At the risk of needing to undergo Tommy John Surgery and miss out on this writing season, some of the 2015 block and perhaps never being the same, I’m expeditioning on a three part series about players that (mostly) beloved Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow has traded since taking the position in the Astros front office in December of 2011.
First I’ll back track to the season prior to his arrival because the summer of 2011 was juicy in the form of transactions that aimed to shape the future. Even though Luhnow didn’t make the calls and sign the dotted lines on these trades, his predecessor Ed Wade might as well have let him.
Currently mired in a string of triple digit loss seasons and a last place team in a division that will always be one of the best in Major League Baseball, the Astros remain at the mercy of many jokers. If you find a funny one, let me know. (Don’t)
The prevailing jab at the Astros seems to be that, despite being in year three of Mr. Luhnow’s tenure as the decision maker and baseball team builder, the team is still often a laughing stock and the miserable attendance and TV ratings aren’t doing much to help the defense.
Before I delve into the topic approaching I would love – just love – to point out that of the teams in baseball that are also trying their best to enjoy an extensive rebuilding process, the inherited assets of value that came from the Ed Wade era, not to mention a trivial budget coupled with lousy financial flexibility fall laughably short to those in Miami, New York Mets, both sides of Chicago, Minnesota, San Diego and more.
You get the point, it’s not the point I started writing this article to make, but I’m a bit of a jumper. (Actually not a turrible movie!)
Back to the Astros, the best pieces to move were by far Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn and if you want to add Wandy Rodriguez I won’t hold it against you, you’re already this far down so I’m just happy at that.
However, when Jeff Luhnow got full control over the Houston Astros plans for the future, Pence was a Philadelphia Phillie and Michael Bourn was an Atlanta Brave. His best pieces left to barter with were Wandy, Carlos Lee, Brett Myers and Wilton Lopez. Not exactly a lot to help improve the long-term visions.
The new Astros regimen had a lot lot lot less to work with in trade value, yet they’re well on their way. Slowly but surely, because the privilege of a quicker rebuild was not available to them when you’re biggest trade item is Bud Norris. (Who I loved, love and will always love, but c’mon)
So let’s go back to before Jeff Luhnow was sending the league office his trade notes and see where some of those 2011 Astros are. After all, the Astros 100 losses weren’t the worst in baseball in 2011…just tied for worst (Minnesota).
Hunter Pence – Ed Wade loved, absolutely loved dealing with his pre and also post-Astros employer, the Philadelphia Phillies. He traded them Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt and then Hunter Pence. A man of many head scratchers, he actually hit a damn solid average in these deals, a rarity in his four seasons as the team’s GM. He netted Bourn for Lidge, J.A. Happ and Jonathan Villar for Oswalt but his final hoorah was the Hunter Pence trade.
Jim Crane had already bought the team from Drayton McLane in May and it was thought that the return for Pence could save Ed Wade’s job. It wouldn’t, but as fans we can’t complain about what Ed got from the Phillies. The Astros acquired Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana as the PTBNL.
This trade has been monumental to the team’s rebuilding process. Cosart is in the big league rotation, Singleton is getting close to his call-up, Santana (one of my favorite prospects in the organization and all of baseball) has 30 HR potential, and Zeid has yet to find his place in the MLB bullpen, but the team clearly wants him there and the the extreme mediocrity that makes the pen-to-mound trot leaves the door open for him to find a niche – if he can do it sooner than later.
The Phillies reaped instant rewards from their new right fielder. Pence delivered a .324/.394/.560 slash line and smacked 11 homers as well as driving in 35 runs in the second half of the season. The loaded Phillies were baseball’s only 100 win team, going 102-60.
Unfortunately he struggled in his first ever playoffs, and the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals upset the top seed in a thrilling five game series.
The loaded Phillies suddenly found themselves in a bind with that pest of an issue; paying for all your players. Pence’s contract had hit 10+ million and Phills GM Ruben Amaro Jr. wasn’t planning on tinkering any with his Roy Halladay-Cliff Lee-Cole Hamels trio in the rotation. Also Amaro gave closer Jonathan Papelbon a ton of money to blow every other save.
So just a year after being traded at the deadline from Houston to Philly, the Phillies dealt Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants for pennies on the dollar that they gave to acquire him.
Can Hunter Pence be a face of your franchise? Probably not. Can he be one of your better players? This writer thinks so.
The former: Houston wasn’t committing financially to making Pence that face when they were at least a season away from even being in an appropriate position to need a face. The Phillies just couldn’t throw around any more cash than they already had invested in a bunch of old geezers. So to the Giants Hunter Pence went.
Pence struggled big time after becoming a member of the Giants. I had to constantly remind and console my Aunt Linda that he was worth the price and the investment.
The Giants would make the playoffs but Hunter Pence’s bat couldn’t get going. But he’s Hunter Pence, and he’d be damned if he couldn’t somehow help influence his teammates. Down 3-1 in the NLCS to the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals – who he had encountered in the NLDS the previous year in a different uniform – he gave #TheSpeech. San Francisco won the World Series.
The big contract extension came that following summer at 5 years and $90 million. The security in right field, in his wallet and in San Francisco has helped get the awkward stance back into a groove, and three seasons later both the Astros and Hunter Pence are in a good spot.
Michael Bourn – The value for Hunter Pence exceeded that of Bourn, but the market was definitely higher than what it eventually became for the speedy on base machine. If Ed Wade helped his case with the Pence blockbuster, he butchered the Bourn trade bad…very bad. Whereas Pence was due for a payday, Bourn had another very team friendly year on his contract. A bit more leverage in case the right offer didn’t present itself for a very valuable two-way center fielder. Still though, Wade dealt Bourn to the Atlanta Braves in a deal that was centered around the troubled but potentially potential-packed Jordan Schafer.
In short, Schafer, who was already approaching his 25th year on Earth and conclusion to a fourth unimpressive Major League display, did not pan out. His neatest contribution was the buzz he created when Carly Rae Jepsen’s top hit “Call Me Maybe” was his walk-up song. The team also acquired three pitchers: invisible Juan Abreu, enigmatic Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer. The latter being the only one to show he could be apart of the long-term plans. Clemens has shown nice velocity, to the plate and also back towards him and above the other 8 players on the diamond.
Oberholtzer has shown some flashes, but what makes this deal so hard to comprehend is that:
a. Bourn wasn’t an impending free agent
b. Jordan Schafer’s sizzle had gone out already
c. The Braves farm system is always loaded, and Mike Minor wasn’t that good yet…and that’s who I wanted.
Despite a productive year and a half in Atlanta, the Braves granted the fan favorite free agency in Braves fashion. Seeking a lucrative deal, the versatile 30-year old ended up waiting all the way until mid February to be signed. The Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals were among teams that showed interest, but the Cleveland Indians offered Bourn the deal he sought after, four years and $48 million dollars with incentives that could earn him a 5th year and another $12 million.
Along with other newcomers like Nick Swisher and Ryan Raburn as well as the super-mega emergence of 2nd baseman Jason Kipnis and pitcher Justin Masterson, Mike Bourn played a large role in the Indians comeback season under new Manager Terry Francona. The Indians made a huge run to close the season, finishing 15-2 to grab a Wild Card spot in the postseason, ending a five year drought.
Unfortunately so far in 2014, the dreaded hamstring injury to a base stealer has limited the former Astros valuable trade piece to 93 AB’s and just 2 stolen bases.