Monday, October 5, 2009

Why the Astros underachieved since 2006 - Part 1

This year's Houston Astros finished the season at 74-88. Ever since their World Series appearance in 2005 they have gone 315-332 without a playoff appearance and changed managers three times. They have fallen on hard times as key veteran players while still producing become older, questionable pitching rotation outside of Roy Oswalt (who been hampered with injury bug), iffy middle relief, and plenty of poor decisions in the front office. So what went wrong? This will be multi-part post on why the Astros underachieve because its long to discuss.

Here is my reasons why they underachieved.

- They made moves but most of them has set them back and/or depleted their prospects from the minor league system. Instead keeping younger potential prospects to rebuild the team up they went for broke shipping them out going for "names" to contend for a playoff spot. Here are impacting trades they made from 2006-current that got them where they are.

Trade: Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist
To: Tampa Bay Rays
Get: Aubrey Huff and cash
Winner: Tampa Bay Rays

Astros jumped the gun weeks before the trading deadline getting Aubrey Huff in hope for second half dash to the NL Central crown or a wild card spot. Huff played 68 games, batting .250 with 13 HRs and 38 RBIs in his only season with the Astros. Ben Zobrist, in the other hand, spent his time around Rays minor league system, worked his way from utility/bench player to everyday starter with a breakout season this year with a trip to All-Star game. Oh yeah, Rays made the playoffs last year.

Trade: Willy Taveras, Jason Hirsh, and Taylor Buchholz
To: Colorado Rockies
For: Jason Jennings and Miguel Asencio
Winner: Colorado Rockies

How did Rockies won out this trade? All three players have played two seasons with the club whether its full time or part time. As for Jennings? He spent half of the season on the DL not without going 2-9 in 18 starts with a whopping 6.45 ERA. He was gone after 2007 season. Asencio never made it back to the majors at all.

On possible what if the Astros could have kept Hirsh and Buchholz and have them be part of the rotation for a year or two. Instead they shipped potential prospects at the time to somewhere else.

Trade: Dan Wheeler
To: Tampa Bay Rays
For: Ty Wigginton
Winner: Tampa Bay Rays

In a run for the postseason they shipped a struggling Dan Wheeler for Ty Wigginton to replace a declining Morgan Ensberg who was designated for assignment. Instead it was other way around. While Wigginton did bring a bat he lasted a year and half with the team. After continue to struggle with his new team Wheeler turned it around the following season lowering his era from 5.30 to 3.12 along with notching 13 saves. He was one of key relievers for the Rays' playoff and World Series run. Rays won out this trade.

Trade: Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett
To: Philadelphia Phillies
For: Michael Bourne, Geoff Geary, and Michael Costanzo
Winner: Philadelphia Phillies

At the time this trade went Astros way. Brad Lidge wore out his welcome in Houston when he was blowing saves and removed from closer role. Astros' fans were happy see him gone. In return they got major league ready player as in Michael Bourne. Bourne became the team's leadoff hitter with good base stealing and a potential superstar. Geary end up having a decent season as a reliever in his first year with the team before falling off this year and end up at Triple-A Round Rock. Costanzo was used as trade bait (which soon to be mentioned). For Lidge something strange happened in his first year with the Phillies. Instead blowing saves like he was in Houston, he converting saves perfectly. In fact he was 48 out of 48 throughout the season including the playoffs. He was one of key players to the Phillies playoff run. How did he end 2008? He closed the season with a save giving the Phillies a World Series title. Phillies became the big winners of this trade. It didn't help Rays have Dan Wheeler and Ben Zobrist in their playoff run as well. Mark four players Astros traded that end up playing in the World Series that year. Lidge returned back to earth this season while utility player Eric Bruntlett made history with a spectacular unassisted triple play to end a game. Not only his name end up in the history and trivia books his jersey gone to Cooperstown. Double ouch! There's a chance this trade could even out in the future, but thanks to Lidge 2008 season Phillies won this trade big time.

