Meltser: Astros Come In Short At Deadline; Still Bright Side

By: Mike Meltser (@MikeMeltser)

The Houston Astros made one trade as the non-waiver deadline came and went on Monday. They acquired Francisco Liriano from the Blue Jays to help with their bullpen down the stretche. But was it everything that they should of done? We’ll never know, but here is what I see as I look back at the Astros Trade Deadline move.

What I wanted: From the offseason entering the regular season, I wanted the Astros to add a high-level starting pitcher with a few years of contract control. I’m usually gun-shy when it comes to rentals, because I like the concept of leveraging your prospects into adding contributors at the major league level who can stick around for a few years. Jose Quintana and Sonny Gray fit the bill on those counts, and they ended up on the Cubs and Yankees, respectively.

As the deadline came across the horizon, I became a little more focused on adding bullpen help, because the pen seems to be wearing down just a bit. Adding Zach Britton or Justin Wilson would have been a very nice boost. With Will Harris hitting the disabled list once again, I would have felt relatively comfortable with Chris Devenski/Ken Giles/Britton-Wilson as your three highest-leverage relievers. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, which leaves me in a general state of disappointment.

What we know: Astros GM Jeff Luhnow knew going into deadline day that his second-best pitcher, Lance McCullers, would be hitting the DL once again with a recurring back issue. This is why I’m surprised that Houston didn’t come in as a stronger contender on Gray, who is under contract through 2019.

Not that the Yankees farm system is my area of expertise, but it didn’t seem like they gave up all that much for Gray. They didn’t have to part with Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres, who were/are the crown jewels of that system.

What we don’t know: Did Orioles owner Peter Angelos put the last-minute kibosh on a Britton deal? Luhnow had some interesting analysis after the deadline went down:

Reading between the lines, a baseball GM probably wouldn’t say a deal was “90 percent” done unless they think it was basically in the formality stage. Luhnow’s reference to “a lot of dynamics” can easily apply to the organizational dynamics with other teams, like the final authority Angelos wields in Baltimore:

When I combine Luhnow’s comments with Jim Crane’s comments on the Astros broadcast during Wednesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, and the signs point to this: Houston and Baltimore agreed on a package of players for Britton, and Angelos vetoed the deal.

Here’s what else we don’t know: what was the asking price from the A’s (on Gray) and the Rangers (on Yu Darvish)? Were teams trying to squeeze out more from the Astros farm system? Was top prospect Kyle Tucker basically a must for both teams for them to trade their aces within the AL West? That seems like as stretch, based on what those teams received in trades, but sports team occasionally make strange decisions when making trades.

My bottom line is this: I have relative trust in Luhnow, but in what was a reported “seller’s market,” I wasn’t blown away by the haul that the A’s and Rangers received on the two best starting pitchers on the market. That makes me wonder what the Astros offered for those pitchers, and how interested they were.

The Bright Side: Luhnow did swing a deal for Francisco Liriano a few hours before the trade deadline. While Liriano has been poor as a starter this season, FanGraphs has a superb write-up on the way Houston will likely use him out of the bullpen. Long story short, Liriano has been very effective at getting left-handed hitters out during his career, and that success has carried into this season. He’s an easy replacement for the currently woeful Tony Sipp.

The Astros are also in a somewhat unique situation. Usually, the frustration with not making a big deadline deal(s) is that you can’t use the prospects that weren’t given up. The Astros aren’t facing that. With Nori Aoki being traded to Toronto as part of the Liriano deal, I would expect to see Derek Fisher in the lineup on basically an everyday basis from here on out. The early returns on Fisher have been promising. Frances Martes has been in all sorts of trade rumors the entire season, and I think he has a chance to be a significant part of the bullpen moving forward.

 

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