Recently, AstrosBill and others around here have been tossing around the idea of immediately trading Bud Norris for prospects. I'm not sure who first started mentioning it in the comments, but I decided it was an idea worth thinking about a little deeper.
I won't lie - my first reaction was to think, "What a silly idea." Norris is a young, improving, power pitcher. In short, he embodies what the Astros need more of. So I put the idea out of my mind, writing it off as idle off-season internet chatter. But then, as I sat staring at my fire, pipe in hand and bearskin rug at my slipper'ed feet, pondering the topic of my next Crawfish Boxes post, I realized that the suggestion is far more interesting than I first realized. "Eureka!" I cried, springing from my wingback and startling Oliver, who had been snoring by the hearth dreaming of his rawhide bone and yellow Angry Birds plush toy.
It was at this point that I realized I could not decide if I thought parting with Bud Norris this winter would be a good move for the Astros. I settled back again, blew some bubbles on my pipe, and soon found myself arguing. With myself. It went something like this:
Conservative Chris: Trading Bud Norris is a bad idea because he is a young, improving, power pitcher. In short, he embodies what the Astros need more of!
Aggressive Chris: Way to copy and paste a sentence from the opening paragraphs. The Astros lost 106 games last season. They won't be in a playoff hunt until 2016 at least. Norris will be 31 years old then, past the peak age for pitchers and on the downswing of his career.
Conservative Chris: 31 years old is still fairly young, and data that shows that pitchers decline very slowly compared to hitters. Norris will still be a very good pitcher at age 31.
Aggressive Chris: Considering that Norris will be beyond his arbitration years by then, he'll be an expensive pitcher too.
Conservative Chris: Then pay him! The Astros will be competitive by then, remember? So it's worth paying him.
Aggressive Chris: I agree that he will be worth good money in 2016 if he stays healthy. But might the Astros return to competitiveness sooner if they trade Norris for prospects right now?
Conservative Chris: Prospects aren't proven. Norris is.
Aggressive Chris: Look at what the A's just did with Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. Both of those guys are young and under team control, and the A's just got a haul for them. Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill, Ryan Cook, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, A.J. Cole, and Tommy Milone. That's a veritable pantheon of top prospects! On Baseball Prospectus' recent ranking of A's prospects, those guys are ranked 2, 3, 4, 6, and 9! Think of what the Astros farm system would look like with just half of those guys!
Conservative Chris: Whoop-dee-doo. It's not the first time the A's have made big trades like that. But what has ever come of them? When was the last time the A's finished over .500? 2006? Why should we care what the A's do? Who knows how good they could have been if they had held on to Cahill and Gonzalez? Instead, they got a huge sack of "if" in return.
Aggressive Chris: Yes, but most of those guys are projected to be stars. If even one or two of them reach their potential, and the others are solid major league regulars, the A's are better off than where they were. Trading Norris for prospects now while his value is at its peak is a gamble that needs to be taken!
Conservative Chris: But be realistic, Aggressive Chris. Norris is not as accomplished as either Cahill or Gonzalez. Look at their stats for the previous three years. Norris is older and has not performed as well.
Aggressive Chris: Those stats can be used to make my point as well. Obviously, Gio Gonzalez is the cream of that crop, but a pretty solid argument can be made that Norris is a better pitcher than Trevor Cahill. Norris has a better strikeout rate, a better FIP...
Conservative Chris: ...worse hit rate, worse HR rate, worse WAR, and he's older.
Aggressive Chris: It doesn't matter! He's still an excellent young pitcher. And he's had less time in the majors than the other two, so still may be learning his way. It's very possible he will continue to improve. And "older" doesn't mean old. It's not Norris' fault that Cahill just fell out of his crib and into the major leagues. So maybe the Astros wouldn't get a package back quite as good as the one the A's got for Gonzalez. So what? They'll still get back a bevy of very good and projectable prospects, and the Astros need that right now far more than they need Bud Norris!
Conservative Chris: Look. Bud Norris is a young effective pitcher. The Astros need him more than they need a couple of three-star prospects that might not pan out. They can't trade everybody. If they want to trade somebody, they should trade Lee, Myers, and Wandy, because they're older and they really have no future here. But not Norris. Astros fans need a reason to keep coming to the ballpark. That's my closing argument. The Astros need to keep him.
Aggressive Chris: I just don't agree. The Astros have no future unless they drastically change the way they've been doing business. The A's have given them the blueprint. Norris' value will never be higher than he is now, and who is to say that trading him won't net the next big superstar for the Astros? We already know Norris probably won't be a superstar, but he certainly has more trade value than the three players you just mentioned. The Astros have far too many needs to be sentimental about the one player who could get them the biggest return. I vote trade him. Right away.
Finally, I decided that this argument would not be resolved by blowing bubbles in front of the fireplace. I retired to my place of repose and decided to leave the question up to the readers. Who do you agree with?