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Reviewing Astros Trades, 2014-2018. Part V, Straily Giveaway, Alvarez Steal.

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One trade the Astros wish they hadn’t made, and another that could bring huge dividends

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Introduction

This is part five of a series analyzing Astros trades from 2014-2018. For a review of the methodology and caveats go to Part I here.

This is a review of how the trades turned out, understanding that at the time the trades were made the teams involved used the best information available to maximize the chances of an advantageous transaction. But all trades are based on probabilities, and like any form of gambling, the actual outcomes may not be those desired. So this is not intended as a criticism of the trades at the time they happened, but just a review of how lady luck eventually blessed each trade in the end.

The Trades

March 28, 2016

Dan Straily traded to the Padres for Eric Kratz

Breakdown:

The Astros started the 2016 season with one major league level catcher, Jason Castro. The plan was to return Evan Gattis to catcher in a platoon with the left handed Castro. Unfortunately, Gattis was not ready to start the season and spent the first few weeks of 2016 in AAA brushing up on his catching skills. To tide the team over the Astros traded Dan Straily, acquired with Luis Valbuena in an earlier trade with the Cubs, for catcher Eric Kratz.

The then 36 year old Kratz played 14 games for the Astros, getting 2 hits in 29 AB’s.

Straily only pitched 16 innings for the Astros in 2015 and thus seemed expendable, but he ended up in Cincinnati in 2016 having the best season of his career. If he had been on the Astros in 2016 he would have had the best ERA on the team among starters with more than 100 innings. His record was 14-8, with a 3.76 ERA in 191 innings, but with a FIP of 4,88. His bWAR was 4.3. The next best Astros starting pitcher by WAR in 2016 was Lance McCullers at 1.5.

In his career since the Astros Straily has contributed 5.2 bWAR, 3.2 fWAR, with a 29-23 record and a 4.03 ERA. But as it did in 2016, Straily’s ERA has outperformed peripherals, with a 4.83 FIP.

Grade: F

Whoever the Astros had in AA at catcher could have done as well as Kratz in the few weeks he was needed to fill in for the Astros. Since this is the “what if” series of analysis of Astros trades, I want to ask what if the Astros hadn’t enacted the Gomez/Fiers or the Kratz trades and let Straily fill the fifth starter role that Fiers filled for 2 12 years.

From 2016-17 Fiers was 19-18 pitching for a World Champion, with a 4.84 ERA, a 4.91 FIP and -0.3 bWAR. Straily was 24-17 at the same time, with a 4.01 ERA, a 4.73 FIP, and a 5.6 bWAR. Better than Fiers, Straily would have filled serious needs in 2016-17, although he may have been surplus in 2018. But if the Astros had been more patient with him, they may have ended up trading him for something of value, instead of basically giving him away. And still have Josh Hader, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips etc.

OK, let’s forget the Gomez/Fiers trade. The Astros seemed to have severely undervalued Straily, even though they traded for him in the first place. On the other hand by fWAR he only contributed 0.1 WAR in 2018, and according to Steamer is expected to contribute only 0.5 in 2019. Still, that is more than the projections for Hector Rondon, Framber Valdez, Will Harris, Chris Devenski or Cionel Perez, and just below that for Wade Miley. (To be fair, Straily is expected to start for the Marlins in 2019, with a 4.81 ERA. Probably not tolerable on the Astros.)

August 1, 2016

Josh Fields traded to the Dodgers for Yordan Alvarez

This one is still too soon to say, but preliminary results indicate the Astros got a steal.

Not that the Dodgers got nothing. Fields has been very good for the Dodgers, better than he was with the Astros. In 2017-2018 Fields had a 2.57 ERA and 0.959 WHIP, although he sports a more pedestrian 3.94 FIP. With the Astros from 2013 to 2015 his ERA was 4.27, WHIP 1.214, and FIP 2.92. Strange, he over performed peripherals with LA and under performed peripherals with the Astros. In his two full years with the Dodgers Fields has contributed 1.8 bWAR.

But even if Josh Fields had gone on to win the Cy Young award, many a Stros fan will consider this trade an all-time winner. Some players, like Justin Verlander, get you a World Series Championship because they are on your team. Others, like Josh Fields, get you a World Championship because they were on the other team. Can any Astros fan ever forget Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, the second best World Series game ever played. (Y’all know which one was the best).

Notice who is pitching as Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa hit 10th inning home runs.

Wow, that was some bad pitching. He should have slugged himself in the face. No Josh Fields trade, no World Series trophy or any of this.

The Astros gave up a fireballing relief pitcher for a seventeen year old Cuban who had never played in even the lowest levels of the Minor Leagues. I once wrote an article entiltled, Nine Audacious Acquisitions that Made the Astros Champions. This might someday qualify as an audacious acquisition. Alvarez had just been signed by the Dodgers but began his pro career in the Astros system at age 19, and last year made his debut in AAA Fresno at the early age of 21. In combined AA, AAA performances, Alvarez had a .904 OPS with 20 home runs in 379 plate appearances playing mostly outfield.

Currently Alvarez is the Astros’ third most highly rated prospect, and is ranked somewhere around 50th across MLB in most of the prospect ratings systems. Although he struck out 24% of the time last year, and is considered a defensive liability, the Astros have good reason to hope that he can provide a consistent power bat to the middle of the lineup by 2020.

Or, he could provide real value in any potential trade.

Forgive those Astros fans who remember prospects with similar profiles, Brett Wallace, Chris Carter, Jon Singleton, J. D. Davis, A. J. Reed, all of whom have failed, so far, to fulfill their promise. Let’s hope Alvarez is the one who breaks the power hitting prospect that failed curse that has bedeviled the Astros for too long.

Fields was back in the minors when the Astros traded him, and perhaps his success with the Dodgers was a surprise. At the time it looked like the Astros had given up on Fields and were making a token trade rather than simply releasing him. It turns out the token return on that trade has tremendous upside potential, although it still remains to be seen how that potential plays out. For the minimal contributions that Fields could have provided the Astros, with their stacked pitching, both majors and minors, the risk for the perhaps unexpectedly high upside of Yordan Alvarez is well worth it.

Grade: A

As it stands now this trade was a real coup. I can’t believe the Astros are anything but thrilled by the progress of Alvarez. But for the final word, it’s still too soon to say.