If you'd asked in April which major league team was most likely to add a significant starting pitcher at the trade deadline, the answer would have been easy.
The Houston Astros.
If you'd asked in May, the answer would have been the same.
The Astros? They made a small deal for left-hander Francisco Liriano, who they plan to use out of the bullpen and could help. They did not get a starter.
Or a big bit of an understatement.
The Astros front office has done tons of good work building a super team that reached the deadline with a 16-game lead in the American League West and by far the best record in the entire American League. The Astros drafted well, developed well, signed free agents well and even traded well.
But anyone who picked them to win did it assuming they were going to add to the starting rotation. They were going to get Jose Quintana, who they were seriously linked to all winter (but was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Chicago Cubs at the All-Star break). They were going to get Gray. They were going to get Darvish, as long as the Texas Rangers could get past the idea of helping their in-state rivals.
They didn't get any of them. Instead, Gray was introduced as the newest member of a budding American League superteam in New York at Yankee Stadium Tuesday. Darvish was on his way to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where players were celebrating yet another Dodger win.
"The fact that the front office did what they did at the deadline shows they're as serious as we are," Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said, as Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reported on Twitter.
And the fact that the Astros front office did what they did?
"I'd be lying if I didn't say I was disappointed," general manager Jeff Luhnow admitted to Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. "I do believe that this team has what it takes to win in the postseason with the players we have. It doesn't mean we didn't try hard to improve those chances even just a little bit. Each little bit that you can improve your chances of winning in the postseason helps and we tried."
What's that line about how anybody can try? This is the major leagues. Results are what matter.
And just as hitters are expected to hit (not just to try) and pitchers are expected to get outs (not just to try) and managers are expected to put the right players in the right spots (not just to try), general managers of teams with a chance to win it all are expected to make needed deals at the deadline.
The fact Luhnow couldn't get it done doesn't mean the Astros can't win, no more than a Keuchel loss (there haven't been many of those) or a Jose Altuve 0-for-4 (there haven't been many of those either) would by itself stop this team. The Astros were 15-9 in July even though Keuchel (pinched nerve in his neck) pitched only three innings and No. 2 starter Lance McCullers Jr. had a 9.64 ERA.
McCullers went on the disabled list because of back discomfort a few hours before the trade deadline, which only seemed to add to the urgency to make a trade.
The Astros couldn't get it done, despite a farm system that's well regarded in the game. They couldn't get it done, even though Luhnow told Kaplan they were so close on some deals he wouldn't name that he had been "90 percent-plus" they were going to get done.
Maybe he was referring to talks with the Baltimore Orioles, who inexplicably didn't trade closer Zach Britton and even more inexplicably positioned themselves as deadline buyers. Or maybe he was talking about something else.
It doesn't really matter now, because the deals didn't get done. It doesn't matter, because at a time of year that is partly about getting better and at least a small bit about front offices breathing more life into a clubhouse, the Astros' non-moves got this response from their current ace:
Listen in as reporters give Keuchel a possible out, suggesting that maybe the front office simply believed the Astros as currently constituted are already good enough to win. Listen in as Keuchel's tone doesn't change.
Maybe Luhnow can still change the tone with a waiver deal in August. Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander has a contract that should see him sail through waivers, and a 2.25 ERA since making a mechanical fix three starts back. He also has a full no-trade clause and would need to approve any deal.
Or maybe the Astros go on to win their first World Series crown anyway. The 1998 Yankees tasted deadline disappointment when the pitcher they coveted—Randy Johnson—ended up somewhere else at the deadline.
He ended up in Houston. The Yankees won the World Series. It's not always about who you get at the deadline.
Don't try to explain that to Dallas Keuchel, though. Not today.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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