Like a relationship that had reached the point of no return, the Astros were left with no choice but to part ways with Roy Oswalt on Thursday, trading their ace to the Phillies for pitcher J.A. Happ and a pair of minor leaguers.
For a franchise lagging in fifth place in the National League Central, holding onto Oswalt made little sense. The Astros need to rebuild, and keeping a slowly disgruntled hurler with a $44 million price tag wasn't the best way to achieve future success.
There are other reasons the Astros had to let go of a three-time All-Star with 143 career wins, and we explain them here.
Owner Drayton McLane and general manager Ed Wade had to make a move that signaled the team's intent to rebuild the franchise, and moving Oswalt was the biggest step the club could deliver.
Only time will tell if Wallace, Villar, and Happ—along with whoever else the Astros receive in trades over the next few days—will be the vanguard of a new day at Minute Maid, but an organization that has been in freefall needed to no longer put its fate in the hands of below replacement level talent.
Add on the recent arrivals of 3B Chris Johnson, C Jason Castro, and the impending touchdown of young pitching phenom Jordan Lyles can finally give Astros fans a taste of what the future holds.
The Astros have managed just two winning seasons since capturing the 2005 National League pennant. Every defeat and empty seat at Minute Maid Park is a subtle reminder of how distant a memory that magical October night in St. Louis had become.
Oswalt and Berkman were the final two holdovers from that season. With Oswalt gone and Berkman's departure a distinct possibility, the Astros need to close the chapter on the glory days of 1997-2005 and begin anew.
Whether the likes of Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Jason Castro, and Bud Norris are the foundation of the next great Astros team remains in question, but the time has come to yield to the future.
Oswalt was due $22 million through the end of the 2011 season, while the Astros held a $16 million option for the 2012 campaign.
The Astros weren't going anywhere with a high-priced pitcher on the verge of hitting the back nine of his career; not trading him would have led to a scenario this winter that would have made trading Oswalt almost impossible.
Had the Astros been foolish to retain Oswalt, the franchise would have been on the hook for more than $90 million for both him and LF Carlos Lee through 2013, an albatross that would have killed any glimmer of hope for an effective rebuilding project.
Oswalt knew his chances of appearing in another postseason with the Astros were slim, which sparked him to request a trade in May. He was 4-0 with a 3.66 ERA in postseason runs in 2004-05 and wanted an opportunity to pitch with the spotlight at its brightest before calling it a career.
By going to Philadelphia, Oswalt will get the chance to help the Phillies pursue a third straight National League pennant. With he, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels anchoring the rotation, his dream of earning a World Series ring is a far bigger reality than it was 48 hours ago.
In exchange for Oswalt, the Astros received minor league SS Jonathan Villar and OF Anthony Gose along with P J.A. Happ. Gose, who compared favorably to Astros All-Star OF Michael Bourn, found himself in Toronto hours later, as he was dealt to the Blue Jays for 1B Brett Wallace (above).
Wallace easily becomes the top hitting prospect in an Astros minor league system bereft of quality young bats. The left-handed hitting 23-year old belted 18 homers and 61 RBIs while batting .305 at Class AAA Las Vegas and becomes the heir apparent to Lance Berkman.
The Wallace Era could arrive quicker than expected, as multiple sources have reported that Berkman has become the (Big) Apple in the eyes of the Yankees, who are searching for an additional bat to give them an edge over hard-charging Tampa Bay and Boston in the AL East.