Trade Review: Billy Wagner


Since former Astro Billy Wagner is making news in the rumor mill by being placed on waivers, let's look back at the 2003 trade that sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies for Ezequiel Astacio, Brandon Duckworth and Taylor Buchholz.

Like many of the Gerry Hunsicker trades, he got value outside of the trade's jewel in Buchholz. At the time, the then-21-year old was considered one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. Pitching for Double-A Reading that season, Buchholz went 9-11 with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. He also struck out 119 and walked 33. His numbers were sparkling, and would have placed in among the top 50 pitching prospects in the game.

Duckworth was 27 at the time and coming off a season where he went 4-7 in 24 games and 18 starts with an ERA of 4.94 and 68 strikeouts to 44 walks. Astacio was the least well-known at the time and had pitched in the High-A Florida State League in 2003, going 15-5 with a 3.29 ERA and an 83/29 K/BB ratio. Both were viewed more as filler than anything, but the club did control both Astacio and Buchholz for the next six seasons.

Wagner, on the other hand, was a proven commodity. He was coming off a season where he picked up 44 saves in a league-high 67 appearances with an ERA of 1.78 and a 88/22 K/BB ratio. Wagner was due to make 17 million over the next two seasons, which wasn't a problem for the Astros payroll at the time, which went from 71 million to 75 millon from 2003 to 2004. The problem with Wagner were comments he made right after the Astros were eliminated from the playoff race for the second straight season. Wagner was critical of owner Drayton McClain's willingness to spend money, which angered the owner a great deal. Drayton then allegedly ordered GM Gerry Hunsicker to trade Wagner.

It's impressive that Hunsicker was able to get as much as he did for the best closer in Astros history. With a bullpen that contained Wagner, Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge, the Astros certainly didn't lack for closer options. Still, it's hard to get value for someone when other teams know you need to trade him.

Now, let's look at what kind of value the teams got from these players. Wagner was worth 6.7 million in 2003 and earned 8 million. In 2004 and 2005, the closer was worth 4.6 million and 7.1 million, meaning he underperformed his contract by 5.2 million dollars. The Astros got negative value for both Astacio and Duckworth. Astacio cost the Astros 2.7 million over the course of two seasons starting in 2005. He made the minimum each season, so he cost the Astros around 3.35 million. Duckworth cost the Astros 2.7 million while earning $900,000 over two seasons before being released after the 2006 campaign.

That just leaves us with Buchholz as the only player in this deal who stood as a possible positive investment. the Astros had already lost around 7 million in value while the Phillies lost 5.2 million, meaning the Astros needed to make up about 2 million in value with the 21-year old. As I said, a young pitcher like him should net the Astros around 16 million in value. Buchholz didn't make a big league appearance until 2006, when he went 6-10 in 22 games and 19 starts with the Astros. His ERA was 5.89 and his WHIP was at 1.25 while striking out 77 and walking 34. He was worth about 1.7 million that season, earning $325,00, meaning the Astros netted about 1.3 million in value for him in 2006.

Of course, new GM Tim Purpura used Buchholz as part of a package of players to get Jason Jennings from the Rockies. Jennings pitched 19 games, including 18 starts for the Astros in 2007, going 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA. Jennings was not offered a contract at the end of the season, so the Astros got one season out of him, but gave up on 7.3 and 5.4 million in value from Buchholz alone. We will revisit that Jennings trade later on, but for now, it's easy to say that Buchholz could have given the Astros another 12.7 million in value if they had held onto him.

So, who were the winners here? I don't know if there were any. The Astros did not get much value in return for their closer, gaining only 8 million in future value for the prospects while the Phillies not only lost 5.2 million in value on Wagner's contract, they also didn't make the playoffs either season. As for Wagner, he talked himself out of a two-year run to the postseason with the Astros, including the franchise's only trip to the World Series. Buchholz was shipped to the pitching wasteland that is Colorado while Astacio was picked up by the Rangers in 2007 and Duckworth was signed by the Royals in 2006. As I said, neither the players, nor the teams really won this trade, which just goes to show you: decisions made based on high emotions, such as anger at your closer for critical comments of you, never work out. Remember that, Drayton, when Roy Oswalt pops off in the offseason about this team.

David C.

Minor Musings

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