Another trade deadline has come and gone, and the Houston Astros have made enormous strides to competing once again by rebuilding the farm system. Houston has executed a significant overhaul, trading off all contracts larger than $3 million and not having any returning players over the age of 29.
While the performance on the field may be one of the worst in history, the Astros' farm system has been bolstered into a top-10 program primed for supplying good players for years to come.
Possibly the greatest mind in baseball, new general manager Jeff Luhnow has executed this huge overhaul. While being insulted by many because of his bold moves, Luhnow has positioned the Astros with a much better farm system from the draft and, more importantly, his trades.
He traded players that were thought to be untradeable and somehow got respectable players in return. He has made 25 trades yielding 41 players since his hiring in December 2011. He already has many Astros fans saying "In Luhnow We Trust."
Here is a complete breakdown and grading of each trade.
Luhnow was general manager for only a short amount of time before he worked out a trade to acquire a new shortstop. His solution was Rule 5 draft pick Marwin Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox. In return, the Astros flipped minor league pitcher Marco Duarte, a right-hander that they had just drafted from the Colorado Rockies.
Duarte continues to put up solid numbers in the Red Sox farm system, but Jeff Luhnow acquired one of the best fielding and a solid hitting shortstop for practically nothing. Gonzalez has started several games for the Astros and continues to fill in for the current starter, Jonathan Villar.
Gonzalez is only 23 and now already has major league experience. He could continue to develop in a backup role and be the future starter or just provide a stopgap for Nolan Fontana or Carlos Correa.
Even if Gonzalez never starts full time, the likelihood of Duarte catching on with a big club like the Red Sox is slim to none. Luhnow made a sneaky good move in acquiring a suitable backup and potential starter for a minor league reliever.
Houston, meet Jeff Luhnow. Luhnow finally flexed his baseball trade muscles by swapping a mediocre closer for a back-of-the-rotation starter and a potential All-Star shortstop. At the time, and still now, the Astros needed starting depth and an everyday shortstop, a hole that hadn't been filled since the days of Adam Everett.
Melancon was supposed to be the everyday closer since arriving in Ed Wade's Lance Berkman deal, and did a good job in his limited role, posting a 2.78 ERA and 20 saves in 2011. After the trade, Melancon imploded with the Red Sox, getting demoted to Triple-A after posting a 0-2 record and a 6.20 ERA.
Kyle Weiland, while not impressing, did make the Astros starting rotation and Jed Lowrie became the starting shortstop, hitting f14 home runs before the half and getting hurt.
Even while Melancon is doing well so far with the Pirates, the Astros win not only from the immediate trade, but a follow-up trade branching from this. The main question to be wondering when looking at this trade is, how did Luhnow convinced the Red Sox that a middle-of-the-road closer was worth a starter and everyday shortstop?
Luhnow continued to trade by turning to his backup catcher and center fielder, Humberto Quintero and Jason Bourgeois, respectively. The unimpressive duo reaped a two-player haul of center fielder D'Andre Toney and closer Kevin Chapman.
Chapman, considered the centerpiece of the trade, in his age-25 season has a respectable 3.45 ERA, being the primary setup man for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was recently promoted to establish some stability in the currently atrocious Astros bullpen. D'Andre Toney, who was the PTBNL, is playing below his ability, hitting only .208 with short-season A-ball, while still playing an excellent outfield.
Toney's ceiling is at about what Bourgeois' was at his peak, but he could potentially never make the majors. Chapman's ceiling is that of a solid closer such as Johnathan Broxton, but he could become a middle reliever.
Neither Quintero or Bourgeois are in major league baseball as of now, and neither are with the Royals, so just because of the potential the trade brings, it makes the Astros the clear-cut winner.
Jeff Luhnow finally proved he's human with this trade. In what seemed to be a good idea at the time, Luhnow traded journeyman outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who was in the minors at the time, for a young catcher, Jobduan Morales.
