Astros History

Astros: Reviewing the 2006 Jason Jennings trade with Rockies

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 19: Jason Jennings of the Houston Astros pitches during the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California on June 19, 2007. The Astros defeated the Angels 9-5. (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 19: Jason Jennings of the Houston Astros pitches during the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California on June 19, 2007. The Astros defeated the Angels 9-5. (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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We take a look back at the Dec. 2006 trade bringing Jason Jennings to the Houston Astros.

It was December 2006, and the Houston Astros were coming off an 82-win season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were leaving, so the roster needed some work. Enter the now-infamous Jason Jennings.

GM Tim Purpura made some bold moves early in the offseason, shelling out cash in free agency for slugger Carlos Lee and pitcher Woody Williams. In a move to further augment a starting rotation that had Roy Oswalt and a bunch of question marks, Purpura acquired Jennings and pitcher Miguel Asencio from the Rockies in exchange for pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh and outfielder Willy Taveras on Dec. 12.

Unfortunately for the Astros, the trade didn’t work out, and neither did the Williams signing, though Lee did end up providing solid value. But the addition of “El Caballo” and the emergence of rookie Hunter Pence in 2007 could not overcome a pitching staff that was awful aside from Oswalt, and it cost Purpura his job before the season was over.

What the Astros Gave Up

The most established player was Taveras, who’d put up 1.9 WAR and 2.6 WAR in 2005 and 2006, respectively. He offered little power but hit for a decent average, had excellent speed and played strong defense in center field. He also cobbled together a 30-game hit streak in 2006. The trade took place shortly before his 25th birthday, so he was still young.

Willy Taveras of the Houston Astros in action during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. on July 16, 2005. St. Louis won 4-2. (Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images)
Willy Taveras of the Houston Astros in action during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. on July 16, 2005. St. Louis won 4-2. (Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images) /

Following the trade, however, he put up a combined 1.1 WAR in two seasons with the Rockies, mostly because his defensive metrics cratered. He hit .320 with 33 steals in just 97 games in 2007, and he led the majors with 68 steals in 2008, but his offensive output plummeted to .251/.308/.296 and he left via free agency after the season. He would play two more years with the Reds and Nationals before his major league career was done.

Buchholz came to the Astros in the Billy Wagner trade in late 2003, which is what got me thinking about this deal. He made his major league debut in 2006, pitching to a 5.89 ERA in 19 starts and three relief appearances over 113 innings.

Following the trade, Buchholz pitched mostly in relief for the Rockies. He did put up a good year in 2008, working to a 2.17 ERA in 63 appearances out of the bullpen. But he missed the entire 2009 season before bouncing around in 2010 and 2011, never seeing the majors again after that. All told, he gave the Rockies 3.0 WAR in parts of three seasons.

Hirsh was another well-regarded young pitcher who’d made his debut in 2006, pitching to a 6.04 ERA in nine starts. He made 19 starts for the Rockies in 2007, going 5-7 with a 4.81 ERA. He put up an 8.31 ERA in four appearances in 2008 and never saw the majors again. He was worth a total of 0.7 WAR for Colorado.

What the Astros Got

Jennings was the centerpiece, expected to be a solid mid-rotation starter to slot in behind Oswalt and alongside Williams. His first five seasons in the majors were mediocre, but his age-27 season in 2006 was considerably better. He worked to a 3.78 ERA in 32 starts despite pitching his home games in Coors Field, so the thought was that he could improve by pitching somewhere else.

But that 2006 season was the highlight of his career. Jennings made 18 starts and one relief appearance for the Astros in 2007 and was just plain bad, going 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA. He became a free agent after the season, so the club got one year and -0.6 WAR out of its big trade acquisition.

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Jennings would pitch two more major league seasons with the Texas Rangers, but he wasn’t any better. He was 0-5 in six starts with an 8.56 ERA in 2008, then worked to a 4.13 ERA out of the bullpen in 2009. That would be his final major league season.

The other player the Astros got, Asencio, never actually pitched in the majors for Houston. He had a career 5.12 ERA in 42 major league appearances at the time of the trade, but worked to a combined 6.00 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A for the Astros in 2007. He left via free agency after the season and pitched one more minor league season in the Red Sox organization.

The Final Verdict

Since Asencio never pitched for the Astros, the only major league contribution they got was from Jennings, who was worth -0.6 WAR. Giving up a solid center fielder and a couple of well-regarded young pitchers for that type of production isn’t how a GM keeps his job, and Purpura learned that the hard way as he was replaced with Ed Wade before the season ended.

The Rockies didn’t exactly make out like bandits in this deal, but they certainly fared better. They got a total of 4.8 WAR out of Taveras, Buchholz and Hirsh. The Astros probably maximized Taveras’ value by trading him at the time they did, and the same can be said for the two pitchers. Though they had high ceilings, they never reached them.

Still, while the loss of these three players didn’t hurt the club too much, they failed to get any value in return. Jennings simply turned out to be the wrong target, and the lack of production behind Oswalt in the rotation led to the Astros finishing a disappointing 73-89 in Craig Biggio‘s final season, which also cost manager Phil Garner his job.

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There were plenty of reasons for that. The pitching staff was poor, and the offense had too many holes. Biggio showed his age, Morgan Ensberg fell off a cliff, and Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus were easy outs. The addition of Lee and the emergence of Pence, plus the midseason addition of Ty Wigginton, simply weren’t enough to overcome the many issues on the roster. The Jennings trade was merely the poster child for a bad season.

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