At the Trade Deadline, the Astros made themselves the front-runners for another championship, not just this year, but probably next year as well. Nonetheless, the current odds are still 2-1 against the Astros winning it all. You play the games on the field, and to get through the play-off gauntlet a lot of things have to go right, no matter how dominant you look on paper.
That said the Astros’ starting rotation is now the most feared in all baseball, and no pitching staff feels safe facing the Astros lineup.
To truly evaluate a trade requires hindsight, which of course we don’t have at this time. Wins now are worth more than wins later, but how much more? Different teams put different values on that. A contending team values wins now much more than rebuilding teams, like Toronto and Arizona.
The two main trades with Arizona and Toronto have to be taken as a whole. Zack Greinke, traded from Arizona, has put the Astros in the driver’s seat for another championship, but at what cost? For 2 1⁄2 years of control, the Astros surrendered two first-round draft picks, potentially their middle of rotation pitching staff of the future, their clean-up hitter, and their Marwin Gonzalez... maybe. That’s the worst case scenario from the Astros’ perspective. But Bukauskas has been a bit disappointing in AA, Martin has a broken elbow, Beer can’t play defense and he looks blocked with Yordan Alvarez’ emergence.
However, Greinke comes with risk too. He’s 35 and losing velocity. He’s having a great year, but what if he and his big contract become the pitcher’s equivalent of the albatross otherwise known as Albert Pujols?
And what is the opportunity cost of Greinke’s signing? Who will the Astros not be able to pay because of Zack Greinke? Gerrit Cole is now out of the question. Springer?
The Astros rolled the roulette wheel in 2017 and hit their lucky number, Verlander and a championship. Are the stars aligned again? Only the Astros thought the cost of Greinke was worth the risk.
Not knowing the future, I would say Arizona made a very good trade in pursuit of their interests, building for the future, and the Astros hit a home run in pursuit of their interests, winning another World Series. Neither can be certain of the outcome. But in the long run, there is a very good chance the players the Astros surrendered will provide more wins for the D-Backs during their years of team control than Greinke will provide the Astros, and at a tiny fraction of the price. But wins now are worth more than wins later, even more so if they bring a ring.
Which brings us to the Toronto trade: Derek Fisher for Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini and a single-A outfielder, Cal Stevenson. To start with, I think Derek Fisher is a toolsy, major league outfielder with power. He swings and misses too much, so what he needs most of all is to be somewhere with the patience to allow him to adjust to major league pitching, possibly Toronto. I believe he could blossom into a .250 BA/25 home run guy with blazing speed at his peak.
None of that was likely to happen as long as he was with Houston.
With the Fisher trade the Astros leveraged their surplus of outfielders into a degree of future security endangered by the Greinke trade. Aaron Sanchez is under team control through next year, possibly filling a gap in the rotation with the departure of Cole and another sometimes starting option, Collin McHugh. Sanchez, an All-Star in 2016 but currently a mess, looks like a typical Brent Strom reclamation project, a sinker ball pitcher with spin. Expect more four-seamers and more breaking balls a la Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Ryan Pressly.
Joe Biagini comes with three years of club control after this year and is likewise the kind of high spin rate guy that the Astros are known to fix. His addition should help mitigate expected losses in the bullpen after this year, including Joe Smith and Hector Rondon.
Likewise, the Astros helped mitigate losses to the farm system by adding two 18 year old international players, Rainer Rivas and Raider Uceta, by way of trading catcher Max Stassi. Stassi became expendable when the Astros added catcher Martin Maldonado for Tony Kemp.
Despite these concessions to future needs, the Astros have definitely hollowed out their farm system and made their future past 2020-2021 somewhat more dim. With baseball’s soft salary cap, prolonged success requires steady development of cost-controlled talent from within the system. With only two prospects currently rated in the MLB Top 100, Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, both of whom have disappointed this year in the minors, have the Astros begun the trek to the dark side? That is, have the Astros now reached a tipping point wherein they are overly dependent on trades and free agent signings to fill their needs?
In the current rotation the vaunted top three were all traded for, costing the Astros eleven mostly highly touted prospects. The fourth, Wade Miley was a free agent. The Astros haven’t developed a home-grown starter since Lance McCullers. When the current top four are all gone in a few years, who will fill their shoes? Forrest Whitley is just one man, and he has given people much cause to doubt. Who else potentially rises to the level of above average to All-Star level replacement for these pitchers within the Astros system? And with low draft picks for the next few years at least, the Astros are at a disadvantage in restocking the farm.
Am I predicting the end of civilization as we know it in Houston, Texas?
Here’s one take along these lines from Seattle.
They’re front office is solid I know and can make moves much better than the former front office but you could be looking at an all new 2011 version of the Houston Astros in a year or two— Ryan Rowland-Smith (@hyphen18) August 1, 2019
No, emphatically no, I am not going there. Wishful thinking, no doubt, in full display. 2011 does not beckon for the Astros in the forseeable future. But there is a grain of truth there. Starting in 2022 the Astros may not be a lock for a .600 winning percentage, as players mature into full free agency and pass their peak, the team hits the salary cap (that’s already happened) and their equivalent replacements within the system become harder to find.
This is the normal cycle any successful team goes through. It doesn’t mean 2011 looms, but someday the Astros won’t be in the playoffs. 2011 Astros? NO. 2018-2019 Cardinals? Maybe. No big surprise, but the Greinke trade may have hastened that day.
And maybe it’s worth it.