Former Astros general manager, Ed Wade, and current Astros GM, Jeff Luhnow, have both been vital in the Astros rebuilding process. Wade certainly had the bigger names available to move, while Luhnow has had the support and free reign provided by a new owner. This Starting Nine is not to say who helped more or to say who did a better job. Ed Wade will most definitely be credited with having an influence on the Astros upcoming success just like Jeff Luhnow will be as well.
The Astros made a lot of moves throughout this rebuild. But which ones have been most influential to the #process?
Today's Starting Nine:
Including both Ed Wade and Jeff Luhnow's time as GM, what is the best trade the Astros have made during the rebuilding process?
It's gotta be the Hunter Pence trade, which would probably be the only Ed Wade move that I ever loved. Getting Singleton, Cosart, Zeid and Santana for Pence and a couple million bucks is the steal of the century.
It's got to be the Carlos Lee for Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen trade.
Think about it. Jeff Luhnow picked up a third baseman who has amassed 43 home runs and 1,300 plate appearances in 2 1/2 seasons. Dominguez has been down this season, but he's also been good defensively (judging by non-UZR numbers). He's also still 25 years old and won't hit arbitration until after next season.
They got that player, a starter since he was picked up in trade, for 81 games and 338 plate appearances of Lee. In his Marlins tenure, Lee hit .243/.328/.325 with an OPS+ of 78. He did this while making half of $18.5 million and he never played again in the majors.
For all of Matty D's flaws, he's cheap and has a career 81 OPS+ with the Astros. That's a heck of a value for a guy who'd be out of baseball in a matter of months when he was traded. Any value would have been a plus, but to get an honest-to-god major league contributor?
We didn't even deal with Rob Rasmussen, who was then traded to the John Ely. Rasmussen had value, too, making his debut with Toronto this year and posting a 3.18 ERA in 11 innings. The Ely trade didn't work, but turning Carlos Lee into a starting third baseman and a Triple-A starting pitcher can be charged as witchcraft in five New England states.
It's easy to pick the Pence trade because it yielded Jon Singleton and led to Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran, Frances Martes and a pick, but that's really two trades. Looking back now, with the doubts that are beginning to unfairly form in my mind about Singleton and Domingo Santana and the fact that I don't like Jared Cosart's skill set or attitude, that trade has lost some of its shine for me. One underrated trade that I think could still wind up being fruitful is the one that sent a burned-out Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates for Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, and Colten Cain. We'll see though, it's a bit early to call victory on that one. I also loved the trade that sent Bud Norris to Baltimore. But not as much as this one:
I'll go for the low-hanging fruit. Luhnow traded Jed Lowrie in his third arbitration season, plus Fernando Rodriguez, in return for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, and Max Stassi. I loved the trade then, I loved it when all three of those guys were struggling, and I really love it now. It is no longer a stretch to imagine Carter garnering MVP votes in 2015, given his BABIP-sustainable second half of .261/.350/.541 with a league-leading eighteen home runs. It's not difficult to imagine Brad Peacock remaining a playable #5 starting pitcher for a long time, or that he could take a minute step forward under the tutelage of Brent Strom and become a strong #4. It's pretty easy to look at Stassi and see a J.P. Arencibia clone - elite defense with 20+ home run pop. All three players have warts, but all three players could also feature prominently on any team in the major leagues without shame. (Note: Okay, I don't see how Peacock would crack Tampa's rotation, but that holds true for 90% of starters in professional baseball, so it's no knock on him.)
Any time you can trade two average major league players on expiring contracts in return for three average (or, in Carter's case, well above-average) major league players who are younger and cost-controlled...well...those are the types of highway robbery trades that all clubs wish their GM would make.
Well, I'm going to echo Chris's answer, but for different reasons. It's not that I think the Jed Lowrie trade was the "best" because it was such a clear win for Houston. It's because I think it was the "best" trade in that two teams exchanged pieces that should have resulted in a clear win-win. Before all the talk of the Astros' "depth at starting pitcher," there were question marks. Question marks named Philip Humber, Erik Bedard, and Dallas Keuchel. A question mark who didn't seem like a question mark at the time, named Lucas Harrell. There were Jordan Lyles (sadface) and Bud Norris (annoyedface). Brad Peacock was a pedigreed starting pitching prospect who hadn't yet materialized as a major leaguer, and offered a good chance at stabilizing the rotation - maybe not in 2013, but down the road.
