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Astros Front Office 2014 Review in 21 transactions

A look at the 21 transactions that helped define the Astros 2014 season and beyond.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros won 19 more games in 2014. Naturally, you would expect a positive grade of the Astros front office moves this past season, but lets put that to the test by taking a look at the transactions that had an impact on the Astros major league squad.

Below you will find a list of 23 transactions the Astros front office made from November 1, 2013, to November 1, 2014. Essentially, the start of the hot stove season last year to the end of the World Series this year. This is not an exhaustive list of transactions, but rather the transactions that seemed to have an impact, good, bad or somewhere in the middle, on the Astros 2014 team.

Selected left-handed pitcher Darin Downs off waivers from Detroit Tigers

Downs posted a 5.45 ERA in 34 2/3 innings for the Astros last year. His FIP last season and for his career overall is a full run lower than his ERA. He's very effective against left-handed hitters. The issue seems to be that managers have been allowing him to face right-handed batters and Bo Porter was no different last year.

Result: Sort of worked

Jimmy Paredes selected by Miami Marlins off waivers

Paredes is waived and Jose Altuve sets a franchise record for hits in a season. Coincidence? I think not. Without Captain Collision running around Altuve was allowed to focus on hitting instead of fearing for his life while playing the field and that paid off in a big way. In all seriousness, Paredes played a part time role for both the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles this year. He hit well overall and even had a walk in the ALCS for the Orioles, but I think the Astros were able to replace him with Gregorio Petit this past season.

Result: Worked

Selected Ryan Jackson off waivers from St. Louis Cardinals; Jackson traded to the San Diego Padres for Jesus Guzman

This is a little tricky. Guzman did not play well at all for the Astros at all this past season; Jackson did not play for the Padres at all this past season. As far as the trade goes it's a push. As far as the acquisition itself it didn't work out at all and Guzman has since been granted his free agency.

Result: Did not work

Traded Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles to the Colorado Rockies for Dexter Fowler

At a glance, I think most people would say the Astros won this trade handily, but a deeper look into the advanced numbers indicate that the trade is a lot closer than you would think and might even favor the Rockies. Fowler's rWAR is very close to the combined 1.8 rWAR of Barnes and Lyles. FanGraphs version of WAR gives the Rockies even more of an edge, however, WAR numbers are not hard numbers and when they're this close it's difficult to say these players were better than this player. I think both teams walk away from the trade after one season feeling good about it. For the Astros they traded from a position of depth to fill a need on this team and that should not be overlooked.

Result: Worked

Signed Scott Feldman: three-years $30M

The Astros got exactly what we expected they would get from Feldman: A league average pitcher who can provide innings and a veteran presence.

Result: Worked

Signed Chad Qualls:  two-years $6M, 2016 option

Just as we were getting to know Feldman, the Astros signed Qualls the very next day to help in the bullpen. And just like Feldman, The Astros got exactly what we expected they would from Qualls: A slightly above average reliever who could stabilize the bullpen and bring a veteran presence.

Result: Worked

Received Anthony Bass for Rule 5 selection Patrick Shuster

Another tricky one. Like the Guzman for Jackson deal, Schuster didn't play for the Padres this year. He didn't even break camp with the club. The Astros didn't get much out of Bass with only 27 innings pitched and a 6.33 ERA. He was granted free agency in late November.

Result: Did not work

Signed Matt Albers:  one-year $2.45M, 2015 club option

Albers pitched very well for the Astros last season, well, he pitched well in the 10 innings he could pitch last year. Albers was placed on the disabled list April 22 with right-shoulder tendinitis. He would not pitch again for the Astros in 2014 and had his option declined by the team this offseason.

Result: Did not work

Selected Collin McHugh off waivers from the Colorado Rockies

This is pretty much how the transaction worked out:

defense

Smooth and magical. McHugh pitched very well for the Astros this past season. The Astros essentially added Masahiro Tanaka and did so for about $154.5M less than Yankees spent. Yes McHugh was just as good as Tanaka, albeit, in more innings.

Result: Worked

Signed Jesse Crain: one-year $3.25M

From one of the best moves to one of the worst moves. Simply put Crain was not able to pitch for the Astros in 2014.

Result: Did not work

Signed Jerome Williams: one-year $2.1M

After 47 2/3 innings pitched, Williams had a 6.04 ERA, 65 ERA+, 4.64 FIP. He was released July 8, 2014.

Result: Did not work

Released Brett Wallace

Wallace split time with Baltimore and Toronto in Class-AAA last year and never made an appearance in the majors. Initially you might say this worked, but the bar for first base was really low last year. Would Wallace have hit any better, given an opportunity? Maybe. His .242/.313/.391 career line in the majors is better than the .180/.280/.310 first basemen put up for the Astros last year. There's certainly an argument to be made that this move didn't work, but then you take into account that it may have taken time away from Jon Singleton. Yes, he did struggle, but that's something most prospects do when they first get to the majors.

