When the trade deadline rolled around in 2021, the Astros were a good team with some weakness. Their offense was solid, their defense was good, their starting pitching was good enough, but their bullpen was weak.
After the 2022 season and the beginning of 2023, it's hard to remember a time where the Astros bullpen needed help, but in 2021, they did.
General Manager James Click made a series of deals at the deadline to upgrade their bullpen, with multiple of the players they acquired still contributing.
The Astros landed Phil Maton (and top prospect Yainer Diaz) for Myles Straw. Maton has peaked in Houston, posting a 3.46 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. He's been especially dominant this season, currently holding a 0.77 ERA.
They sent Abraham Toro and Joe Smith to Seattle for Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero. Toro hasn't panned out in any way for Seattle. Graveman posted a 3.13 ERA in Houston and got some big outs in October, posting a 1.64 playoff ERA.
Montero has struggled this year, but the Astros don't win the World Series without him last year. He was lights out in the regular season and in October. Bad start to this year or not, there is some hope his luck evens out and he finds his 2022 form again.
Both of those trades are huge wins in hindsight. The Astros definitely wish they had their third deal of the day back.
The Astros acquired Yimi Garcia from the Marlins in exchange of DFA'd reliever Austin Pruitt and outfield prospect Bryan De La Cruz. Garcia made 23 regular season appearances in Houston, posting a sky-high 5.48 ERA. He was even worse in October, throwing nine innings and posting a 7.00 ERA.
While the loss of Pruitt means nothing, Houston received very poor production in exchange of De La Cruz. At the time of the trade, De La Cruz was hitting .324 with an .880 OPS in Sugar Land. In a depleted farm system at the time, was one of their top hitting prospects.
Since arriving in Miami, he's been a great hitter, posting a .276 career batting average and a .758 OPS. Through 46 games this season, he's been even better. Through Wednesday's games, De La Cruz is hitting .297 with a .791 OPS. Over the last two weeks, De La Cruz is hitting .409 with a 1.207 OPS.
With Michael Brantley still not back from injury, Yordan Alvarez primarily playing DH, and Dusty Baker reluctant to play both Chas McCormick and Yainer Diaz, Houston sure could use De La Cruz as their left fielder and DH when Yordan plays the field.
Houston has penciled Corey Julks into their lineup 34 times, and while the hometown hero is a great story, he has been a net-negative. He's been worth -0.1 bWAR and has a below-average .663 OPS. Julks has drawn only three walks to 37 strikeouts.
According to Statcast, Julks is in the first percentile of wxOBA and walk rate, ninth percentile of xSLG, 13th percentile in strikeout rate, 20th percentile in average exit velocity, 24th percentile in xBA and 33rd percentile in hard hit-rate.
De La Cruz has been a well above-average hitter with regard to the quality of contact he makes.
According to Statcast, he sits in the 84th pecentile in xBA, 82nd percentile in average exit velocity, 64th percentile in hard hit rate, 55th percentile in xSLG and 51st in xwOBA. He actually finished last season 96th percentile in xBA, 94th percentile in xSLG and 90th in xwOBA.
De La Cruz is a hitter through and through. With Houston's struggling offense (24th in team OPS and 17th in runs per game), they could use an injection of life in their lineup. Bryan De La Cruz is exactly what they are missing.
While the Astros win most trades they've participated in, this is one they sure wish they could have back.