It has been a busy month for Astros GM Jeff Luhnow as he has traded away Carlos Lee, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon and most recently Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez will now call PNC Park home as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates; this may have been the toughest trade for fans to accept.
Wandy was the last player on the Astros who was a member of the 2005 World Series team. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that Luhnow is making Houston his team and not wasting any time doing so.
This is an organization clearly in transition from the players on the field to the league it will be playing in next year. These are five dominoes that will fall over the next six months.
This one was probably a good certainty after the Happ trade last week, and it is all but a guarantee now with the Wandy trade. The Astros have picked up a number of good prospects the past few seasons, however there are not many who are MLB ready.
Two pitchers who the Astros got last year in the Michael Bourn trade with Atlanta, Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer, have struggled at the Triple-A level. Each are currently sporting an ERA over six and have had trouble making hitters miss as teams are hitting above .325 against them.
Keuchel on the other hand has shown some good stuff against major league talent in his first major league stint earlier this month.
Keuchel's next start is today against the Pirates, a team he faced back on July 4, and gave up four runs in five innings of work. It will be interesting to see how he does against a team he has already faced and if he can make the necessary adjustments good pitchers need to make.
I don't think the Astros are unwilling to trade but the question is, who is left to trade? On the pitching side they are very young, with the likes of Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles and Bud Norris—who would peak teams' interests, but there is no benefit for the Astros. These three pitchers have shown they can be good, have the potential to become very good and are young enough to contribute for years to come.
For position players, Jed Lowrie would have been an option but he is on the DL for about another month and has a history of being injury-prone. Chris Johnson could be another option as he has a decent average, .276, and a team like the Yankees could come calling with the recent injury to Alex Rodriguez. The question is whether the Yankees are willing to give up enough to make it worth Houston's time.
The rest of the lineup is composed of young promising players, like Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez, who the Astros have no interest in trading, or players whose value is nowhere near where it should be, like Jordan Schafer.
The Houston Astros started the 2012 season looking like they were heading in the right direction with a 21-22 record after a quarter of the season. To say the wheels have fallen off the wagon would be an understatement as they are now on pace to finish with 106 losses, the same number they had last year.
For an organization that went 49 seasons without a single year over 100 losses, to be on pace to have back-to-back years breaking that mark is tough to see. The Astros had a legitimate shot at the division title for nearly 20 years and to see them fall this low is not fun for the fans.
Brad Mills' first go-around as manager has not been fun or easy. Fans hate to see excuses made for losing, but Mills may have a legitimate case. In his tenure, the team has traded Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez in the middle of the season.
Add in the fact that previous ownership was focused on cutting expenses, specifically player salaries, to make the organization as attractive as possible to potential buyers. Not to mention that he was hired by the previous GM, and Luhnow looks like he wants to make this his team; the outlook is bleak at best for Mills.
I believe Brad Mills can be an effective manager somewhere else but he was given very little support by the organization in terms of talent and it is hard to keep a job finishing with the worst record for potentially two straight seasons.
In the long run, the Wandy Rodriguez trade will probably be viewed as a good trade. The Astros got some quality pieces back and hopefully one or two will provide a good return in the coming years.
However, the Astros traded away their best pitcher, the closest thing they had to a No. 1. They don't have anyone in their farm system who can fill that void this year or probably next year. Jarred Cosart is the closest pitcher to an ace the team has right now and he really could use 2013 in the minors to develop his command, probably his biggest weakness right now.
The Astros are moving into a division with the best offensive team right now, the Texas Rangers, and an LA Angels team with Albert Pujols and the next-big-thing Mike Trout. The competition definitely gets tougher, which doesn't bode well for a team that currently has 20 of their 25 players with less than three years of service time (via Brian McTaggart).