It's not time to print World Series tickets, playoff tickets, or even above .500 tickets (if there was such a thing) but fans should take the recent Jed Lowrie trade as an encouraging sign that they're headed in the right direction. In the past the Astros were very reluctant to move veteran players in exchange for prospects when they were having a down season (see Jose Valverde in 2009). It has always been my belief that veteran players should be traded when a ballclub is in a rebuilding phase or doesn't have much hope of contending for several seasons.
In this case, Jed Lowrie will be 29 years old within the first week of the 2013 season. He's a valuable player and I enjoyed watching him play, but by the time the Astros are ready to contend, he'll be at least 32 years old so what is the point of hanging on to him? By the time the Astros are playing meaningful games in September and October he'll be past his prime; I'd rather add a couple of prospects that can contribute to their long term success. I'll miss Lowrie, he provided more power than I can remember the Astros ever having at the shortstop position, but he wasn't a cornerstone player. His 16 home runs in just 340 at bats was very good, but he also hit just .244 and missed 65 games. He was good, but nothing close to great.
In return, they received good but not great prospects from Oakland. Chris Carter should provide them some pop at DH and first base depending on how they rotate him with Wallace and Pena. He received a meaningful amount of at bats for the first time last season (218 in 67 games) and responded with 16 home runs. Put that over a full season with roughly 520 at bats, and Carter could have hit 30 home runs. He has issues with a low batting average and too many strikeouts, but the Astros are desperate for power. The other guy in the trade that really interests me is Brad Peacock who was rated the A's second best prospect by Baseball America for 2012 and fourth coming into this season, and was on their top 100 list overall for 2012. Peacock struggled last year in Triple-A, but had a combined 2.39 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011. The Astros may not have hit a home run with this trade, but I think they at least hit a solid stand up double. They won't be contenders this year, they won't be contenders in 2014, but fans should be encouraged; they're on the right path.
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