Astros: Reviewing the 2004 Carlos Beltran trade with Royals

We take a look back at the Houston Astros 2004 trade to acquire Carlos Beltran.

The 2004 Astros were one of the most talented teams we’ve seen in Houston. The offseason acquisitions of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens gave the team an impressive rotation trio with Roy Oswalt. The offense had Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent. Then GM Gerry Hunsicker made a blockbuster trade in late June to acquire Carlos Beltran.

On June 24, a three-team trade went down involving the Astros, Royals and Athletics. The Astros sent reliever Octavio Dotel to the A’s and catcher John Buck to the Royals. The A’s sent Mark Teahen and Mike Wood to the Royals, and Beltran made his way to Houston.

Since this is an Astros site, we’ll keep our analysis to our team, simply judging it by what the Astros got and what they gave up. Since it was essentially Beltran in exchange for Dotel and Buck, that’s what we’ll be looking at.

What the Astros Got

They got Beltran, who was a dynamic player at the time. He was 27 and on the cusp of free agency, and he’d established himself as a budding superstar. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1999 and put together three straight seasons from 2001-2003 in which he hit 24-plus homers, had 100-plus RBIs and stole 30-plus bases.

HOUSTON – OCTOBER 16: Carlos Beltran #15 of the Houston Astros smiles in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in eighth inning of Game 3 of National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2004 Major League Baseball Playoffs on October 16, 2004 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo By Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

At the time of the trade, he was slashing .278/.367/.534 with 19 doubles, 15 homers, 51 RBIs and 14 steals. After the trade, in 90 regular season games, he hit .258/.368/.559 with 17 doubles, 23 homers and 53 RBIs. He also stole a perfect 28 bases in 28 attempts, giving him a final season line of .267/.367/.548 with 36 doubles, 38 homers, 104 RBIs and 42 steals in 45 attempts. Not a bad way to launch into free agency.

Where he really became a superstar was in the postseason. In the division series, Beltran hit .455/.500/1.091 with two doubles, four homers, nine RBIs and two steals. In the NLCS, he hit .417/.563/.958 with another four homers plus four stolen bases, thus tying Barry Bonds‘ record for most homers in a single postseason. The Astros lost, but it certainly wasn’t his fault.

Unfortunately the offseason was a huge letdown, part of which was due to Hunsicker’s resignation on Nov. 1. The team tried to re-sign Beltran, to the extent that they didn’t strongly pursue any other free agents, even letting Kent leave. Then in mid-January, he signed a mammoth contract with the Mets, leaving the Astros empty handed and the fans in an uproar.

What the Astros Gave Up

Dotel had been an excellent setup man for Billy Wagner for three seasons, then spent some time as the closer after Wagner was traded after the 2003 season. At the time of the trade, he had a 3.12 ERA in 32 appearances with 14 saves.

After the trade, he pitched to a 4.09 ERA with 22 saves for Oakland. He worked to a 3.52 ERA in just 15 appearances in 2005 before leaving via free agency. He ended up pitching for 13 teams in his 15-season career, totaling a 3.78 ERA in 758 appearances with 109 saves.

Buck was quickly promoted to the majors with the Royals and totaled a .235/.298/.407 line with 70 homers. He was an All-Star in 2010 with Toronto and played for seven teams in an 11-year career in which he compiled 5.8 WAR.

The Final Verdict

The Astros got 4.5 WAR from Beltran in the regular season in 2004, plus his incredible postseason performance. Oakland got 1.2 WAR from Dotel, and the Royals got 2.0 WAR from Buck. So Houston gave up 3.2 WAR and got 4.5 WAR plus the postseason extravaganza. In that sense, the trade was certainly worth it.

Some of the aftermath came back to haunt them, however. When Hunsicker resigned, it left Tim Purpura at the helm of the club’s baseball operations, and he would prove himself to be a poor GM. Whether that was partially responsible for Beltran’s departure is up for debate.

What we do know is the Astros put all their eggs in the Beltran basket. They avoided signing any other free agents as they wanted to save room in the budget for the deal they’d have to give him. When he signed with the Mets, they had no Plan B to go to. Kent was already gone, and it was late in the offseason. The 2005 team struggled offensively at times due to those losses plus Bagwell’s injury, with Morgan Ensberg‘s emergence their saving grace.

But that’s the aftermath. The trade itself shouldn’t be viewed in conjunction with the front office’s mistakes in the ensuing offseason. The Astros gave up a solid relief pitcher and a decent catcher they didn’t really need. In return, they got a superstar, even if it was just for a few months. What he gave them in that time was worth the price, so Hunsicker’s last big move was a good one.