Morales has struggled heavily in his two years with the Astros' Single-A affiliate, batting .202 with one home run, and at age 22 in the low levels of the minors, is unlikely to achieve anything in the big leagues.
Ruggiano, on the other hand, exploded with his new club, immediately starting for the Miami Marlins and slugging to a .313/.374/.535 slash line, and while he has cooled off a lot this year, he has achieved more than Morales will likely ever achieve in his professional career.
The Marlins easily win this trade, showing that every general manager makes mistakes, although this one in particular wasn't too severe. Ruggiano will never be on any worst trades lists, as it was only a minor mistake on Luhnow's part. Morales could still at some point make an impact; it's just incredibly unlikely.
Carlos Lee was an albatross for the Astros with his massive contract and lack of production during his last two years with the team. Hoping to remove that burden, GM Jeff Luhnow attempted to trade him to the Dodgers, finalizing a deal with the team that was only then vetoed by Lee himself under his partial no-trade clause.
Normal GMs would accept the fact that they would have to wait out to the end of the big contract, but Luhnow wasn't fazed. He turned around and traded one of the most difficult contracts in the league, not once, but twice in the same week, striking a deal with the Miami Marlins. Lee's return was third baseman Matt Dominguez and starting pitcher Rob Rasmussen.
Matt Dominguez was a top-100 third base prospect who has become the Astros starting third baseman. He's been a fielding phenom and has impressed with his bat as well. Dominguez has hit .239 with 19 home runs in his two years with the team, and has an impressive 66 RBI. At age 23, it's more than likely that he will continue to develop and become a stalwart in the Astros lineup.
Rob Rasmussen was low-ranked starter and didn't impress much in Double-A Corpus Christi for the Astros but reaped more rewards in a later trade.
Carlos Lee, meanwhile, hit .243/.328/.325 with his new team down the stretch. The Marlins regretted their decision so much that they attempted to trade him later on, to no avail. Luhnow tricked the Marlins into taking an aging slugger, even though they weren't competing, and received an everyday third baseman and minor league starter to boot.
Luhnow's 2012 deadline was defined by the massive 10-player trade with Toronto, in which he swapped beleaguered starter J.A. Happ, who was previously nabbed in the ill-fated Roy Oswalt trade, struggling setup man Brandon Lyon and promising middle reliever David Carpenter for five prospects and two menial major leaguers.
Lyon and Happ have been their same marginal selves since leaving, and I still love Carpenter, who has been superb for the Atlanta Braves, posting a 1.89 ERA and averaging 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. However, the Astros received a much better haul.
While Cordero was terrible and Francisco was an afterthought, the five prospects provide much to be excited about. David Rollins impressed in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, collecting a 3.40 ERA with a 9-5 record. His ceiling is that of a fourth or fifth starter, or even a long reliever.
The next player, the PTBNL, Kevin Comer, is a raw high-ceiling high school starter but isn't putting up the solid stats he needs to fulfill his projection as a No. 3 starter. Joe Musgrove was also drafted in the first round out of high school and is slightly better than Comer but also can't put up a solid statistical season. However, he still has plenty of time at age 20 to fulfill his ceiling as a No. 2 starter.
Next, and possibly the best player in the deal, is Asher Wojciechowski. Wojo, who has a projectable ceiling as a No. 3 starter, a projection which he has just about achieved, has impressed in 25 games between Double-A and Triple-A, posting a 3.25 ERA, a 9-7 record and a solid 1.132 WHIP. He could earn a call-up this September and contribute full time next season as a member of the rotation.
The last player to be received in the trade was the promising catcher Carlos Perez. Perez was signed in 2008 and has always shown his great talents as a defensive catcher, but more recently he's shown an ability to hit.
In time between Double-A and Triple-A, Perez has hit a respectable .271/.331/.361 slash line. As a major leaguer, Perez could become a catcher who hits about .270 with 10 home run power. He could back up All-Star Jason Castro. Either way, Perez will need more seasoning next season in Triple-A to further develop his bat.