Meanwhile, they added an intriguing defense-first catching option in Max Stassi, and a well-above-average power hitter in Chris Carter - who had hit 16 home runs in 2012, despite playing his home games in Oakland. That sixteen, by the way, matched Lowrie's 2012 total, the highest on the Astros roster (in fact, Carter's 2012 was by-and-large better offensively than Lowrie's, though Lowrie added obvious value as a shortstop, while Carter has trouble fielding the DH spot reasonably).
For the A's, they got an answer to Cliff Pennington's struggles. Lowrie responded by being the fifth-best shortstop in baseball, while Carter, Peacock, and Stassi - as is the actual point of now-for-later trades like this - took a little longer to mature.
That Lowrie fell off a cliff in 2014 (or that Fernando Rodriguez has pitched just 9 major league innings for the A's since the time of the trade) shouldn't erase the fact that at the time of the trade, it looked like a classic win-win, with a contending team adding an essential piece, while a non-contending team stockpiled near-the-majors talent that would contribute as the team approached its window. That, to me, makes it the "best." GMs state over and over that they're looking for win-wins when they approach trades... after all, it's the best way to continue to find trade partners when you need them. At the time of this trade, it looked like exactly that.
I struggled with this because it's a tough one, but also because there isn't a clear definition of when the rebuild actually started. So I want to give two answers.
If we're going to consider the start of the Ed Wade era as the start of the rebuild, then I would say the Michael Bourn trade...and by that I mean the first one. You know, the one where we got a hometown kid who would turn out to be a premier centerfielder for four years? Maybe we traded him too soon, or didn't get enough, but here's what you can't argue; Michael Bourn, from 2009 through 2012, played elite defense in center (and won two gold gloves), made an All-Star team, was a solid lefty-hitting lead-off man, and stole 216 bases (leading the league for three straight years, 09 through 11), and we got that player for a reliever. I don't care how special Lidge's season with the Phillies that year was or that they won the World Series; we got a guy who posted 18.7 WAR during the aforementioned four year stretch for a one-inning reliever. Heck, we got Geoff Geary too, who had his career season in an Astros uniform before sputtering out and retiring.
Now, that's the answer I'd like to give, but in case "the rebuilding process" means what I think it means, it only refers to the Roy Oswalt/Lance Berkman trades and everything that followed, when the teardown and build up began in earnest. If so, then I want to point to the Jed Lowrie trade...and again, I mean the first one. Chris Carter, Max Stassi and Peacock for Lowrie looks like a steal right now, but let's not forget where it started; with Jeff Luhnow dealing a reliever, who at that point had had one solid season in the Majors total, for a guy who provided arguably the best overall season (offense and defense) this team has seen from a shortstop in decades, and was then dealt for the aforementioned package of goodness. This team has a long history of dealing relievers for gold (obligatory Bagwell name drop), and those two trades carried on that tradition of #winning.
I will go with the Pence trade. It was great at the time: Pence was about to get expensive and the rebuild had begun in earnest, or at least something resembling earnest. We received both quantity and quality: two top 50 picks, a reliever and a PTBNL with a pretty high ceiling.
It was looking even better earlier this year. Cosart had become a solid MoR contributor. Singleton had recently been called up as the starting 1B of the future. Santana was doing well at AAA and his ceiling remained high. Zeid hadn't done much but when healthy gave us a few innings here and there.
Then it got even better when the Cosart trade (along with Enrique and Austin Wates) yielded a starting plus defender OF who could legitimately become our starting CF, Colin Moran, who this FO considered drafting with the 1-1, Martes and a comp pick. That's a whole bunch of people with reasonably high ceilings for one player. Yes, these are separate trades but if you crassly look at the players as assets, you can see that Cosart was a very valuable asset to pull in that trade.
And then some of the shine wore off as Singleton and Santana have struggled. Will they struggle to hit their ceilings? Were their ceilings overestimated? Will it take years for them to mature as players? I don't know but their struggles represent a pretty small sample size. I would bet that as with Cosart, there are GMs who would put great value on these guys so even if they continue to struggle, they remain very solid tradeable assets.
This trade still has plenty of time to play out before we know the extent of its success, but I believe the Bud Norris trade was the best. Norris is having a nice season with Baltimore this season, but with the depth in the system, Houston will hopefully have five starters better than Norris - not to mention the fact that he was hoping each and every day that he would get out of Houston. The haul for Norris could be outstanding. We've already gotten LJ Hoes jokes. Josh Hader was named the Pitcher of the Year in the organization this season and the competitive balance pick turned into Derek Fisher, who could potentially be an impact talent.
TCB's best prospect minds believe Hader will be a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, which would already be the equivalent to Norris, as a wiry young lefty. Add on Fisher and I'll take that for a barely above-average pitcher who was no good to the clubhouse.