I have a series of thoughts on the Astros' trade today that sent pitchers Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer, Harold Arauz, Vince Velasquez, and Thomas Eshelman to the Phillies in return for relief pitcher Ken Giles and SS prospect Jonathan Arauz.
They're disjointed, separate thoughts, so here goes.
1 - Need
Dallas Keuchel - under Astros' control through at least 2018.
Mike Fiers - under Astros' control through at least 2018.
Collin McHugh - under Astros' control through at least 2019.
Lance McCullers - under Astr0s' control through at least 2021.
Given that, and given that the Astros are pursuing a Free Agent starting pitcher (likely signed through 2018 or beyond), how much need did the Astros have for Velasquez, Appel, or Oberholtzer, all of whom are on the cusp of major league-ness?
Meanwhile, the Astros had an obvious need in the bullpen, since relief pitching was the one thing that stood between the club and the 2015 American League Championship Series.
2 - Boom/Bust Odds
What truly are the odds that any of the pitchers traded away become as good as Lance McCullers? Closer to 0% than 100%, I'd wager. What truly are the odds that they end up no better than, for example, Bud Norris? Probably significantly higher.
Considering the statement in my "random thought number 1" above and the boom/bust chances of the prospects traded away...why would the Astros care about the smaller chance that one of those guys become a true star in MLB, considering the immediate need that Giles fills?
3 - Ken Giles is really stinking good
Jason alluded to this during one of our many premature articles about this trade.
There is a sample of 54 pitchers during the expansion era (1961-2015) years who:
- Pitched at least 50 innings in the major leagues before their 26th birthday
- Struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings
Sorted by ERA or FIP, Giles is ranked number TWO on that list, behind only Craig Kimbrel, who was just acquired for a much higher prospect cost by the Red Sox, despite a hilariously expensive contract. And who is older, with more mileage on his arm.
For those who say Giles is "unproven"...well, whatever. He's about as proven as a 25-year-old relief pitcher can get. And his MLB stats are well -upported by his career peripherals. 12.00 K/9 in the minors is pretty nice. Maybe Giles has a higher walk rate than he did in 2015. Doesn't matter, Brad Lidge carried a 4.28 BB/9 throughout his career and was one of the best relievers in recent times.
And did I mention Giles is under the Astros' financial control through at least 2020?
4 - Depth
Can't have too much pitching, right? Does that cliché apply when a club really does have too much pitching?
The Astros have traded away three AAA pitchers and a guy who projects to fast-rise through the system, plus an intriguing low-A pitcher.
WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO FOR DEPTH NOW???
Well, in the upper minors...Brad Peacock, Dan Straily, Asher Wojciechowski, Brady Rodgers, Michael Feliz, Joe Musgrove, Chris Devenski, Mike Hauschild, Kyle Westwood, Aaron West, Edinson Frias....have I forgotten anybody? That's just the starting pitchers.
And below that, many other guys are ready to move INTO the upper majors. Francis Martes and David Paulino say hello.
Here's a fun question: If you were to bet that one guy would become a strong, dependable Middle of Rotation pitcher by the year 2018, the next time the Astros could conceivably need one, would you choose:
(A) One of Appel, Oberholtzer, Velasquez, Arauz, or Eshelman, or...
(B) The Field (the guys I listed above, including Feliz, Musgrove, Martes, Paulino, etc...)
I'll take the field.
...and there are good Free Agent starters every year.
5 - Jonathan Arauz isn't a throw-in
I don't personally know much about the guy. But some people do. MLB.com's prospect pipeline has already updated the Astros Top 30. Jonathan Arauz makes his Astros debut at #18, ahead of some players that I am confident will have long careers in the majors in some capacity, including Wojo, Andrew Aplin, Nolan Fontana, Tyler White, Brendan McCurry, and Matt Duffy. Arauz is also ranked ahead of some high-upside younger prospects as well that we love, like Jason Martin.
MLB.com says of Arauz:
Philadelphia envisioned Aruaz developing into a Freddy Galvis-esque defender with a more potent bat...He isn't flashy or fast, but he's quick and athletic enough to stay at shortstop...Arauz is a switch-hitter who already makes line-drive contact from both sides of the plate. He needs to get stronger but could develop into a 10-12 home-run threat once he matures physically.
Sixteen year-old shortstops who post 7% walk rates and only 15% strikeout rates (105 wRC+) during their first exposure to professional baseball in the GCL--as a minor, moving to a new country that speaks a different language--those guys don't grow on trees.
6 - Derek Fisher is still an Astros farmhand
The original trade as-leaked included outfielder Derek Fisher, the Astros' #7 ranked prospect. While I am not quite as high as some of my peers on Fisher, I do like him and see a major league starter there. 24 minor league home runs and 34 stolen bases in a season at age 22 are nothing to sneeze at, nor is his consistent 12% walk rate.
My original reaction to the trade was "I'd rather have traded Fisher than Appel, because of their relative ceilings." But then, after really thinking about the depth discussed in points #1 and #4, I decided I am much happier this way. Fisher has a clearer path to the majors, and still has a year or two of development time before being on the cusp of breaking through and forcing the Astros to make a decision.
I don't believe that Fisher's ceiling is "MVP candidate" the way I believe Appel's ceiling is "Cy Young candidate." But I do think Fisher has a higher possibility of reaching his own ceiling of "MLB starter and possible occasional All-Star" than Appel does of reaching his own peak projection.
I like that Fisher wasn't traded.
7 - Final thoughts
The Astros gave up a TON in this trade. A couple of those pitchers have ceilings as Top of Rotation MLB starting pitchers. But ceilings are ceilings, and there's real risk that none of them pan out. That's the Phillies' risk, and why they are receiving five players back in the deal, including two in Oberholtzer and Eshelman that figure to be "high-floor, low-ceiling" types.
But the players the Astros gave up were truly extraneous in this organization. Not to minimize those pitchers' talents or prospect status at all, but the Astros did not need them. The Astros had too much starting pitching depth at AAA that would have blocked the development of others at lower levels, plus a loaded major league rotation of players who have already proven themselves to be as good or better than the potential ceilings of any of the players lost in this trade. And if you want to ask "Why didn't they trade Peacock, Straily, or whoever instead?" the answer is, "Those guys would not have filled the Astros' needs by returning a reliever of Giles' quality."
If a couple of the pitchers in this trade reach their highest future potential, they could become top of rotation starters. But this would STILL be a good trade for the Astros. Ken Giles is an elite reliever right now, and one the Astros sorely needed. The Astros already have potentially three top-of-rotation starters in Keuchel, McCullers, and McHugh anyway.
Appel or Velasquez at their very best represent a future, incremental, and possible improvement over Fiers or whatever Free Agents the Astros sign. But that difference in value is not nearly as important as the immediate AND future value difference between Ken Giles and the Astros' worst bullpen performer in 2015 -- a combination of Chad Qualls, Oliver Perez, and Sam Deduno.
A clear win for the Astros. And a clear win for the Phillies.
I'm totally fine with that.