memphis.

As noted below, James has been working with Cressey Sports Performance.

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