Jayson Stark is reporting that the Astros are in serious talks with the Dodgers and have "exchanged names" regarding a trade for Roy Oswalt. In a similar vein to my previous two articles on the subject (about the Cardinals, the Phillies, and the Rays), I'm going to make a quick rundown of the Dodgers' best trade assets, primarily prospects, to get a feel for what some of the players involved in a trade might be.
When I do these articles, I obviously can't cover every prospect which might be involved in a deal, or anywhere close; minor league systems are large and well-populated (insert disparaging jokes about the Cardinals' farm system or our own here). I'll try to focus primarily on the names I believe the Astros will be interested in--the best, most high-profile prospects--plus perhaps a few guys I personally think interesting, usually on the basis of their stats or a scouting report which catches my eye.
Researching this article, I was a little bit surprised to see how deep the Dodgers' farm system is. They had three prospects in Baseball America's midseason top fifty, and I'm not even convinced those are the best three in their system; they could lose half of the prospects on the below list and still have a solid farm.
This is good, because the Dodgers will likely ask the Astros to take on significant salary in a deal sending Oswalt to L.A. To do that, the Astros would need back a similarly significant haul.
So let's take a look at what they've got. If the Dodgers trade for Oswalt, what players might the Astros be interested in?
Young Major League Players
- James Loney, 1B (26). Once considered a top prospect, Houston-born Loney hit for great power in his rookie season... and promptly became an empty batting average after that. The interesting thing about Loney is that he's always hit better on the road than at home--by a significant margin. Dodger Stadium is a pitcher-friendly park, so it's possible that Loney would see significant improvement with the Astros. He still has a couple of arbitration years left, and taking him back in the deal would make it easier for the Dodgers to take on Oswalt's salary, but would they part with him in the middle of a pennant race, and do we want him anyway? I'd much prefer prospects, myself, but with Loney being from Houston and the imminent departure of Lance Berkman, the Astros may be interested in acquiring him.
- John Ely, RHP (24). A finesse righty without great stuff, Ely's early season success was an interesting story, but the young rookie couldn't sustain it after May. His peripherals have declined sharply the past two months, and his results with them. Has the league adjusted to him? Perhaps. That doesn't mean he can't adjust himself, and remain a respectable no. 4 starter. If the Dodgers were willing to throw him in at little cost, I might be tempted to buy low, but not if it meant giving up any good prospects which would otherwise be included in the rest of the deal.
The Blue Chip Guys
Dee Gordon, SS (22, AA). Gordon is the Dodgers' number one prospect, arguably the best shortstop prospect in the minor leagues at the moment. He has plus-plus speed and a good arm, which allow his defense to play as a plus. He also has great contact skills and despite an extraordinarily skinny frame, strong enough hands to generate gap-to-gap power. He's basically the shortstop version of Michael Bourn; he'll hit for higher average, but will probably draw fewer walks, resulting in a similar on-base percentage. Plus defense and a decent bat is even more valuable at shortstop than it is in center field, which is why Gordon is such a great prospect. He's currently holding his own in AA as a 22-year old.
Chris Withrow, RHP (21, AA). Native Texan Chris Withrow should be one name of interest to the Astros if they are looking for pitching in a deal with the Dodgers. He has great stuff, with a mid-90s fastball and a plus curve, and his strikeout rate reflects that. Unfortunately, he also walks too many batters, a problem he still has time to correct given his age.
Ethan Martin, RHP (21, A+). With a hard, above average fastball and a good power curve, Martin is right beyond Withrow in the Dodgers prospects rankings, if you believe Baseball America. Like Withrow, he struggles with control, and he's a little farther from the majors, as a 21-year old in Class A-Advanced. Still, if you want upside, both of these pitchers could be front of the rotation starters in the future.
Could Be Blue Chip Guys Soon
Jerry Sands, 1B/OF (22, AA). Think of Sands as the Dodgers' version of J.D. Martinez. He's a big corner outfielder/first baseman drafted out of college in the late rounds who mashed from day one. He's slightly farther ahead than Martinez, having already proven himself to an extent at AA (105 plate appearances there this season, 1.028 OPS). He strikes out a little more than Martinez and doesn't hit for as high an average, but he compensates for that by drawing more walks and hitting for more power--a ton of power, in fact, as he has already hit 27 homers in only 94 games this season. He could be the impact bat the Astros are looking for, but as a late-round draft pick, he'll have to continue to prove himself as a moves up.
Aaron Miller, LHP (22, AA). Houston-born Miller is a big lefty out of Baylor, and while he doesn't have quite the upside of Withrow or Martin, he's still a very good pitching prospect. His low-90s fastball with movement and plus slider play up from the lefthanded side. He's struggling with control a little this season, but his command was solid last year, and he's struck out plenty of batters at all levels. He could be a good middle rotation starter, and perhaps more.
Trayvon Robinson, OF (22, AA). A toolsy center fielder with plus speed, good patience, and above average power, Robinson's only flaw is that he takes a few too many strikeouts. Still, it doesn't seem to have hurt his ability to hit for average in the minors, as he batted .300 in 2009 and is batting .296 this season. Combine that with above average plate discipline and some pop, and you have a quality offensive player with the athleticism to play a premium position in center field.
Other Interesting Names
Allen Webster, RHP (20, A). With great stuff and a deep repertoire of pitches, Webster draws comparisons to a young Tommy Hanson. He could be a good no. 2 in the future, but he's only in low A, and has a long way to go to get there.
Ivan DeJesus Jr, SS/2B (23, AAA). DeJesus has plus on-base skills and very good defense at second base, but the biggest question about him may be the off-field character issues he's rumored to have. His walk rate has also plummeted this season from its excellent rate previously in his career, but he's still hitting for average, and hopefully the walks will return with time. He's MLB-ready now, and while he'll never hit for much power, he should get on base at a high rate and provide plus defense at second base.
- Garret Gould, RHP (18, Rk). Featuring a plus fastball and a plus curve, Gould is still a long way from being major league ready, being in rookie ball at age 18. But he has the upside to become a frontline starter down the road, and that would be attractive to the Astros and Bobby Heck.
As I've already mentioned, this is a deep system. There are plenty more solid prospects I haven't touched on, like Andrew Lambo, Scott Elbert, Josh Lindblom, James McDonald, Xavier Paul, and many more; in henryhn9792's good FanPost on the same subject, he touched on some of the prospects I described above, plus some others.
Glancing through their system really hammers home what a great trade partner the Dodgers would be. They could offer a bigger package than anyone else rumored to have interest in Oswalt, and do it without damaging their farm system too badly.
The catch is still that they have a limited payroll and may need a lot of money added to take on Oswalt's contract. But L.A. may be the Astros' best opportunity to kick lots of money into a deal and straight-up "buy" prospects, if Ed Wade can convince Drayton McLane to take advantage of it.
Thanks to John Sickels over at MinorLeagueBall for his top prospects articles and LA Dodger Talk for their midseason prospect list, among others.