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My Take on the Astros' Deadline Deals

This year's trade deadline felt very much like watching a wrecking ball smash through your beloved home.  Sure, maybe the foundation was already cracked and the doors falling off their hinges, and maybe the leaky roof made it a miserable place to live in, but a part of you loved it anyway.

Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence are gone, and leave a lesser, but younger, team in their wake.

This kind of full-blown rebuilding had to be done, and it did bring back a return.  The question then becomes, did general manager Ed Wade get top value for his players?  What prospects did he get back, and how do the two trades rate?

First, please do your best to ignore most of the mainstream sportswriters.  Except for a few gurus like Keith Law and John Sickels, these guys have little idea what they're talking about at each trade deadline.  They have a hard enough time getting their Major League coverage right, let alone identifying and evaluating minor league prospects.

Second, recognize that a full rebuild needed to be done, and that for once, the front office's timing was impeccable.  Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are at the peak of their value.  The following is true of both of them: They are riding on unsustainable batting averages on balls in play, they are both at the peak age for a hitter's performance, and they both have just the right amount of cost-controlled arbitration years left to extract good trade value without being around when the Astros will be contenders again.

That just leaves the execution.  Did Wade drive a hard enough bargain?  Did he get the value back that he should have for these good, cost-controlled players?  Let's take a look.

Hunter Pence to the Phillies for Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid, and a player to be named later

Keeping in mind that Pence is a good player, but not a star player, and not a true franchise cornerstone, this is a surprisingly good return.  That said, the rumor mill was working overtime prior to the trade, with crazy trade possibilities flying back and forth and murmurs of a bidding war between Atlanta and Philadelphia.  Expectations amongst Astros fans grew monumental, and when the deal was actually finalized, some were disappointed.

Singleton and Cosart are blue chip, top fifty prospects with huge upside.  If they reach their ceilings, Singleton could be the star hitter on a contending team, and Cosart the staff ace.  This is the best kind of top 50 prospect we could get in return for Pence.  Teams do not give up prospects having both superstar/ace ceilings and very high floors in exchange for a player like Pence.  That means you have to choose.  Do you want a high ceiling player, or a high floor player?  Do you take the kid in A ball with massive upside and substantial risk of fizzling out in the upper minors or big leagues, or do you take the guy who can probably be a solid regular for the next few years, but not much more?

In a full rebuild, you take the high ceiling prospect, every time.  That's my opinion.  You aren't going to turn things around on the backs of 2-3 WAR players, so aim for the stars.

As for the other two players in this deal?

Josh Zeid has back of the bullpen potential, and it's plausible that he could become the setup man or even closer for that future Astros contender.  His stats are ugly this season on the surface, but he's been very successful out of the bullpen and scouting reports are positive.

We don't yet know the player to be named later, but he's rumored to be from the Phillies' single A club, and they have three or four solid prospects there with the upside to become above average ML players, so that PTBNL could increase the value of this trade substantially.

This is close to the best realistic deal I could imagine the Astros getting for Pence.  There is a lot of risk here, but also a ton of potential, and there is the possibility that, in five years, this could be the trade we point to as the deal which turned the franchise around.  I'll give this trade an A- and change that to a straight A if the Astros get OF Domingo Santana or RHP Lisalberto Bonilla as the PTBNL.

Michael Bourn to the Braves for Jordan Schafer, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens, and Juan Abreu

This trade, on the other hand, comes across as "a bit dodgy", as a Brit might say.  My first reaction to the players listed was, quite literally, "Eww".  That's actually the exact comment I posted in the trade thread.  We here in Houston view Bourn as one of the best defensive outfielders and easily the best baserunner in baseball--an all-around fantastic leadoff hitter and a very good player.

It may come as a shock that he isn't viewed quite as rosily on the national scene.  Some challenge that Bourn is not as good of a defender as we believe, saying that his arm is just decent and he sometimes takes bad routes; others point to his lack of power and his reliance on BABIP (batting average on balls in play).  There's also the common belief that speedy slap-hitting center fielders don't age well.  I don't agree with the criticisms about his defense and I think he can sustain a high BABIP, so don't shoot the messenger, but I've seen many remarks of this nature over the past week.

