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.
November 4, 2016
Pat Neshek traded to the Phillies for cash or a player to be named later.
I haven’t been able to find evidence of whether the Astros received cash or a player for Neshek, but if they had gotten a player it would have been in the transaction section of Baseball Reference.
At the time of the trade it was widely assumed that Neshek was traded to reduce payroll. As Sporting News put it: “ Astros trade All-Star reliever Pat Neshek to Phillies, gain payroll flexibility”
The day before Neshek was traded the Astros acquired Nori Aoki off waivers from the Mariners. Neshek made $6.5 million for the Phillies in 2017. Aoki signed with the Astros for $5.5 million for one year. Though technically Neshek was not traded for Aoki, in effect it was the same. The Astros let go of Neshek to pay for Aoki. So I will call this the Neshek for Aoki trade.
Pat Neshek was an All Star the year before he signed with the Astros. His ERA was 1.84, FIP was 2.37 and WHIP 0.787. In two years with the Astros his ERA was 3.36, FIP 3.82, and WHIP 1.033
Although when the Astros acquired Neshek they would have expected some regression, his performance with the Astros was slightly below career averages. Perhaps when they traded him at age 36 they believed his best days were past.
In 2017 Neshek was an All Star again, and had arguably his best season, posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.86 FIP, and 0.866 WHIP. His bWAR was 2.1, 2.5 fWAR.
In a season when injuries decimated the staff, and when the bullpen tended to meltdown in the play offs, an All Star right hander could have helped........win the World series in six games instead of seven, that is.
Nori Aoki, on the other hand, underachieved expectations. Coming to Houston with a career 102 OPS+, in his half season with Houston he hit at 91. His bWAR was .7. He was traded at the trade deadline. (more on that later)
As it turned out, Nori Aoki took at bats away from the latest new thing, rookie Derek Fisher, or Jake Marisnick, who even against right handed pitchers had an .813 OPS in 2017, compared to Aoki’s .700. (.694 overall). Eventually Marwin Gonzalez got most of the at bats in left field, becoming an Astros immortal for his clutch play off and World Series performances.
To reiterate, this is an evaluation of how trades turned out, not how they looked at the time. The Astros could not have known that after letting Neshek go he would have the best season of his career. Or that after signing Aoki he would have the worst season of his career. But that’s what happened. Aoki did not fulfill the needs he was acquired to fill, and Neshek would have been very helpful in an area of relative need. Bottom line, the Astros gave up an All Star reliever, and got a below average hitting and fielding left fielder.
November 17th, 2016
Minor league pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman to the Yankees for Brian McCann. Yankees pay $11 million of McCann’s $34 million salary.
Last season the 22 year old Jorge Guzman had a 4.03 ERA pitching at A+ level in the Marlins organization. His WHIP was 1.542, and while his fastball touches 100, his biggest issue was control, walking 64 batters in 96 innings. He is currently the Marlins’ #8 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus.
Guzman was the unlucky one to have the onus to have been traded for Giancarlo Stanton. Fangraphs thinks he will just taste the bigs this season, but Baseball Prospectus has him pitching 78 innings on a very bad Marlins team, getting a -0.7 WARP.
Abreu, also 22 last year, played one game at AA, but spent most of last season in the Yankees organization at A+ level, compiling a 4.16 ERA and a 1.324 WHIP. He too hits 100 with the fastball, but there is disagreement as to whether his stuff plays better as a starter or a reliever. He is currently the #3 prospect in the Yankees farm according to MLB.com and #85 overall. In 2018 Baseball Prospectus had him as their #5 Yankees prospect and expects him to pitch 57 innings with a -0.2 WARP this year. He is the #9 prospect according to Fangraphs.
In summary, the Astros surrendered two future Major League pitchers with high ceilings but also some risk. They are about to hit the majors and it will be interesting to see how they develop.
Few Astros fans need to be told of the contributions of Brian McCann. He is the immortal catcher of the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros! The Yankees traded him because they thought this catcher
was better than this one.
Statistically, in two years McCann produced 2.1 bWAR, 2.2 fWAR, had a 717 OPS, (97 OPS+) and 25 home runs.
By the numbers alone McCann’s production with the Astros was under-whelming. His fWAR among catchers with 400 PA’s for the two years was rated 26th in MLB. His defense was rated by Fangraphs 37th among catchers. According to most defensive metrics McCann rated about average in his years with the Astros.
The most likely alternative to the McCann trade would probably have been re-signing Jason Castro. During the two year period when McCann was an Astro, Castro had a 1.7 fWAR, contributing a half game less than McCann. He was rated 25th best defensive catcher according to Fangraphs. Although McCann missed most of 2018 due to injury, Castro played only 19 games, which hurt his overall WAR rating for the two year period. In the championship year 2017 McCann added 1.7 wins, Castro 1.6. Castro’s salary in 2017 was $3 million less than what the Astros paid McCann.
By the numbers alone the Astros could have gotten virtually the same overall performance by keeping Castro without trading away two promising young pitchers. But by all accounts McCann was one of the clubhouse leaders on a team with great chemistry and on which chemistry mattered, and he handled pitchers superbly. And would Castro have hit the Game 5 World Series home run that was so crucial to the team’s eventual victory?
But of course what heroics might Castro have accomplished if he had been on the team. McCann was not a playoff monster, hitting below .600 OPS and with a negative WPA (win probability added) in the 2017 playoffs.
This is the toughest trade I have had to grade. McCann is a fan favorite. I came into this article expecting to grade this trade an A. And as I said in my caveats in the first segment, trades that result in world championships are always A’s, and wins now are more valuable than wins later.
But as mentioned earlier in the article, by the numbers it is hard to see how McCann did much that Castro wouldn’t have done to win a championship for the Astros in 2017, and neither player were major factors in 2018. Offensively McCann hit more homers, but Castro got on base more. The defensive edge goes to Castro.
In my last article I gave the Astros an A for trading a 1.8 bWAR player, Josh Fields, for a top 100, #3 in the organization prospect. In the McCann trade the Astros gave that away plus another top prospect for a 2.2 WAR player. It’s hard to give the Astros an A for both moves.
In the meantime the Yankees took the money they saved on McCann, and the prospect they acquired, Guzman, as a down payment for uber slugger Giancarlo Stanton, not that the Astros would have made that particular deal. And they still have a possible TOR or MOR starter in the near pipeline.
Still, it is hard to ignore the intangibles that McCann brought to a champion. All in all McCann should be considered a slight upgrade over the alternative. So if this trade was an A for the Yankees, it was still a C for the Astros.
And of course, McCann did this in the Greatest Game Ever Played.