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Astros: Result of keeping Richard Hidalgo over Bobby Abreu

HOUSTON - JUNE 27: Right fielder Richard Hidalgo #15 of the Houston Astros looks at his bat during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 27, 2002 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The Astros won 7-4. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - JUNE 27: Right fielder Richard Hidalgo #15 of the Houston Astros looks at his bat during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 27, 2002 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The Astros won 7-4. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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The Houston Astros made a fateful decision to keep Richard Hidalgo instead of Bobby Abreu.

The Houston Astros certainly have a history of letting young talent get away (see Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton, Johan Santana, et al.). In late 1997, when deciding which players to protect from the Expansion Draft, evidently the team only had room to protect one of two well-regarded young outfielders in Richard Hidalgo and Bobby Abreu. The team chose Hidalgo.

Abreu was selected by the Devil Rays in the expansion draft and immediately traded to the Phillies, where he would quickly blossom into one of the best all-around players in the game. It took Hidalgo a little longer to reach his potential, but he sure did demonstrate a high ceiling.

After posting middling numbers in 1999, Hidalgo broke out to the tune of a .314/.391/.636 line with 42 doubles, 44 homers and 122 RBIs in 2000. Unfortunately he was never able to reach that ceiling again. The only time he came remotely close to it was in 2003 when he hit .309/.385/.572 with 43 doubles, 28 homers and 88 RBIs.

He was about average with the bat in 2001, but his 2002 and 2004 seasons were just plain poor. This frustrating lack of consistency led the Astros to bench him in favor of Jason Lane in 2004, and they promptly traded him to the Mets. While Hidalgo did hit 21 homers in 86 games for the Mets that year, his on-base percentage was just .296. He struggled with the Rangers in 2005, which would be his final major league season.

What They Missed

While Hidalgo was maddeningly inconsistent, Abreu was the exact opposite in that regard. He was rarely injured and was an easy bet to hit around .300, draw a bunch of walks, hit a few dozen doubles, pop 20-30 homers, steal around 30 bases and play solid defense. There really wasn’t much that he didn’t do, and that consistent performance lasted for more than a decade.

When the Astros traded Hidalgo away, Abreu was in the midst of a .301/.428/.544 season with totals of 47 doubles, 30 homers, 105 RBIs and 40 stolen bases. Those 40 steals were a career high, as were his 127 walks.

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He retired after the 2014 season with career marks of .291/.395/.475, 574 doubles, 288 homers and 400 stolen bases. He could end up with an interesting case for the Hall of Fame, as he received enough support in his first year on the ballot to remain on there next year. Not bad for a guy the Astros didn’t care to keep.

What Might Have Been

Imagine if the Astros had kept Abreu instead of Hidalgo. He would’ve been a natural fit in the No. 2 spot in the lineup with his left-handed swing, high on-base ability and prowess on the basepaths. Those late 1990s and early 2000s teams could have had Craig Biggio, Abreu, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and Moises Alou as the first five hitters.

That 2004 Astros team, which was one of the most talented teams we’ve ever seen in Houston, could’ve had Abreu in that lineup along with Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman and Jeff Kent. There’s no way to know if the team still would have acquired Carlos Beltran if they had Abreu, but let’s assume they would have. Talk about a veritable murderer’s row.

The 2005 team that made it to the World Series struggled offensively after the losses of Beltran and Kent to free agency, plus Bagwell’s absence due to shoulder surgery. Berkman and Morgan Ensberg had to carry the load, but having Abreu in there as well certainly would have helped.

If Abreu remained with the Astros through the mid-2000s, perhaps the team wouldn’t have signed Carlos Lee (or maybe they would have anyway). Maybe those near-misses in 2006 and 2008 would have gone a little differently. Unfortunately all we have are what-ifs, and there’s no shortage of those.

Next. Reviewing the 2013 Dexter Fowler trade. dark

What we do know is the Astros definitely would have been better off keeping Abreu over Hidalgo. But for whatever reason, they didn’t see the player Abreu would become just a few months after they lost him.

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