With the signing of first round selection Jiovanni Mier completed, I felt like this was an undoubtedly positive step in the development of the Astros organization. So much of being an Astros fan of late has been about wondering what course this organization was going to take. Would it be a continuing path toward mediocrity- neglecting our farm system/player development, and emphasizing a "win now" philosophy highlighted by signing and trading for veteran talent? Or would the Astros realize the folly of their ways, and reinvigorate the base of their organization by investing more time, money and effort in the evaluation of talent and minor leagues in general?
When Ed Wade was hired as Astros GM September 21, 2007, a lot of people were skeptical. Sure, he had constructed the nucleus of the Philadelphia Phillies team that would win the World Series a year later, but a lot of his transactions weren't looked highly upon. As Astros GM, his first move was to trade Jason Lane for cash considerations. This wasn't a trade that did much to alter the perception of Wade around baseball. Lane was a remnant of our World Series club, someone whose talent had run its course. If anything, he should have been traded the year before.
The 2007-2008 offseason saw a flury of moves that dramatically altered the face of the team. Of course, the headliner was the trade that essentially sent Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett to Philadelphia for Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary. Since the trade, each player has had one good season. Lidge as we all know was perfect in save opportunities for the Phils last season, outproduced his contract by almost 50%, and was worth 2.2 wins above a replacement level player- a hefty margin for a relief pitcher. This season, a largely ineffective Lidge has suffered due to injury. Michael Bourn has gone from one of the worst regulars in baseball in 2008 to an offensive threat, who gets on base well, plays a solid centerfield, and is the Astros only true basestealing threat.
Following the Lidge/Bourn deal, Wade traded prospects and "role players" for established big leaguers. Oscar Villareal, Jose Valverde, Miguel Tejada and Randy Wolf all became Astros within a year of Wade becoming General Manager. Of those players, three of four would end up playing major roles in our almost/not quite/ill fated/Hurricane Ike damaged 2008 playoff push. Oscar Villareal (much like Geoff Geary this season) was ineffective to the point where the team demoted him to AAA. He was eventually released.
On the flip side, many of the players traded away- Josh Anderson, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, Luke Scott, Juan Gutierrez and Chad Qualls have gone on to perform at least on a small time basis for their various clubs. The trade for Jose Valverde has always been a bit puzzling to me. True, having a big time closer is nice, but having his big salary is not. Qualls has been solid-good in his time in the desert, and Juan Gutierrez would surely be able to compete for a spot in our bullpen. Luke Scott has perhaps played above his head in 2009, but he has shown a penchant for getting on base, and is a player whose contract is modest. How does an outfield of Luke Scott-Michael Bourn-Hunter Pence grab any of you? Before you think, "Wow! Our defense sure would improve!", don't be so sure. I was fooled into thinking Scott would be a bigger upgrade defensively, too. Carlos Lee was someone Wade had no part in signing, and wasn't someone who could be dealt with (any) ease whatsoever. The corner outfield spots would be set for years to come, and with Bourn penciled in as our centerfielder of the future, Scott had no place on the Astros. He was a veteran who had reached his peak most likely.
The player that Luke Scott and co. were dangled to obtain, Miguel Tejada, was overpriced, aging and a shell of the player he was once. He was a guy the Astros had been targeting for a few seasons, and when the opportunity to get him arose, Wade took it. The Mitchell Report, his jump in age, and a rather mediocre season offensively didn't help the trade seem any better. His being on the Astros speaks to, again, the lack of any minor league talent at the AA or AAA level when Wade came on as GM. If a better, more cost effective option existed, this trade may never have happened. Hamstrung as he was, Wade did what he could to ensure the Astros wouldn't be without a shorstop that fit the Drayton McLane mentality of thinking about the present, and worrying about the future in the...well...future.
Since then, Jeff Fulchino, Wesley Wright, and LaTroy Hawkins were brought in and have been intergal parts of the Astros bullpen at one time or another. Ed Wade has been known to be a GM who emphasizes building a good bullpen, and while his results with the Astros have been mixed in my opinion, I would think that relief pitching has been closer a strength during the Wade administration rather than a weakness. Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz are well past their prime free agent acquisitions that have each played a part in keeping the Astros in the hunt this season. All were low risk acquisitions, and I don't think the Astros are where they are without them.
Perhaps the most important achievement of Ed Wade during his time in Houston has been the signing, promotion and influence of Asst. GM Bobby Heck. I realize that one person can't single handedly turn around a franchise, but Heck has come close. He has exerted his personality at the minor league level by bringing in his scouts, promoting players faster through our system, and most importantly signing draft picks. When in the past Drayton McLane wouldn't overpay a draft pick above his slotted price, last season saw the team do just that with Jason Castro. Castro came in and was immediately impressive, and is already in AA and playing well. Other highlights of the farm system include: the quintet of fine Lexington starters, Chia Jen Lo and his ascendancy from little known Taiwanese pitcher to legitimate major league prospect and the faith to draft Jason Castro as early as he did. Experts did not particularly like the Astros 2008 draft, but many if not all have changed their opinions since.
With help from a good personnel man, faith in young players, and trades that buoyed the Astros chances in a playoff push, Ed Wade has done much to improve the Astros during his tenure as GM. There were moves he made or didn't make that were head scratchers, but the structure of the team before Wade arrived influenced those decisions a great deal. Since he arrived though, the organization as a whole is stonger and better equipped to compete in the future.