The Houston Astros rebuild has been a major success story. A franchise that was torn down mere years ago, from top to bottom, now boasts a roster that is capable of challenging for the postseason (on the heels of a season in which the Astros took the field in October). A truly remarkable achievement, yes, but that is not to say that it has been void of mistakes. There are a handful of guys who got away.
Yes, we are looking at you, J.D. Martinez.
Of course, Martinez has to be the most painful loss of the Luhnow regime. The outfielder, while a Houston Astro, wasn't even worthy of a place on the major league roster. In three seasons with the Astros, J.D. was actually worth negative 1.1 wins. Over his three major league seasons in Houston, if the Astros were without Martinez they would've been one win better.
And so, naturally, therefore, the Astros had no problems with placing the outfielder on waivers. The Detroit Tigers claimed him. No problem, surely. Unfortunately, in Detroit, Martinez turned into a monster. We gave the Tigers one of the best outfielders in the game for nothing. He was worth four wins above replacement in his first season, and then improved to five wins last season. And, so far this season, he is showing no signs of slowing down. It'd be rather nice if he was still in Houston. It begs the question, how did the Astros not unleash his potential?
I might be a little premature, but the loss of Vincent Velasquez might be a painful one, too.
The prospect was traded as part of the package that brought Ken Giles to Houston (which makes any pain a little easier to swallow, given that Giles is one of the best relievers in the game), and has been thrown straight into the Philadelphia Phillies' rotation. Everyone knew he had quality stuff/potential, the big question was whether he could get it all together. Could he stick as a starter? Could he conquer some control issues? Could he stay healthy?
Despite several question marks surrounding his arm, he went straight into the majors and pitched one of the best games we will see this year -- a complete game with sixteen strikeouts, and no walks. Through nineteen innings, he sports an ERA of 0.93, and a FIP of 2.01. Early days, but Vincent Velasquez may be one that got away.
Seeing Delino DeShields doing good things with the Texas Rangers hurts a little, too. It has to be said that, if DeShields was still a member of the Astros, it's far from a certainty that he would be getting much playing time. Last season, in his rookie campaign, he was quite good. Nothing special, but certainly a valuable player to have on your roster.
I think what makes the loss of DeShields much more painful, is the very fact he is now a member of the Texas Rangers. Potentially our new arch rivals, but, more importantly, our division rivals. A team that will be battling the Astros for the American League West title are using our guy against us. Once more, just like Martinez, DeShields was claimed in the rule five draft, and therefore left without netting a return.
While De Shields, who got on base 34% of the time, and stole 25 bases, was only worth 1.4 wins above replacement last season, the loss is still somewhat big. That could've been an extra win for us, and one less for Texas. Or, at the very least, if he hadn't gone in the rule five draft, we could've actually received something in return. DeShields; another guy that got away.
I find it extremely hard to be cynical about the Astros' front office as nobody can deny they have done an incredibly good job with the team. But they have made some questionable moves. Why wasn't DeShields protected from the draft last year? The move was greeted with shock from most fans, especially when you consider some of the players the Astros had on the forty-man roster at the time: L.J. Hoes, Marc Krauss and Robbie Grossman.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it?
The Astros drafted Enrique Hernandez in the sixth round of the draft in 2009, and five years later he was traded to the Miami Marlins. One year on, he is doing great things over in Los Angeles for the Dodgers. In a Ben Zobrist style role, he posted 1.7 wins above replacement in just over 200 plate appearances last season. And, thus far this year, he is continuing where he left off last year. He would absolutely have a place on the roster today if the Astros had kept him.
Hernandez also, however, reminds us of the sheer brilliance of the front office. Hernandez was traded to Miami along with Jarred Cosart. I'm not sure about you, but I'm pretty glad Cosart no longer pitches in an Astros uniform. The trade also brought a huge return: Colin Moran, Francis Martes, Jake Marisnick, and a draft pick that turned into Daz Cameron. You can ponder how the Astros failed to see the talent in Martinez, DeShields, and Hernandez, and I can't fault you for doing so. But, you must also ponder how the Astros were able to receive such a quality return in the Cosart trade, for example.
Currently in the minors, both Martes and Moran are showing signs of being major league players in the near future. Daz Cameron may very well work out to be an excellent major league outfielder. Jake Marisnick has been very useful, too (his WAR last season was actually higher than Hernandez's, albeit in more plate appearances). For every J.D. Martinez, there is a Jarred Cosart.
In the trade that netted the Astros both Carlos Gomez, and Mike Fiers, they lost outfielder Domingo Santana. While far from a painful loss, it must be noted that the outfielder who the Astros had little hesitation in parting with, is hitting pretty well in the major leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers. The same can be said for Jonathan Villar. While hardly devastating, it's worth thinking about what impact they might/could have had on the Astros team they were once a member of.
It's easy, when thinking of some of the talent that has slipped from right under our fingers, to be critical of the Astros' talent evaluation/player development. Just imagine a Houston team with J.D. Martinez in the outfield, Enrique Hernandez playing a Ben Zobrist role, and DeShields as an additional outfielder. But, for every failure the Astros have had, they've had twice as many success stories. For every player they failed to develop/refine, they've developed twice as many.
Look at their success in the draft, for example.
Their haul in the draft last year was one for the ages, picking up Cameron, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Tom Eshelman and many more. Just the year before, they drafted A.J. Reed and he is probably mere months from making a big impact in the major leagues. Go back another year, and they stole Tyler White in the 33rd round of the draft. Point is: the Astros have been ridiculously good at drafting and developing players.
Of course they have lost some decent talent in trades they have made recently, but you need to give something in order to get something. And, the Astros have received some rather fantastic pieces. The Jarred Cosart trade is symbolic of that: if Moran, Cameron, and Martes work out it could go down as one of the greatest steals of all time. Carlos Correa is home grown, as is George Springer, both of whom could well be generational talents. Future Most Valuable Players of the American League have been developed by the same system that misjudged Martinez.
We can cry over losing Martinez on waivers, or we can celebrate claiming Collin McHugh off waivers.