Trade: Luke Scott, Matt Albers, Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate, and Mike Costanzo
To: Baltimore Orioles
For: Miguel Tejada
Winner: Astros

Astros got a much needed 3B in this trade it costed them big time. They got Tejada and remaining of his six-year, $72 million contract signed in 2004. Orioles received a decent, but seldom used Luke Scott along with at the time Astros two top pitching prospects Matt Albers and Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate, and minor leaguer Costanzo whom they got from Phillies trade. Tejada put his two solid seasons with the Astros leading the league in doubles this year despite leading the league in grouding into double plays. He was named on the All-Star team in both years. For the Orioles so far Scott been a bright spot hitting 20 HRs, 60 RBIs for second straight season but done it in 113 games this year. Albers been a dissapointment in middle reliever role. Patton has battle back from Tommy John surgery in 2008 putting up good numbers in AA but had up and down starts in AAA. Sarfate put average to nightmarish numbers in two seasons while Costanzo still in the minors. Astros won this trade for now but there two potential Orioles' x-factors out of this trade. Luke Scott, if he were to play entire this season would likely hit 30 HRs, 80-90 RBIs. Let's see how next season goes if he remains in Baltimore. The other x-factor is Troy Patton. If he remains with the Orioles organization, work out on his pitching and put up respectable numbers in AAA he could get a good look in a call up next season. He is still highly touted pitcher at this time. More on Tejada in later posts.

Trade: Chris Burke, Chad Qualls, and Juan Gutierrez
To: Arizona Diamondbacks
For: Jose Valverde
Winner: Astros, just barely

In need to replace Brad Lidge they went for Jose Valverde without costing few more players especially two much needed pitchers. While Valverde notched 44 saves in his first season, Chad Qualls was decent in his reliever role and end up being the team's closer by end of the season. He continued on as closer this season til a freak injury sent on the DL. This where Juan Gutierrez comes in. With Qualls out, he stepped in the closer role and did fairly well going 8-for-8 in save opportunities just giving up one earned run. Astros has the slight edge on this trade but the key player in this trade is Gutierrez. He's been ranked in top 10 Astros prospect for three straight years (8, 5, 4). There's a chance Diamondbacks win out of the trade if Gutierrez becomes the team everyday closer from now to a few years. Astros should have kept and build him as the team's future closer, but instead went for a "name" player.

Trade: Matt Cusick
To: New York Yankees
For: LaTroy Hawkins
Winner: Houston Astros

They won this one because Cusick has yet made it to the majors while Hawkins been a good reliever and closer when Jose Valverde was on the DL. There's a possibility Hawkins is next year's team closer.

When you look through the trades Astros made most of it looked good paper but at the end it became a disaster in the results column. The trades for Aubrey Huff, Ty Wigginton, and Jason Jennings didn't net the team a playoff berth. Only Wigginton been with the team the longest at one and half season. Then there who knew department. Ben Zobrist put up fair numbers in the minors at the time and wasn't anywhere as a prospect. Dan Wheeler just didn't put up the numbers in Houston while he did better elsewhere. Was Lidge suppose to be lights out in his first season? When players done a decent job going elsewhere it left you scratching your head. There was shipping the prospects off when they needed it. For years Astros had very questionable middle relief core. They could have used one of the minor league prospect starters and put in middle relief slowly building it up before getting a shot in the rotation later in the year or the next. Instead they ship them away for "name" players like it was trade one, get one or two free free offer. Imagine if Patton was in the rotation or Gutierrez was in the bullpen for the Astros with Buccholz, Hirsh, and Albers being servicable for few years. There was a time Astros had the one of top pitching prospects in the minor league system. Now they barely have a pitching prospect to be plug in the starting rotation next year. With Ed Wade as GM and Drayton McLane as owner it will not get better. Part 2 coming up soon.

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