Even though the Astros had to part ways with three players, one of whom is playing very well, they won the trade by far because of the five prospects they received in return who, added together, give the franchise a bright future.
Myers had been switched to closer, which had depreciated his value, since starting pitchers are worth more than relievers, but he had been putting up pretty good numbers in his new role for the Astros.
In return for their new closer, the Astros received three starting pitching prospects, practically all having ceilings as fifth starters and not even profiling as potential long relievers.
Drafted in the 11th round of the 2011 draft, southpaw Blair Walters is a big sinker-baller type that Jeff Luhnow loves, despite only throwing in the low 90s with his fastball. He's performed pretty poorly this season with the High-A Lancaster Jethawks in a California League that consistently treats pitchers horribly. Even so, Walters' 7.32 ERA is upsetting, along with his five walks per nine innings. He needs much more work to develop into even a fringe major league starter.
Matt Heidenreich was the most intriguing and promising piece of the deal, with a menacing 6'5", 190 pound frame and a mid-90s fastball. Despite the extra velocity, Heidenreich will likely not make the majors as well, tossing a miserable 7.61 ERA and a 1.711 WHIP.
The PTBNL, Chris Devenski, profiles almost identical to the other two pitchers, with a low-90s fastball and below-average breaking balls, boasting an ERA of 7.24. He did throw an epic 16-strikeout no-hitter last year for Single-A Lexington, but he probably won't ever make the major leagues as well, even as a fifth starter or long reliever.
Brett Myers could not have netted much in terms of trade value, but when you can't get any of the top 20 prospects from the worst farm system in the league, something isn't right. Luhnow was reasonably rushed to deal Myers, especially since he would become a free agent, but I feel like he could've gotten more for a product that many teams needed.
Wandy Rodriguez, the most talented pitcher on the Astros and the last piece standing of the quickly fading memory of the 2005 World Series team, had to be traded during his best year to help rebuild the system. Luhnow found a partner for one of the most underrated lefties in baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team with a deep and talented farm system.
The Astros received southpaw Rudy Owens, a Triple-A pitcher, who has great control and could become a No. 4 starter at best, as soon as next season. He's dealing with injuries and putting up a mediocre 3.71 ERA with a quality 6.9 SO/9. Owens is not getting any younger at age 25, but he could do something in the majors with his best pitch: the changeup.
The Astros also received 21-year-old starter Colton Cain. After signing over-slot with the Pirates in 2009, Cain has had mixed results, using his even balance of pitches, including a high-80s fastball and average curveball. He deceives hitters more with changes of speed and motion, as opposed to blowing it past them. He's been decent, at best, this season between High-A and Single-A, posting a 4.24 ERA and a 6-5 record. He could continue to develop, with his ceiling being a No. 3 starter in the majors.
Then, there's the centerpiece of the deal, outfielder Robbie Grossman. Grossman draws many walks consistently and hits for a high average and decent pop, while also being a plus baserunner and fantastic defender. He impressed in Triple-A OKC enough to earn two call-ups to the majors and in the second has been impressive. He has the ability to be an on-base machine, and could man any of the outfield spots everyday for years to come as a borderline All-Star.
Wandy needed to be dealt, and Luhnow found a great trade partner for him, netting two below-average, and one average prospect that could fit in as key role players for future Astros teams. It was upsetting to see the last piece of the 2005 team go, but it could benefit a future World Series team.
In the second of Jeff Luhnow's defeats, Chris Johnson was swapped for third baseman Bobby Borchering and outfielder Marc Krauss of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Astros sent Chris Johnson, who showed incredible promise in his rookie season, blasting 11 home runs and hitting .308. He then struggled the next two seasons, making the Astros question his place on the team. In 2012, however, Johnson had a bit of a resurgence, and Luhnow quick used the opportunity to trade him to the D-Backs for two power hitters.