Result: Push

Released JD Martinez

There are plenty of excuses for Martinez being released on March 22, 2014, but as is this was not a very good move by the Astros last season. After being released towards the end of Spring Training, Martinez went on to post a 153 wRC+ in 480 plate appearances (PA) with the Detroit Tigers last season. If that wasn't enough, Astros left fielders posted a 80 wRC+ in 2014. Yes there's a reason and yes there are questions about whether or not he can sustain this type of success in the future, but that was a lot of production to miss out on last year.

Result: Did not work

Selected Alex Presley off waivers from Minnesota Twins

Presley is a reserve outfielder that provides some defense and some offense. He's essentially Marwin Gonzalez for the outfield. He's been useful for the Astros, but he's also been replacement level. I probably should have left this move off the list, but with Springer and Fowler injuries and the offensive hole in left field, Presley got quite a bit of playing time and didn't exactly hurt the team.

Results: Push

Traded Lucas Harrell to Arizona Diamondbacks. PTBNL (cash)

After a rough 2013 season in which Harrell posted an ERA just under six, he needed to get off to a good start in 2014. He didn't do that and was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of April. In return the Astros got cash. Harrell would not see the majors again in 2014 and was released August 24 by the Diamondbacks. This offseason he signed with the KIA Tigers to pitch in the Korean Baseball Organization next season.

Result: Worked

Signed Tony Sipp

Signed out of the Padres farm system, Sipp was one of the best relievers for the Astros last year. He led the team in shutdowns (SD) and was second on the team in WAR. This pickup was one of the biggest reasons why the Astros bullpen was much improved over it's 2013 version.

Result: Worked

Astros sign Jon Singleton to multi-year $10 million contract

This contract signing was one of the many controversies this year, but we're not going to discuss that here. Instead, the focus here is on the deal and the deal is very team friendly. Last year Singleton was paid $1.5M. He'll be paid $2M for the next four years. Then the Astros hold three club options years at $2.5M, $5M and $13M. If Singleton ends up only producing four WAR over the next four season the Astros would still come out ahead on this deal.

Result: Worked (but probably too soon to tell)

Traded Austin Wates, Jarred Cosart and Enrique Hernandez to Miami Marlins for Francis Martes, Colin Moran, Jake Marisnick and 2015 compensation draft pick

On the objective side of this deal, the Marlins and Astros got about the same value out of the major league pieces in this deal. Where the Astros benefit is in the minor league pieces they got in return. Moran is a player the Astros were very high on in the 2013 draft, but was ultimately selected sixth by the Marlins after the Astros took Mark Appel. Martes is the 19 year old lottery pick that we usually see in Astros deals and The Astros also add a comp pick for the 2015 draft. There's a lot of moving parts and unknowns in this deal, so It's very much a wait and see type of transaction, however, In the short term it appears that the move worked, because it didn't hurt the major league squad towards the end of the season.

Result: Worked

Keeping Dallas Keuchel

Not trading Keuchel at the trade deadline was the best move made all year. In nine starts after the July trade deadline, Keuchel posted a 2.83 ERA in 63 2/3 innings and looks poised to continue that success in 2015.

Result: Worked

Hiring Brent Strom as pitching coach

Team statistics are not going to tell us a whole lot about a coach's aptitude for coaching. There are just too many variables that get in the way, like talent level. The feeling though is that Strom had a positive impact on the pitching staff this year.

Result: Worked

Getting Mark Appel in front of Brent Strom at Minute Maid Park

Sure this set off some players on the major league squad and created some weird media outrage, but apparently this isn't anything new for teams to get their top prospects that they've put millions into in front of their best pitching coaches. And as we just reviewed the Strom hiring, it appears we could have an example of his positive impact on pitchers. Before the bullpen session Appel had a 9.74 ERA, after it was 3.69 ERA. Now I'm not going to say Strom is a pitching wizard, but I will say that it's possible that Strom is pitching wizard.

There's also the fact that Appel was leaving a Lancaster, a high offense enviornment, for a much lower one in Corpus Christi. From reading and talking to people it sounded like Appel was having some serious problems in Lancaster and I do think it's possible that Strom was able to help Appel correct some of his issues.

Result: Worked

Final tally

The final tally is:

  • Sort of worked - 1
  • Did not work - 6
  • Push - 2
  • Worked - 12

Despite all the controversies surrounding the club this past season, the Astros front office pulled the right strings most of the time and that appears to have helped the team make a 19 game improvement over their 2013 season. Sure, they missed and even missed big, but all teams are going to miss on players. The hope is that there are more things that worked, than didn't work.

Refences:

Contracts - http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/al-west/houston-astros/

Tony Sipp signing - http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2014/05/tony-sipp-granted-release-from-padres-signs-with-astros.html