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The Legacy of James Click, Part III

Let’s look at the first two 2022 trades

MLB: World Series-Philadelphia Phillies at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Before proceeding further with the analysis of James Click’s success at trades in his three years as GM of the Astros, I thought it would be useful to discuss how to value trades. There are three perspectives.

  1. Evaluating trades by which trade pieces produce the greatest results. It is understood that contenders will trade greater future results for a quick boost during a playoff run. Of course, there’s no rule for how much future value you should trade for that “final piece” that gets you to the promised land. It’s similar to the time value of money; why you have to pay interest on a loan. The Astros’ Randy Johnson trade is an example. Johnson was phenomenal for half a season, but the pieces surrendered would have been very important in 2004 and 2005, when the Astros were on the cusp of winning it all.
  2. Others think that by using results as a criterion, you are using too small a sample to make a final judgment. It’s fairer to evaluate a trade by what would reasonably be expected to be the results at the time of the trade. By this theory, the Diamondbacks didn’t really get taken by the Astros in the Zack Greinke trade just because none of the highly-rated prospects the D-Backs got turned into busts.
  3. Another perspective is to evaluate trades not by the value of the pieces but by whether the trade helps your team. In the last installment, we evaluated the Myles Straw trade in that light. The Indians got more value short-term, but giving up Straw allowed the Astros to get help at a needed position and allowed younger players a chance to advance in the system.

So which of these three perspectives do I use? Honestly, I don’t know. It depends on the circumstances of the trade. Some combination of the three, I suppose.

This I know. The Justin Verlander trade was the best ever. Even if the Tigers had gotten four future all-Stars, Verlander got the Astros their first World Series.

The Carlos Gomez trade was the worst ever.

And none of James Click’s trades really made that much of a difference. And still, in his second and third years as GM, the team made the World Series.

Let’s dig in.

Michael Papierski (C) for Mauricio Dubon (UTIL), 6/15/22

The soon-to-be 27-year-old Michael Papierski got 103 PAs for the Giants and Reds in 2022, hitting OPS .415 for a -0.6 bWAR. He has six years of team control.

The 28-year-old Mauricio Dubon played some infield but mostly center field for the Astros. He had a -0.1 bWAR with a .548 OPS in 216 PAs. He has four years of team control.

Papierski would not have played for the Astros and probably had no future as an Astro as the third or fourth-best catcher in the Astros’ minor league system. On the other hand, although Dubon was a huge offensive liability, he filled in with admirable defense in the absence of Jake Meyers. Plus, he provided enough depth to allow for the later trade of Jose Siri. It should be noted that Dubon had his worst career-hitting performance in 2022, so there may be a slight upside in the future over his season last year.

Grade: C+. The Astros got their never-to-be-more-than 26th man and gave away to someone else their never-to-be-more-than 26th man. I’d be surprised if anyone remembers these players in five years, but Dubon helped the Astros in 2022 more than Papierski would have or ever will.

Wilyer Abreu and Emmanuel Valdez for Christian Vazquez, 8/1/22

Abreu and Valdez are likely future big-leaguers who the Astros traded for a high-profile rental catcher who ended up underperforming in an insignificant backup role.

Of course, we can’t fully evaluate this trade for years until we find out how these two prospects developed. Abreu is 23 and hit OPS .858 in AA in the Astros system as an outfielder. His ETA is 2024.

The 24-year-old Valdez emerged in 2022 playing IF/DH as one of the Astros’ most promising hitting prospects. He hit OPS .907 in AAA Sugarland before his trade to Boston. He cooled off once in the Boston system, hitting only .731. He is projected to earn 0.2 fWAR in 2023.

Christian Vazquez was victimized, in my opinion, by the Astros’ inexplicable infatuation with Martin Maldonado. He only got 108 PAs, in limited time his bWAR was -0.1, and he only hit OPS .585. His OPS since 2019 has averaged .734.

It’s not hard to imagine that minor league prospect Korey Lee could have contributed as much as Vazquez, and the Astros could have kept two of their more promising minor leaguers. It seems Click was dead set on upgrading the catcher position (more on that later), and Dusty Baker was dead set on giving the full-time position to Martin Maldonado, no matter how badly he hit or how good his replacement was.

Here we might see the clearest manifestation of the dysfunctional workings in the Astros front office. The trade made sense. Catcher was the Astros’ 2nd weakest position. (after 1st base) The team fWAR at catcher was 26th in MLB at -0.6. Click gave up a lot, but not an excessive amount for a team going for a World Series trophy. But this catcher upgrade (Vazquez) was not going to be allowed to add the value he was traded to provide under any circumstances (except an injury to Maldonado).

Grade D. It’s hard to grade this trade. Recall that Vazquez did have a key World Series RBI and two in the ALCS. The trade turned out to be unnecessary, but that’s easier to see in hindsight. If the manager had been more willing to use Vazquez, he would have provided more value added. So give Dusty some credit for making this trade a fail. But maybe Click should have foreseen that his new catcher would languish on the bench.

We’ll discuss the Will Smith and Trey Mancini Trades next time.