The first player received was Bobby Borchering, a switch-hitting third baseman, who has not impressed in the younger A-league, posting a dismal .208/.313/.352 slash line. He was projected to have potential 30-home run pop when he was first drafted, but I believe, at age 22, he would be lucky to make the major league team as a last man off the bench.
Marc Krauss, the second player in the trade, looks like he might be the sole respectable piece of the deal. The left-handed slugger was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, and was seen to have the ceiling of a 30-home run, low-average hitter like many prototypical corner outfielders are.
His power and the ability to hit for a respectable average is prevalent in the minors in leagues as high as Triple-A, but so far, Krauss has been unable to transfer his skill set to the major league level. He might be able to at some point, and become a fearful piece in the heart of the Astros lineup, but it's more likely that he will stay as a fifth outfielder, power bat off of the bench for future Astros teams.
Johnson, since leaving the ailing Astros, has taken off, finally fulfilling and surpassing his potential by currently leading the National League in hitting while displaying some of his decent pop.
While I never could say I expected Johnson to be this good, in fact, I thought he was a bust, he is showing the potential that the Astros knew he had while the prospects he netted in return aren't likely to produce, especially at Johnson's level, even if Johnson is unable to maintain this level of play. This looks like it'll be Jeff Luhnow's first major loss, but Krauss could still emerge as an All-Star.
Ben Francisco was acquired as an afterthought in the massive 10-player trade with Toronto, as the veteran was set to be a free agent at the end of the season and didn't fit into the Astros' plans.
Seeking a right-handed bat that could hit well against left-handed pitching, the Rays called on his services. Luhnow and Co. were happy to work out a deal, sending Francisco to the contending Rays for a PTBNL, later to be revealed as left-handed reliever Theron Geith.
Geith is a minor league reliever, currently with Double-A Corpus Christi after impressing High-A Lancaster with a 2.86 ERA and 7.4 SO/9 innings rate. He has good control and solid velocity on all of his pitches. He profiles as a quality major league lefty specialist, or even a regular middle reliever.
This is another example of Luhnow getting something out of nothing. Though Geith may never reach the majors, the fact that the Astros could get anything for Francisco was amazing.
In Luhnow's first trade with his former team, the Astros purchased once highly touted shortstop Tyler Greene from the St. Louis Cardinals. Greene was struggling both to find his place on the team and piece together all of his talent to form a solid season.
Drafted by Jeff Luhnow in the Cardinals organization, Greene was a plus fielder with decent power for a middle infielder, with the ceiling of 20 home runs a season and the ability to hit for a high average.
Despite this talent, however, Greene couldn't impress on the major league level and sought a fresh start with a different team. That second start came with the Astros, and he had a slight resurgence down the stretch, hitting 20 points above his career batting average and blasting seven home runs in limited time.
He appeared to be jockeying for a starting position after Jed Lowrie was dealt the following offseason, but the ill-fated signing of veteran free agent Ronny Cedeno forced Greene out of a roster spot with the team, and he was cut in spring training.
The Astros never saw what Greene could do in a full season of work as a starting shortstop, and instead went with the veteran whom they knew exactly what they were going to get. In the trade, they got nothing and gave nothing—truly a no impact trade. If Greene stayed around and produced like he had been, it would have been an easy win for the Astros, but it wasn't to be.
The Astros claimed utility man Steve Pearce off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles on July 28, 2012. On August 27, 2012, the Astros traded the right-handed hitter to the Yankees.
In between the trade, Pearce hit a solid .250 with an adequate .347 on-base percentage, hitting best against left-handed pitchers. This stat line attracted the New York Yankees, and they called for his services, sending cash in his stead.
While Astros fans never saw the money or how much it was, this was a fantastic trade. The Astros received a player for free, claiming him off waivers and milking a little production out of him. They then swapped him away for spending money. While I don't normally like trades that a team receives cash, this was a smooth move by Jeff Luhnow.
