Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow isn't messing around.
He hit a dead end last week when Carlos Lee invoked his no-trade clause and killed a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But Luhnow essentially put his car into reverse, floored the gas pedal and drove his way into a better deal.
While most of us were enjoying our Fourth of July holiday, the Astros dealt Lee to the Miami Marlins for two of their organization's top minor league prospects (according to Baseball America). Not only did Luhnow find one of the 14 teams not listed in Lee's no-trade clause to make a deal with, but he also got a better return than he would have received from the Dodgers (reportedly 20-year-old pitcher Garrett Gould).
In addition, if one of the reasons Lee vetoed the trade to the Dodgers was because of California's state income tax (according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal), Luhnow did his first baseman a favor by trading him to a team in Florida. (However, if state income tax was the criteria, Luhnow's only other options were the Rays, Rangers or Mariners.)
Income tax issues aside, Luhnow didn't have to consult Lee before trading him to the Marlins because they weren't listed in his no-trade clause. Considering Luhnow had nothing to do with Lee's contract (he can thank Tim Purpura for that one), it had to be particularly satisfying for him to find an opening and exploit it to make a good deal for his team.
Though Luhnow had to pay what's left of the $18.5 million on Lee's contract to complete the deal with the Marlins, it was worth the price to get top prospects in return. How soon third baseman Matt Dominguez and pitcher Rob Rasmussen can help is up for debate. But for a rebuilding team like the Astros, it's more important at this point to stockpile talent and create opportunities for younger players.
With Lee now gone, the Astros can fully commit to Brett Wallace, who gets the rest of the season to prove he can be the team's first baseman of the future. He showed some promise in an earlier promotion to the majors, compiling a 1.012 OPS in 42 plate appearances.
Dominguez creates some competition at third base for Chris Johnson, providing at least a potential defensive upgrade. This may also make Johnson available to be traded to a team in need of help at third base (Dodgers, Indians, Phillies). That could yield another prospect or two to bolster the Astros' minor league depth.
Most importantly, Luhnow showed persistence in continuing to find a trade for Lee. Both the Dodgers and Marlins were absolutely desperate for help at first base or left field, and Luhnow seized the opportunity to unload a player that does nothing for the Astros' long-term future and could bring back decent prospects in exchange.
Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers should probably make plans to play elsewhere by the end of this month as well. Luhnow has shown that he wants younger players to develop and get playing time. (Cutting Livan Hernandez loose before the season was the first example of this.) Apparently, he won't stop working until he finds the right deal either.
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