This point seems to be coming up again and again. I know we talked about it on the podcast, but I thought it important to make a distinction between how I felt for years about Hunter Pence and Jed Lowrie and rebuilding in general.
The big, big, big, giant reason why is simply that Hunter Pence was never a "star" player and I think Lowrie can be one. You trade a guy who has value but isn't a star if a team is looking to rebuild, and you do it before people realize he won't be a star. You hold onto actual stars at the peak of their powers for as long as you can, because they don't come around that often.
From the day he came up, I liked Hunter Pence, as many of you probably did too. But, looking at his skill set, his position and his likely career path, I figured he would always be worth more in trade than he would be on the field for Houston. Pence was never going to be an MVP caliber guy, because he wasn't going to hit for enough power or steal enough bases to be a 30-30 guy. And, his batting average was too flexible.
So, it never broke my heart when he was shopped last season. He was expendable, and trading him would hurry the rebuilding process along. As it turned out, Houston got at least one major piece for the future in Jonathan Singleton, who could very well have the bat we wanted Hunter to have for so many years.
With Michael Bourn, it was similar. We recognized that Bourn would always be more valuable to Houston than he would be to a team in trade, because the things he did (baserunning, defense) weren't big-name trade assets. But, I recognized that trading him did hold some value, even if the return didn't necessarily bear that out.
With Lowrie, though, he's showing this season that he can be one of the best in the majors at his position. If he hits 30 home runs, he'll be one of the few shortstops in recent history to get there. He'd be right up there with the Troy Tulowitzkis of the world.
He'd be a star, a real and true star, one of the best at his position.
Let's not overlook the positional differences too. How many shortstops have been traded at the height of their powers when they were the best in the league? Not many. Maybe A-Rod?
A power-hitting shortstop is exactly the kind of guy you strive to find in those prospect trades. When you have one, you don't just spin him off for someone else, especially when your farm system is bereft of guys who can become superstars.
Outfielders who hit 25 home runs or play great defense and steal bases can be found. It may be harder, but Houston took a guy like George Springer for that reason. Domingo Santana and D'Andre Toney could also fit that bill someday. Those guys are easy to get into the system.
Plus, Houston still has the flexibility to get a haul for Lowrie down the road. Let's say they keep him for three or four more seasons, through his Age 31 year. Let's say he keeps up this pace with his bat for at least the next two seasons.
If they still are in need of players to hope to contend at that point, or if Carlos Correa and Rio Ruiz are knocking down the door to take away the left side of the infield for the next 15 years, then Lowrie is still very, very valuable. He's a power hitting shortstop who may move to third as he ages, but who will have built up a reputation around the game as a power-hitting shortstop/third baseman who has made multiple All-Star games.
Think Houston could get something for him then?
Jeff Luhnow will listen on every player, including Lowrie and Jose Altuve. He'd be crazy to turn down Mike Trout or Bryce Harper for Lowrie, right? Even Brett Lawrie for Lowrie would be get a deal done. But, none of those trades are happening. Luhnow will have to be bowled over to trade Lowrie, because he has value, will be with the team for a while longer and will sustain his value nicely.
Rebuilding is fine and well. Trading aging stars is also fine and well when a team is rebuilding. Teams that trade stars in their primes will be rebuilding for a long, long time. That's why I could agree with the Pence and Bourn trades and be so against a Lowrie move.