In the first trade that I actually disagreed with immediately afterwards, Jeff Luhnow continued his overhaul of the roster with a surprising trade of closer Wilton Lopez and catcher Jose Monzon and a PTBNL for a couple of pitchers from the Colorado Rockies. Monzon should be ignored, as he was only a warm body to fill out the trade, and he won't make it anywhere close to the majors.
Now, the first piece of the return in the trade was Alex White, a starting pitcher and once a top prospect for the Cleveland Indians. He was traded to the Colorado Rockies for then-ace Ubaldo Jimenez. He has struggled for a few years but still has the talent that fit his former billing as an ace.
At worst, he'll fill in as a long reliever next season when he returns from Tommy John surgery. He has poor command but has great movement on a mid-90s fastball and a large array of off-speed pitches. A fresh start could help him piece together his career, but the upside was intriguing enough to make the trade worth it.
Alex Gillingham, another starting pitcher, with much less intrigue than White, is a low-ceiling minor league starter. Gillingham profiles best as a major league reliever, with him making a major league starting rotation very unlikely. He's struggled with injuries this year and only pitched three games with Lancaster and hasn't found success. He's an average pitcher and would be a borderline reliever in the future.
At first, I was strongly opposed to the trade. The Astros traded away a young reliever who had proven himself to be a prime setup man and was ready to take on the closer role. Even better, he was under control until 2016.
However, in varied roles this season for the Rockies, Lopez has posted a subpar 4.25 ERA with no saves. Looking at the stats, and his injury history, it's easy to see that the Astros received some interesting prospects in return for a reliever now on the wrong side of 30.
If White can show a fraction of what made him so highly touted years ago, then the Astros will have handily won this trade.
In his first of a flurry of low-profile trades for the Astros, Jeff Luhnow swapped the lesser piece of a successful Carlos Lee deal, Rob Rasmussen, for the major league-ready John Ely of the Dodgers.
Rasmussen had the low ceiling of a fifth starter and hadn't impressed with his short stint with the Astros' Double-A affiliate, posting a 4.80 ERA with a 4-4 in 11 games. Rasmussen was swapped with John Ely, a right-handed, more major league-ready version of the southpaw.
Drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft, Ely is another control pitcher with a low-90s fastball, an average pitch, a cut-fastball and a curveball, both below average. His ceiling is that of a fifth starter or long reliever, and he might not even make it that far. However, we can only tell once he returns from Tommy John surgery next year, in his age-28 season. He will be entering his prime that year and could capture some of the magic that helped cause Ely-mania for the Dodgers for a brief moment back in 2011.
Even though Ely hasn't thrown a single pitch for his new team, the Astros have clearly won the deal. They dealt Rasmussen, who was acquired as an afterthought in the Carlos Lee trade, for a pitcher of similar frame that is major league-ready and closer to fulfilling his projections, with less room for busting. Ely even has a major league track record that shows previous success.
To make an even bigger branch on the Lance Berkman trade tree, the Astros traded oft-injured shortstop Jed Lowrie and struggling reliever Fernando Rodriguez for slugger Chris Carter, MLB-ready starter Brad Peacock and a great young catcher in Max Stassi.
Fernando Rodriguez was atrocious for the Astros in 2012, posting a 5.37 ERA and 10 losses. He's yet to throw a pitch for the A's this season. The fact that Luhnow could get anything for him was amazing.
Lowrie, the centerpiece of the deal, is a very talented shortstop, who if he could ever piece together a full season, could probably put up All-Star-caliber numbers, but that's a pretty big "if". However, this year he has put it all together for the A's, hitting .294 with 10 homers, being snubbed from the All-Star game.
In exchange for those two players, the Astros received top catching prospect Max Stassi. Stassi is a projectable catcher with good fielding abilities, respectable power and a great ability to hit for high average. He's in the same boat as Lowrie, that if he could fight off the injury bug long enough he would be elite. He has this season, even earning a call-up to Houston as a reward for his good work. He could be an All-Star catcher in the future.