It seems as though MLB teams agree with those criticisms, though, because Bourn, according to the rumor mill, barely drew any interest until the night before deadline day.  Or maybe it's because of the glut of available center fielders--B.J. Upton and Denard Span, most notably.  Whatever the reason, I think it's safe to say that Bourn's actual market value was not as high as Pence's, whatever his true baseball value may be (and I think he's just shy of being a star, impact player).

With all of that in mind, I do not think we can characterize this as a disaster trade.  I don't like this deal, but I dislike it more because of the type of value we got back than because we didn't get full market value.  I think Bourn was probably worth one high floor, low ceiling top 50 prospect straight-up in terms of what teams would have been willing to give up for him, if pressed.  (Think Randall Delgado--a guy who is a good bet to become a middle rotation starter.)  And I think this return, in value, is about the equal to that.  And if it was a bunch of toolsy, low level, high ceiling players, I could understand going for quantity instead of pinning everything on one prospect like Delgado.

The problem is, the Astros went for a deal centered on a higher quantity of high floor, low ceiling players.  Jordan Schafer is a former top 50 prospect who isn't quite what I'd call a bust.  He's only 24, and he has some value.  I think at very least he'll have a MLB career as a fourth outfielder/fringe regular who bounces from team to team for awhile after getting traded or non-tendered in his last couple arbitration years.  He still has some upside, too; the tools are strong in this one, and there's a chance that a change of scenery could be just what he needs to turn into, essentially, a poor man's Michael Bourn, and an all-around solid everyday center fielder.  I'm not holding my breath, but it could happen.  If he winds up batting .260/.330/.370 I'll count that a huge success.  More likely, we'll see a Willy Taveras-type career path for him (with more walks but a lower batting average).

Brad Oberholtzer is a pretty solid bet to be a MLB starting pitcher.  If so, it'll almost certainly be as a back of the rotation guy, but he should eat some innings, and ought to be better in the long term than J.A. Happ--not that surpassing Happ is hard to do.  There's a chance, however slim, he could develop into a middle rotation arm.

Paul Clemens is perhaps my favorite player in this deal, as he has a good fastball and a solid, aggressive approach on the mound.  I'll give him middle rotation/back of the bullpen potential, and whether he pitches in the rotation or the bullpen, and how good he becomes, depends on how his secondary pitches and command develop.

The last player in the deal, Juan Abreu, is a wild hard thrower who's a bit long in the tooth for a prospect.  He has great stuff--particularly his high 90s fastball--but will need to improve his command to become more than a middle reliever.  On pure stuff, he could be a closer, but he's already 26 and there's not much chance that he fixes his command enough to reach that point.

My first reaction to this trade was FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF (actually, EWWWWW).  On reflection upon Bourn's actual market value and after some research into the players received, I will upgrade that substantially to a C-.  Wade lost this deal, but not catastrophically.  There's a glimmer of hope that we could wind up with at least one above average ML player out of this bunch, probably from Schafer or Clemens if so, and all four of them are good bets to have some kind of (at least brief) MLB career.

Overall, I give the front office's performance at this year's trade deadline a B- where B is the average, or expected return.  If we do get a high ceiling prospect like Bonilla or Santana as the fourth player from the Phillies, I will round it up to a straight B.  I don't think the return on these trades was good enough to save Wade's job (if such is even possible), nor do I think the return is poor enough to lose him his job.  I see the overall package of eight players--ten if you include the Keppinger deal--as being a signficant boost to an ailing farm system, but at the same time, you would expect a significant boost any time you deal the two best players on your team.

I do think this team is heading in the right direction.  It will be hard to watch for the next couple years in some ways--there will be a lot of losing--but at the same time, at least it will be a young, improving team, and finally we can begin to expect change to be for the better, instead of for the worse.