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The Astros Team that Management Gave Away. Part I

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On the way to building a championship-caliber team, a few mistakes were made. We could use a few of these lost players now.

MLB: ALDS-Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros
Ramon Laureano (22) hits a three-run home run against the Houston Astros during the second inning during game four of the 2020 ALDS
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Having won the World Series in 2017, you’d think the Astros management must have been geniuses in the player acquisition moves to get there. Actually, it’s rather amazing to me how much great talent they squandered along the way. Having lost the World Series in 2019 by one game, and the ALCS in 2020 also by one game, we might look longingly at some of this cast-off talent. In fact, you could fill a decent starting lineup with these players, and that’s what I'm going to do.

I’m only going to fill this roster of former Astro cast-offs with players simply released or relinquished in trades the Astros lost so, no, the players lost in the Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Yordan Alvarez, or Aledmys Diaz trades don’t count. I'm also only going to include players that would have been under team control in 2020. (So, no, not J.D Martinez) Many of these players would still be under team control in 2021 and beyond.

Here’s the lineup and batting order with their vital career stats after leaving the Astros.

  1. Jonathon Villar.........SS....2551 PA....746 OPS...70 HR....9.8 bWAR. 0.6 fWAR projected 2021
  2. J. D. Davis.................1B.....682 PA......853 OPS..28 HR....1.1 bWAR. 2.2 fWAR projected 2021
  3. Ramon Laureano......CF....879 PA.....818 OPS....35 HR....7.4 bWAR. 2.9 fWAR projected 2021
  4. Teoscar Hernandez..LF.....1289 PA....808 OPS....72 HR....3.7 bWAR. 0.9 fWAR projected 2021
  5. Domingo Santana....DH....1901 PA....795 OPS...77HR.....3.7 bWAR. signed in Japan for 2021
  6. Robbie Grossman.....RF.....1984 PA....754 OPS...39 HR....5.1 bWAR. 1.1 fWAR projected 2021)
  7. Rio Ruiz.....................3B.....812 PA......667 OPS...25 HR....0.4 bWAR. 1.4 fWAR projected 2021
  8. Jacob Nottingham....C.......85 PA.......738 OPS...5 HR.....0.7 bWAR. -0.1 fWAR projected 2021
  9. Delino DeShields......2B....2056 PA... 666 OPS.. 18 HR....5.3 bWAR. 0.2 fWAR projected 2021

From 1-6 in this lineup, there’s some real punch in here. The 2021 Astros without Michael Brantley or George Springer will be hard-pressed to do as well.

On the other hand, Rio Ruiz is a replacement-level player, although in 54 games in 2020 he hit 9 home runs with a decent .713 OPS and 0.7 bWAR. If he can repeat that performance over a long season he might be a marginal starting 3-bagger.

Likewise, Robbie Grossman seems to have found his mojo in 2020, posting a career-high 1.2 bWAR in only 51 games.

Admittedly, Jacob Nottingham, once the Duke of the Astros farm system, is struggling to stay on a big-league roster. But then again, given the chance, he might be almost as good as any second catcher the Astros might sign...and for league minimum salary.

OK, I cheated by putting Delino DeShields at second base. But wait. He did play three innings there with the Rangers, and some in the minors. It’s a waste of his outfield speed, but playing second hides his popgun arm as well. I batted him ninth as a kind of lead-off hitter at the end of the lineup for the big guns at the top.

In general, this is a terrible group of fielders, some of whom are even out of normal position. Only Laureano and Ruiz are plus defensively, but J. D. Davis may do less harm at first than third long-term. And for those long extra-inning games, Davis in to pitch in the 14th inning is a distinct advantage. He’s actually a decent pitcher. With his arm, he’d sure deserve a shot in the outfield if he were with the Astros right now.

Here’s a look at how the Astros managed to cough up these players.

Jonathan Villar: Traded to the Brewers for Cy Sneed. Free agent this year

J.D Davis: Traded to the Mets for Ross Adolph, Scott Manea and Luis Santana. Of course, we can’t know now how these prospects will pan out. Santana may have the highest ceiling of the group. At age 19 he hit OPS .596 in AA for the Astros in 2019. But I think the Mets won the trade. They traded for Davis’ floor and it looks like they got his ceiling. He has blossomed into a real slugger since leaving the Astros. He might find a better home in the AL as a DH. Free agent 2025.

Ramon Laureano: Traded to the A’s for Brandon Bailey. Borderline future All Star. ugh. Free agent 2025.

Teoscar Hernandez: Under pressure to do something at the trade deadline in 2017, the Astros traded Hernandez and Nori Aoki to the Blue Jays for Francisco Liriano, a lefty relief rental who was a scant improvement over Tony Sipp. Free agent 2024.

Domingo Santana: Traded with Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, and Brett Phillips (all productive major leaguers) for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. Nuff said. Free agent 2023.

Robbie Grossman: Released, 2015. Free agent this year.

Rio Ruiz: Ruiz was part of the trade with Atlanta along with Mike Foltynewicz that brought Evan Gattis to Houston. A fan favorite perhaps, but Gattis was only productive for the Astros in 2016, the only year since 2015 that the Astros did not make the playoffs. Tellingly, after his contract with Astros expired, no team was interested in giving Gattis a new contract.

Folty, on the other hand, has made the All-Star team once, although he remains inconsistent at times. He is still under team control for two more years and how the Astros could use that 100 mph arm right now. Ruiz adds a little more salt to the wound. Free agent 2025.

Jacob Nottingham: Traded with Daniel Mengden for Scott Kazmir to the A’s. Kazmir did little to help the Astros get to the playoffs in 2015, and Daniel Mengden would possibly be on the Astros roster now if not traded. (More on that later) Nottingham would probably be competing with Garrett Stubbs for third catcher if he were still in the Astros organization.

Delino DeShields: Lost to the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 draft. Free agent 2222.

With a continuation of 2020 improvements from Ruiz and Grossman and career average performances from the rest, this is a decent major league lineup. They might look like the Bad News Bears in the field though. Still, with the pending loss of All Stars Michael Brantley and George Springer, Ramon Laureano and Teoscar Hernandez would sure look good wearing Astros unis right now.

Yes, I understand that many of these moves were necessary at the time, what with finding room on a crowded forty-man roster, or making short term moves to get to the playoffs.

Still, having studied Astros trades under Jeff Luhnow, I can’t help but feel he was a little too loose trading his prospects, too often below value.

But...Verlander. Alvarez. Perhaps that forgives all.

NEXT WEEK:

The lost pitchers.