They also netted starting pitcher Brad Peacock, a projectable and potential No. 3 starter. Peacock has a powerful mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball, a below-average changeup and a newly acquired sinker. He has impressed in Houston in his second stint with the big club and could be up for the long run.
The last player acquired was first baseman Chris Carter. A swing-from-the-heels power hitter, Chris strikes out a lot and doesn't draw many walks. But when he makes contact, chances are it's going over the fence. This season, he's the first Astro to hit over 25 home runs in four years. If he can add plate discipline, the young 26-year-old Carter could become a perennial 40-home run hitter and be an All-Star in the middle of the Astros lineup of the future.
Even though Lowrie has been tearing the cover off the ball for the A's, the promising core of young players the Astros got in return makes this a definite win for the franchise. Each one has great potential, easily surpassing that of Lowrie, with some All-Star games in their futures.
Jeff Luhnow completed his first trade with the Minnesota Twins, sending minor leaguer Mike Kvasnicka for the young and raw right-handed minor league pitcher Gonzalo Sanudo.
Kvasnicka was originally drafted as a power-hitting catcher in the supplemental first round by the Astros in 2010. Despite having that large power potential, Kvasnicka let his strikeouts take control of his identity as a player and he struggled for three years, jumping from position to position and never finding his place. He hit below .250 in three seasons, never topping 15 home runs.
Gonzalo Sanudo was singed out of Mexico and has impressed out of the bullpen for the Astros in 2013. The middle reliever has played for three different levels on the year, and has a crisp 1.29 ERA with an 11.9 so/9 innings rate. Throw in a WHIP below one, and Sanudo appears to be an attractive option for future Astros bullpens.
While Sanudo's ceiling is that of a middle reliever, and nothing more, and Kvasnicka is having somewhat of a resurgence, with a .280/.341/.466 slash line with his new team, the Astros still won the trade. Sanudo is more likely to contribute with the Astros in the future, than Kvasnicka is with the Twins.
Photo courtesy of Astros.com
Jake Goebbert was becoming an overaged prospect who wasn't putting up great numbers. At the same time, the Astros desperately needed fresh arms in their bullpen, more specifically a left-handed pitcher. Enter the Oakland A's and Travis Blackley.
Jeff Luhnow swapped the outfielder, Goebbert, for the reliever, Blackley. Goebbert doesn't have any power and hasn't shown an ability to hit for high average above Double-A. His fielding and base running is good, but not worth it, and he'll probably never make the majors, even as a fifth outfielder.
Meanwhile, Blackley is already an MLB-caliber player and contributed right away. While he wasn't great for the Astros, pitching to a tune of a 4.89 ERA and 1.429 WHIP, he contributed more than Goebbert ever will.
With all of that in mind, this trade would've been a definite win for the Astros, except that Luhnow later flipped Blackley for cash, meaning that the Astros practically sent Goebbert away for cash. In return for minor league depth, the Astros received a couple of months of bad pitching and cash. Not the best trade for Luhnow.
Jeff Luhnow thought that he needed more potential bullpen arms waiting in the wings in Triple-A. To acquire these extra arms, he had to trade off some of his own prospects. In another loss for Luhnow, the Astros traded catcher Chris Wallace for the aging lefty Eric Berger.
Eric Berger has the generous ceiling as a major league lefty specialist. While he hasn't pitched horribly with Triple-A Oklahoma City this season, with a solid 3.24 ERA and a 6-3 record, he is 27 years old, which means that he's entered his prime and this is his best baseball.
Meanwhile, catcher Chris Wallace was shaping up to be a diamond in the rough for some very rough Astros drafts. Drafted in the 16th round of the 2010 draft, Wallace has played spectacular defense in the minors while continuously developing his ability to hit for a respectable average. He has hit to a fine tone of .284 this season. He even has shown his good pop, once hitting 20 home runs in a season.
