This year’s trade deadline was one giant big-game hunt. A host of playoff contenders participated; the Astros did not. Teams such as the Dodgers, Yankees, White Sox, Blue Jays and A’s pushed their chips in, but the Astros opted for a more cost-effective approach.
It could be argued that the Astros did not need to make a splash, given their formidable lineup and deep starting rotation. Additionally, a farm system still recovering from blockbuster trades of recent years, as well as the loss of four top draft picks, limited the amount of prospect capital general manager James Click could spend.
The Astros’ need for bullpen help was well-known entering last week, and the second-year GM ultimately did a solid job of upgrading the relief corps, all while keeping the organization’s top prospects. As logical and prudent as Click’s strategy was, it does pale in comparison to what other top clubs did.
The Dodgers had a quality farm before making the deadline’s biggest trade for ace Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner, and even now it remains in decent shape. But the A’s and White Sox, two teams with realistic postseason aspirations, arguably had fewer assets to trade than the Astros, and yet each obtained a top-notch player in center fielder Starling Marte and closer Craig Kimbrel, respectively. Either player would’ve significantly upgraded the Astros’ only two areas of relative weakness.
This is no sleight at the Astros’ top acquisition from last week, Kendall Graveman, who has been an outstanding reliever in 2021, but the power righty came at a fairly inexpensive cost, so it’s possible the club could’ve still gone above and beyond as their competitors did.
The A’s parted with starter Jesús Luzardo to get Marte and the White Sox sent second baseman Nick Madrigal to the other side of town to land Kimbrel. Each player was one of their respective franchise’s top young talents. It’s possible that Oakland and Chicago’s South Side will lament these deals in the future.
But that’s only if neither club wins the World Series.
No matter how nuanced or complicated the baseball industry has become in regard to balancing short-term success and long-term viability, the reality is flags fly forever. It’s an adage that will always be at the very core of the sport. What is the point of fielding a big-league team if not to best position it to reach and win the last game of the season?
The Astros are as capable as any team of achieving that feat. And it’s why the organization’s deadline haul could be considered fairly underwhelming. Granted, it’s unknown if the Cubs preferred Madrigal to whomever Click could offer for Kimbrel, or if the Marlins ignored all other calls once the A’s made their extremely talented lefty available. Nevertheless, the optics remain questionable.
2021 could feasibly be the last, best chance the Astros have at winning another ring for a long time. Perhaps maximizing this team’s chances would have gutted the farm. As unappealing a notion as that is for some, it could reasonably be argued that prioritizing long-term prosperity ahead of a very real possibility of winning a World Series is more unattractive.
The Astros evidently do not subscribe to that belief. Time will tell if their top brass were wise to hold on to their top prospects or if they were foolish to squander a prime opportunity they’re not guaranteed to have again.