For what seems like forever, whenever the Astros were involved in a trade they were giving up the more established player. That changed on Tuesday when they acquired center fielder/lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes. While this move doesn’t mean the Astros will be contenders in 2014, it does signal a change in how the Astros are operating: They are trying to improve at the Major League level, now.
In case you weren’t aware, the Astros have lost over 100 games the last three seasons, and in 2013 were the owners of baseball’s smallest payroll. Before Tuesday’s trade, Jose Altuve was the only Astro scheduled to make over a million dollars in 2014, Fowler will make $7.35 million. Jim Crane said the team would spend money this offseason, and now they’re doing it.
Fowler hit .263 in 119 games last season, which was a drop of almost 40 points from 2012 which appears to be the exception as he’s been a .260-.266 hitter all his other years in the bigs when he’s gotten at least 400 at bats, but he’s got a career .365 on base percentage, and can be a great defensive outfielder. He’s the best player the Astros have acquired in a trade since Miguel Tejada six years ago, but they may not be done.
“I can tell you that we have been very aggressive on several players,” Astro general manager Jeff Luhnow said after the Fowler trade was announced. “We do expect at some point we will cross the finish line with a player that we like. We have been active in the market.”
The Astros were reportedly in conversations with free agent pitchers Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes, and while they didn’t wind up with either (Johnson signed with San Diego, Hughes with Minnesota) it showed a willingness to add to the big league roster that they hadn’t show the last two offseason’s with Luhnow in charge. Deals with Hughes or Johnson wouldn’t have broken the bank and altered the Astros salary structure for the next half decade, and the Fowler deal doesn’t either. He doesn’t have a contract for next season, but is eligible for arbitration, meaning he’s under the Astros control for another season after this one. He holds no long-term financial risk at the moment.
Baseball’s winter meetings are next week in Orlando, and you can expect the Astros to be busy. Don’t expect to see Robinson Cano holding up an Astros jersey any time soon, but any of the additions the Astros make will be relatively significant. This team has big holes and money to spend. The moves they’ll make will likely be short-term fixes, but at least they’ll be actual fixes. After tearing the roster apart over the last two years, Crane and Luhnow seem poised to take the Astros rebuilding project to the next stage: winning baseball games.Follow @AdamSpolane
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