It was good that Luhnow was seeking bullpen help, but dealing away a potential backup catcher of the future was not a good swap for some bullpen depth that won't stick around in the long run. That same caliber of aid could've been purchased with cash or even signed off of the free-agent market. Not the best of moves for the Astros. Hopefully Berger can show he can pitch in the majors as a quality reliever.
Photo courtesy of indians.scout.com
In one of my favorite Jeff Luhnow trades, the Astros swapped beleaguered outfielder Fernando Martinez for minor league reliever Charles Basford.
Basford has pitched well for short-season Tri-City, posting a 2.84 ERA with a 2-0 record. Even though he has had success, it's highly unlikely that Basford will make the majors, even as a marginal reliever. However, it's because of what the Astros got rid of that makes the trade successful.
Fernando Martinez used to be a top-ranked prospect with the New York Mets, who the Mets wouldn't even trade for Manny Ramirez. However, injuries caused him to never pan out, and the Astros claimed him off waivers.
The Astros traded him after he hit under .200 with little power to the Yankees, where he hasn't played a single game. Right after the trade, Martinez was suspended for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal.
Luhnow avoided bad press that the Astros would've gotten with Martinez suspended, and they could not have gotten any more performance from him. Instead, they received extra minor league depth, and who knows? Maybe Basford could become a major league pitcher, but even if he doesn't, this is an easy win for the Astros.
If there is one thing that the Astros can't seem to do well under Jeff Luhnow, it's signing top notch international players.
Even when saddled with the largest signing pool, the Astros haven't come close to sniffing any of the top prospects that other teams couldn't compete with them for. Luhnow doesn't seem to deny this, as in his next trade, he swapped a handful of international signing bonus slots to the Chicago Cubs, for defensive-minded middle infielder Ronald Torreyes.
Torreyes is a weak hitting second basemen who, since being traded, has hit a sorrowing .246/.278/.290 slash line. His defense is as good as advertised, but he probably won't ever make the major leagues, even as a last man on the bench.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have signed a few high-profile international free agents, prospects that will most likely make a higher impact than Torreyes. Luhnow's team's lack of international scouting prowess caused the Astros to miss out on talent. To make the Astros front office the best, they need to work on international scouting.
Photo courtesy of micubs.com
Jeff Luhnow perfectly executed his offseason plan with Jose Veras. Luhnow signed the veteran to a cheap one-year deal and dubbed him the team's closer, and after a couple of early-season struggles, he had his strikeout rate up to 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings with 19 saves.
While he was the only consistent arm in the extremely young Astros bullpen, Luhnow knew he needed to trade the veteran, because he wouldn't be there past this season. They traded Veras to the closer-starved Tigers for young top outfielder Danry Vazquez and a PTBNL.
Vazquez is said to have the natural ability to hit for a high average. Scouts have said that he's supposed to grow into his power more, at only age 19 he definitely could, but he hasn't shown many signs of it yet.
Meanwhile, in the much older Single-A league, Vazquez has hit an impressive .290 with his new team. He's an average runner and below average fielder and probably won't hit anything more than 10 home runs in a single season in the majors, but he is definitely an everyday caliber player who could be a future All-Star in his prime.
It doesn't matter who the PTBNL of the trade is, as both teams received exactly what they needed. The Tigers got their late-inning reliever and the Astros received a key piece for the future.
Luhnow traded off his largest remaining trade chip on the big league roster for a good haul of corner outfielder L.J. Hoes, southpaw starter Josh Hader and the X-factor, a 2014 supplemental first-round draft pick.
Bud Norris was the ace of staff in the absence of respectable starting pitching, an ideal that left the Astros with Wandy Rodriguez in 2012. However, at age 28, and being a fourth or fifth starter at best, Norris had no place on a future contending Astros squad and he was worth his weight in prospects.
The first player acquired was outfielder L.J. Hoes, an on-base machine whose main issue picked on by critics is his inability to fill any one of the three outfield spots prototypically, but who has the capabilities, in my opinion, to fill any one of them in well. He hits for high average, draws walks and rarely strikes out but doesn't have the desired power of a corner outfielder or the speed of a center fielder.
