The Houston Astros—you might have heard that they’re the team to be named later, in the deal that sent the Milwaukee Brewers to the National League—have baseball’s worst 2012 record through this writing. They’ve also had an identity crisis in the last few years. They’ve lost their signature players to retirement (Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio) or trades (Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, the last just before this year’s All-Star break), and the trade winds have put one or two more signature Astros (Wandy Rodriguez is one frequently-bandied name) on the block. Have they begun what needs to be done in rebuilding an identity by continuing to rebuild through their minor league system?
The Disastros (as their disgruntled fans often call them, in times of less than glittering play) have just pulled a ten-player swap with the Toronto Blue Jays, as in the last in the American League East Blue Jays. The Astros sent three pitchers—Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, David Carpenter (not to be confused with the David Carpenter on the Los Angeles Angels pitching staff)—to the Jays in exchange for closer Francisco Cordero (second lifetime in saves among active relievers, behind The Mariano), Ben Francisco (outfielder, who’s put in time with Cleveland and Philadelphia, to whom he went in the deal that made a Phillie out of Cliff Lee for the first time), four minor leaguers (Joe Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, pithcers; Carlos perez, catcher) and the proverbial player to be named later.
From the look of it, the deal meant as much for continuing to replenish the Astros’ farm system as adding bona fide major league parts. General manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters the Astros got four “quality young players” as well as an established relief pitcher and a useful outfielder. Rollins and Musgrove may be the nuggets: Rollins has a 10-1/2.46 ERA/104-strikeout minor league record to date; Musgrove opened his rookie league life with two appearances, a 1.12 ERA, no walks, and nine punchouts.
From most indications thus far, the Astros may have gotten the better side of this deal. Lyon was once a solid bullpen part until he faltered enough to cause him to be viewed as an overpaid pen man; Happ would have faced arbitration at season’s end but he hasn’t been very good since he came to Houston. Carpenter’s loss is seen to be the potential embarrassment, but the Astros are banking on the prospects making up for that.
Former major league general manager Jim Bowden likes the deal for the Astros, too. He tweeted that the Astros got the Jays’ number ten, fourteen, and twenty prospects.
Perez is considered a solid catcher behind the dish and a baserunning jewel as a hitter, with speed enough to turn doubles into triples. Musgrove is projected to be reaching the Houston rotation by 2015 as a possible number two or three starter. Wojciechowski’s raw numbers aren’t thought to be doing him justice, either; analysts think he may reach the Astros as early as some time in 2013. Rollins is thought to be the worst of the prospects the Astros got in the deal, but in this case “worst” still means he could become a major league-ready arm.
Cordero is aging—he’s 37, has 794 relief gigs on his resume with a 3.28 lifetime ERA and 40+ saves in three of his seasons, but he’s 3-5 with two saves in 41 gigs for the Jays this year. Francisco was played out of a job in Toronto for all intent and purpose when Rajai Davis played himself into the Jays’ best righthanded outfield option this season; the Jays acquired Francisco during the offseason.
Lyon signed with the Astros for three years and $15 million in 2009, but he dealt with biceps tendinitis last year and was limited to fifteen games, while going 0-2/3.25 in 37 gigs this year. Carpenter, who was at the Astros’ Oklahoma City (AAA) farm, had been 0-2/6.07 in thirty gigs for the Astros in 2012 before being sent down, but he’s still considered a viable relief pitcher by several observers.
For their part, the Jays think Happ still has strikeout ability to burn “and we need [starting] depth,” said Jays GM Alex Anthopolous. Happ was mentioned in the trade talks for Roy Halladay, when Happ was still a Phillie, but he eventually went to the Astros in the Oswalt trade. Happ’s best season is still 2009—the year of the Halladay deal—when he went 12-4/2.93 with Philadelphia. This year with the Astros: 7-9, 4.83 ERA in eighteen starts.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .
Two Struggling Arms Swapped—In essence, the Kansas City Royals gave up Melky Cabrera for nothing last winter: They’d had to designate Jonathan Sanchez, the pitcher they got from the San Francisco Giants in the Cabrera deal, for assignment earlier this week, after Sanchez’s 2012 began with twelve starts, a 7.76 ERA, and a 1-6 record. Now, over a week after Cabrera was named the All-Star Game’s MVP in the Royals’ own ballpark, the Royals have traded Sanchez to the Colorado Rockies for equally-struggling pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Once an Oriole comer, opened this year in the Rockie rotation before his struggles got him sent to the bullpen to rehorse and then back to the rotation; he’s 3-9/6.25 this year thus far.
Sanchez’s ticket got punched after he surrendered seven runs in one and a third innings against Seattle, a long way down from the day when, as a Giant, he threw a no-hitter at the San Diego Padres (2009), tied Juan Marichal’s team record with seven straight punchouts (against the Rockies, as it happens, in 2010), and—helping pitch the eventual world champions to the 2010 postseason, beat the Atlanta Braves with ten punchouts in Game Three of the National League division series. This year? Hitters were hitting a whopping .302 against him.
Guthrie went from a modest cup of coffee with the Cleveland Indians to the Baltimore Orioles (the Orioles claimed him off waivers;Guthrie asked for and got number 46 in honour of one of his pitching heroes, then-Oriole GM Mike Flanagan), where he began with promise enough, getting Rookie of the Year consideration in 2007, before devolving to leading the American League in losses in 2011. He’s still considered a workhorse, but pitching in Coors Field didn’t exactly help him—he led the National League in home runs surrendered (21) in 90.2 innings before the deal to Kansas City, where it’s thought Kauffman Stadium, friendlier to pitchers, may help him rediscover the form he once showed in Baltimore.
No Love Lost—Speaking of Melky Cabrera, he’s not exactly Mr. Popularity among visiting players in Atlanta. Not after his antics this week when the Giants visited the Braves. Cabrera’s antics included a rude gesture to bleacher fans in Tuesday’s game, his Wednesday of a leisurely home run trot and over-the-top celebration of teammate Gregor Blanco’s eleventh-inning bomb, and his Thursday making a mock-Tomahawk Chop gesture (something the Giants have done lately celebrating big plays or big wins) after tripling in the eighth, ran a few Braves’ temperatures up the thermometer. And at least one Brave implied not to be surprised if there isn’t a little payback the next time the two clubs meet. (The Braves go to San Francisco for a weekend set in late August.) “That’s Melky,” Chipper Jones mused Wednesday, “and that’s why he’s not here anymore . . . He got a little happy when Blanco hit the home run. It won’t be forgotten.”
Cabrera once helped the Yankees beat the Phillies in a World Series; he was traded to the Braves for 2010 but his numbers and his playing condition fell off, perhaps also his attitude, something that actually matters in Atlanta, and the Braves released him in October 2010 to sign with the Royals. He topped his previous career highs in runs scored, runs batted in, home runs, and batting average, but the pitching-strapped Royals swapped him for Sanchez last winter. Even before the deal to Atlanta, Cabrera was seen as a talented Yankee (particularly with the glove in the outfield) but the Empire Emeritus had made several bids to unload him due to his inconsistencies before the Braves bit on the hook.