Amidst all the subterfuge of the trade deadline, sometimes an honestly spoken truth can go undetected. When the Astros FO said they wanted to improve the 2022 team without damaging the long-term ability to compete, they meant it. And they came through.
I love every one of these deals. Mind you, not because there weren’t better players to get (San Diego landed Soto and thus they “won” the deadline), but because Click, after shaking every bush, ended up with the best possible result given the hand he was dealing from.
Even after the 2022 draft bonanza, which landed the Astros 4 of their top 20 prospects according to Fangraphs, this was still a weak system. When you have a Colin Moran and a Rio Ruiz at the hot corner, both guys with top 100 pedigree, you can afford to trade one of them. When you have 5-6 arms who project as middle of rotation or better, you can trade a Mike Foltynewicz, former 1st rounder. But when you have almost no regular who projects as a 1st division starter, you can’t trade a Colin Barber or a Hunter Brown, especially not for a reliever or a rental. There is always a risk to trading top prospects, but the Astros in their current state just can’t afford to take those risks if they want to keep a window open past 2024.
The cost for a better lefty like Gregory Soto, or for Josh Bell, or Conteras, was just too high. Soto is certainly better than Smith, and is also pre-arb. That would have cost Urquidy, or Colin Barber, or maybe more.
Luhnow loved to trade for controllable assets and avoided expensive rentals. He had a low payroll during most of his run as GM and could afford to do so add major payroll. Just the opposite is the case for Click, although there was flexibility to add salary up to the tax threshold for this year. The Astros added about $10 million in Smith, Mancini, and Vazquez, minus the Odorizzi money (I’m not smart enough to figure out the salary + incentives). More importantly, they’re free of 2023 Jake money. Put otherwise, who would you rather pay $7-8 million to in 2023: Mancini or Odorizzi? Especially given roster makeup (both Brantley and Yuli come off the books), the Astros can keep an affordable, reliable veteran who will fit like a glove in this clubhouse. Odorizzi fit like a, well, a left-footed shoe on a right hand.
At the beginning of 2022, with Lance out, JV uncertain, and guys like Javier not used to throwing 180IP, Odorizzi provided tremendous value by offering the possibility of a 6-man rotation with no drop off in quality. And he performed up to his billing this year in 12 starts, despite being snake bit by a freak leg injury while covering first base. Still, his usefulness in this capacity had served its purpose. McCullers is throwing 65-70 pitches tonight in AAA, and they can certainly use Bielak or Solomon if they want to keep the rotation on 5 days rest for the next two weeks. The team is up 12 games on the Mariners, with no head-to-head left, and they’ll likely sleepwalk to the division title and a playoff bye (they’re also up 12 on Minny for the 2 seed)
Speaking of 12, Click will almost certainly go with 12 pitchers in October, and it was tough to see Odorizzi even making the roster, when you need 4 starters max. Will Smith has not been great, but he’s a proven lefty who was golden in the 2021 playoffs. Let’s put it statistically, there was a nearly 0% chance that Odorizzi would help this team in October. If Smith’s chance of helping the team are even 40%, that’s more than zero, and it helps us shed 7-8 million off the 2023 payroll. Teams like St. Louis traded for Jake-O-quality starters because they’re trying to make the playoffs. The Astros traded for guys who will help them win in the playoffs.
Could Click have traded someone with more value that Odorizzi, and gotten more in return? Certainly. No doubt teams enquired about Urquidy, based on price and controllability. By keeping Urquidy, Click can spend that money elsewhere in the offseason, and I’m sure Urquidy’s record of great postseason performances hasn’t been forgotten, even if he’s 6th in line when Lance comes back.
Let’s turn to the less controversial trades. Mancini and Vazquez are, undoubtedly, upgrades. They are rentals, but if they like the culture and the winning, they can be more than that. Mancini has a two-way option for 2023. For this year, the lineup is deeper. Vazquez has been an above-average hitter in 3 of the last four seasons. Over his last 700 PAs, Maldy is 35% below league average. Maldy was 6 for 52 last postseason with no EBH and 2 walks. Vazquez hit .281 last postseason across 11 games. Plus, unlike Contreras, Vazquez has a better reputation handling pitchers.
Another undervalued element to these moves was the manipulation of the 40-man. With McCullers needing to be added in a couple weeks, Click removed two 40-man slots (Siri & Jake) for these three players.
Was the prospect cost too high? The darling of this trio for readers of this blog is surely Enmanuel Valdez, who, with his nice lefty stroke, seemed like he could help in Houston right now. Wyler Abreu is an OBP machine with a 70-grade arm, and the only thing holding McDermott back from being a top 100 prospect seemed to be control, as he was striking out roughly 33% of hitters as a piggy-back starter since entering the system. I liked all three, but none projects to be an MLB starter, and in a weak system, only McDermott was sniffing a top 10 Astro prospect list.
Jayden Murray may the be most regarded of the four prospects, and he’s coming our way.
Some prognosticators have weighed in and they generally like the deals. Schoenfield grades the Vazquez deal a B for both teams, and grades the Mancini deal a B for the Astros, a C+ for the Rays, and an F for the O’s.
Keith Law, FWIW, sees Abreu as the better prospect than Valdez. He calls Vazquez a “significant upgrade” at C.
In Spring 2022, Odorizzi and Siri probably couldn’t have been traded for a bag of baseballs. They both got slight bump in value (Siri’s value may have been helped by going to AAA and hitting 9 bombs in a month). If the Astros want a pinch-runner with OF defense, they can just add Pedro Leon, who, unlike Siri, can actually take out of the zone.
The deadline being over, there’s still enough 40-man fluff to add Brown and Leon in September if they’re leaning that way. Losing 2-3 Odorizzi starts before Lance comes back is insignificant, and the team’s lineup is much deeper. Even with no Brantley, the Astros can go into October like this:
- Altuve. 2. Mancini 3. Alvarez 4. Bregman 5. Tucker 6. Gurriel 7. Vazquez. 8. Pena 9. McCormick.
There’s not a below-average hitter in that lineup. Sub a healthy Brantley for a struggling Gurriel and it gets even nastier.
The full evaluation of this deadline cannot be determined now, nor even at the end of October. Mancini can hit .400 but we could still lose in the DS to the Twins. Smith can help as much as Liriano did in 2017, but who will care if they win it all?
Click’s still pretty new on the job and all indications are that he’s a pretty cool customer at the deadline.