Astros-Blue Jays Trade: Did Houston GM Jeff Luhnow Make Another Great Deal?

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterJuly 21, 2012

How long will Francisco Cordero be with the Houston Astros?
How long will Francisco Cordero be with the Houston Astros?Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

When I first read the details of the 10-player trade made between the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, my initial thought was that Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow made a bad deal. 

What need could the Astros possibly have for Francisco Cordero, a 37-year-old former closer who was getting shelled by American League hitters? And what about Ben Francisco, a platoon player with some success against left-handed pitching? These aren't the kinds of players that a rebuilding team like the Astros should add.

Of course, the real answer was with the other four players Houston picked up in the deal. The Astros received pitchers Joe Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski and David Rollins, along with catcher Carlos Perez. The trio of pitchers are extremely young, currently developing at the Single-A level, and were among the Blue Jays' top 20 minor league prospects. 

Luhnow is doing the exact thing that his rival NL Central executive Theo Epstein wants to do with the Cubs. He's bringing in "waves and waves" of pitching prospects to build depth in the Astros' minor league organization. 

It's not enough to get a couple of guys and hope they develop. With more prospects in the system, the chances of a few reaching the majors increase. 

Trading Brandon Lyon to the Blue Jays made sense. Though a veteran reliever in the bullpen would help win some games, he's worth far more to the Astros in terms of what return he might yield in a trade.

Toronto obviously still feels it's in the playoff race, 3.5 games back in the AL wild card standings. Lyon is more valuable to a contender at this point.

However, it was still curious to me that Luhnow would trade J.A. Happ, still relatively young at 29 years old and a left-hander with strikeout stuff (8.5 Ks per nine). Is that the kind of pitcher that could help anchor a rebuilding pitching staff? 

Well, maybe. But again, Happ may have been more valuable in terms of what the Astros could get in return. And if the Blue Jays were willing to trade some prospects for him, that's obviously better for the long-term future of the franchise than whatever else Happ could provide for them in another few seasons.

The same goes for David Carpenter, who looks like a valuable strikeout thrower for any bullpen. In the minors, he's averaged almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings.

In limited major league action, he had similar numbers. But he also walked more than four batters per nine innings, far too high for a reliever. And he was extremely hittable, allowing 43 hits in nearly 30 innings. 

Let's get back to Cordero and Francisco, however, because it's difficult to imagine either player being with the Astros for very long.

Cordero almost seems certain to be flipped to another team looking for bullpen help, like the Braves, Mets or Giants. A National League team will be betting that Cordero was just ill-suited for the American League can find the success that he had with the Brewers and Reds for the past six seasons. 

Now, Luhnow has two potential closers to deal, between Cordero and Brett Myers. Will they bring more waves of pitching prospects into the Astros' minor league system?

Francisco is a bit more intriguing because he could provide some help to the Astros' current roster.

No team is getting worse production from right field than Houston, which has a collective .213 batting average and .664 OPS from the position. Francisco can hit left-handed pitching, compiling a .273/.314/.424 slash average in 35 plate appearances this season. 

At the very least, Francisco can platoon with Brian Bogusevic. Yet, he still appears to be a player more likely to be flipped to a contender looking for a right-handed bat off the bench. 

So it's probably a bit too early to judge this trade for the Astros just yet. Not just because it will be years before we find out if the pitching prospects received in the deal turn out to be major league contributors, but because Luhnow may not be done with the players involved in this trade just yet.

The Astros aren't a playoff contender, obviously, but they could be the most intriguing team to watch in the 10 days leading up to baseball's July 31 trade deadline.


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