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Reflections on Greinke: Did Luhnow’s Homer to Center Field Displace Bauer’s Lost Baseball? (Paul Conlon)

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Guest column by local writer, Paul Conlon

MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

A morning into the last day of July, Jeff Luhnow intended to unfurl a plan to launch the Astros into the stratosphere. With great subterfuge, the Astros general manager let on to the public only that he was interested in strengthening an already capable roster. No one knew, however, this meant he was eyeing Arizona ace, Zack Greinke.

The 6-2, 200 pound, 35-year-old righty, entering the trade, stands alone in MLB with the tenth best ERA among all qualifying starting pitchers, averaging merely 2.90 earned runs per nine innings. A master of pitch location, Greinke quietly amassed 135 strikeouts before the trade deadline. Most tellingly of all, the veteran All-Star leaves Arizona with the third best walks and hits per innings pitched mark (WHIP) in all of baseball at .95. Accomplishing this feat, Greinke remarkably walked only 21 batters in 146 innings pitched before being dealt to Houston.

But perhaps what was so unpalatable to front offices and fan bases alike around the majors was that no one seemed aware Greinke was a touchable trade prospect. As the afternoon trade deadline loomed minutes away from expiring, Greinke literally toed the rubber in the Bronx, besting a potent Yankees lineup through five innings, allowing 2 hits, 2 runs, and striking out 7—a game that would qualify Greinke for his 11th win of the season, had Arizona’s bullpen not relinquished the starting pitcher’s lead.

Quietly, the Astros entered July 31st with aspirations to bolster a bruised bullpen, but refusing to do so at the expense of trading slugger, Kyle Tucker, or pitching phenom, Forrest Whitley, ranked by MLB.com 2019 Prospect Watch as the 13th and 17th best ballplayers, respectively, in all of the minors. Tucker’s left-handed swing landed him Pacific Coast League Player of the Month honors once in each of the last two seasons; however, his 2019 numbers project him to finish with inferior RBI production, lower batting average, and more strikeouts than his 2018 campaign. The 21-year-old Whitley routinely hurled 99 mph fastballs with apparent ease via his 6’7” frame in AAA earlier this season, though with shoddy strike zone command, a likely byproduct of mechanical flaws resultant from injury.

Nonetheless, Luhnow stayed the course. Refusing to trade his two most coveted prospects in order to acquire Greinke, the Astros general manager reluctantly parted ways with his 2018 first round pick, Seth Beer, a left-handed bat that rocketed up the Astros farm system to the tune of a .299 batting average while amassing 52 RBIs over just 63 games for Corpus Christi (AA); Josh Rojas, a blossoming impact utility man with a track record of timely clutch hitting for the Round Rock Express (AAA); Corbin Martin, an electric arm who had a cup of coffee with the 2019 Astros before undergoing Tommy John Surgery; and right-handed starting pitcher, J.B. Bukauskas, who had allowed 57 runs over 85.2 innings resulting in a 5.25 ERA in AA for the Corpus Christi Hooks.

However, the question remains: how will Greinke, a 16-year veteran who has played his last 7 seasons in the National League, fare against elite American League lineups?

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Paul Conlon is a native Houstonian, a lover of all things baseball, as well as a Rice alumnus, whose recent release, The Sociopath’s Playbook, is available online at major booksellers everywhere. Conlon enjoys watching and participating in America’s pastime, and has received five at-bats at Fenway Park during an adult recreational baseball tournament. He struck out twice and hit a single.