Hoes is a quality player who could easily become a .300 average, .400 on-base guy in the future, a potential top-of-the-order All-Star.
Josh Hader was the second piece. He is a powerful lefty with a mid-90s fastball and developing secondary pitches. As an underage pitcher in Single-A, Hader has a great 3.06 ERA with his new team, and could become a third starter in the future.
The last piece of the deal, and possibly the most important piece, was the first-round draft pick in the 2014 draft, one that is supposedly stacked, especially compared to the past two years. The Astros could nab an impact player with a mid-30s pick, one that easily surpasses the three players involved in the trade. We all know Luhnow does his best work on draft day, and he should use this pick wisely.
Luhnow did some of his best work on this last-second deal, acquiring a MLB-ready outfielder who is already contributing, a potential middle-of-the-rotation arm and the tool to add another player next year in the draft.
In one of the most surprising moves of the deadline, the Astros swapped power hitting outfielder Justin Maxwell for minor league starter Kyle Smith.
At first I thought that this trade was an absolute steal, with Maxwell being injured during most of his career and getting more past his prime and Kyle Smith having a lot of success during his minor league career. However, after seeing Maxwell explode with his new team and hearing about past pitchers similar to Kyle Smith, it's hard seeing the Astros coming out of this one on top.
While I believe Maxwell should've been traded to bolster the farm system, it's been said that pitchers similar to Smith, with a 6'0" frame that are more based off of control and balance with off-speed pitches, aren't top prospects. Smith hasn't pitched well with his new team, with a 7.33 ERA with the Lancaster Jethawks, but he did show promise with a complete game shutout in his second start with the ballclub.
Even with that in mind, this was a balanced trade. Even though Maxwell might have provided a power bat off of the bench for a future contending Astros team, it was unlikely. Meanwhile, Kyle Smith could break the mold and become a pitcher that contributes as a fourth starter if he fills out his ceiling. The Astros had extra change and bought a lottery ticket.
After being unable to trade off the longest tenured Astro at the deadline, Jeff Luhnow seemed eager to deal one of the only two Astros making over a million dollars in lefty reliever Wesley Wright. After the trade deadline, the Astros traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash.
Wright had been solid for the past two seasons and must have caught the eye of the Rays, who were able to acquire Wright incredibly easy, with just cash.
I would've thought that something much more could've been brought back for the sole remaining sturdy arm in the Astros bullpen. I realize that he wasn't the best reliever left on the market, but he could've at least netted a warm body in return; instead the team only received some money.
In the continuation of the mass exodus of an acceptable Astros bullpen, Travis Blackley was purchased by the contending Texas Rangers.
If you haven't caught on yet, I really don't like trades for cash, especially when the team sells a player previously received in a one-for-one deal. This bothers me because instead of dealing for the 30-year-old lefty Blackley, keeping him for four-and-a-half months and shipping him out for nothing, Luhnow could've saved a lot of trouble by just keeping outfielder Jake Goebbert, the man who was originally traded to acquire Blackley.
Luhnow must've been trying to cut his losses in the Blackley deal by just getting whatever he could for him, which was basically nothing. While I don't think he would've received as much as Wright could have, I do think that Luhnow could have gotten at least a player in return so fans could see some substance from this escapade.
In retrospect, Jeff Luhnow has had a fantastic debut with the Astros. Along with his great work with the draft, he has built a fantastic farm system through trades. He acquired many future role players that could have a huge impact on future Astros teams, and in the long run, could go down as some of the biggest steals in MLB history.
But what is most promising about the trades, is that Luhnow has completed his 25 trades with 19 different teams, and only one with his old team. This is a refreshing stat when looking back at Ed Wade's constant dealing with his old team, the Phillies. Jeff Luhnow could deliver a championship winning team in Houston as soon as 2017, and many more years of success after that.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference
Scouting Reports courtesy of: