Astros win...

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Astros win...

Postby T15D23 » Thu Aug 01, 2019 6:34 pm

10 thoughts on the Zack Greinke blockbuster and the rest of the Astros’ trade deadline haul
Jake Kaplan


CLEVELAND — Ten thoughts on the haul of players the Astros acquired before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. CT trade deadline, beginning with the stunning, late-to-develop blockbuster for six-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.

1. The addition of Greinke gives the Astros the best four-man postseason rotation in baseball, pitching behind the run support of arguably the best lineup in baseball.

In Justin Verlander (2.73, fourth), Greinke (2.90, ninth), Gerrit Cole (2.94, tied for 10th) and Wade Miley (3.06, 14th), they have four starters who ranked in the top 14 in ERA among qualified starters entering Wednesday night’s games. Verlander (0.81, first), Greinke (0.95, third) and Cole (1.00, fifth) also each rank in the top five in WHIP while Miley (1.12, 16th) isn’t too far behind.

Greinke also offers more diversity in pitching styles, as Verlander and Cole are both power pitchers who throw the same four pitches — a riding, four-seam fastball, a power slider, a curveball and a changeup. Greinke doesn’t throw as hard as he once did — his four-seam fastball now averages 90 mph — but is, as Cole described him Wednesday, “a master craftsman” because of his command and how he mixes his pitches. Miley is the lone lefty of the group, a softer-tossing crafty pitcher in his own right.

“I’ve gotten a chance to know Zack personally over the years, and I think he’s just a wonderful human being,” Cole said. “As a pitcher, I’ve watched him and try to learn from him every opportunity that I can. I think he’s a Hall of Famer, and I think he’s one of the best pitchers of our generation.”

Cole has never previously played with Greinke — of the current Astros, only Martín Maldonado has, with the 2012 Brewers — but got to know him at the 2015 All-Star Game, when both were in the National League. They’ve also spoken on occasion in the outfield during batting practice before regular-season games over the years. When Cole and his wife, Amy, went to Florence, Italy, last offseason, they spent a few days with Greinke and his wife, Emily, who happened to be vacationing there at the same time.

“Watching Zack transition from being a traditional power pitcher to what he is now and performing at the same level, it doesn’t happen very often. It’s a generational-type thing,” Cole said. “So, having his insight into why he chooses certain pitches or how he goes about things is going to be really great experience for all of us to draw from. And vice versa, I think we can offer him some really great insight on how we’re approaching things. I know he’s a really team-oriented guy, and he’s going to really mesh well with this group.”

2. The trade with the Diamondbacks sets up the Astros to have a 1-2-3 punch of Verlander, Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Brad Peacock and the just-acquired Aaron Sanchez are under team control through the 2020 season, and top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley could be ready to contribute as soon as next year. Jose Urquidy, Josh James and Framber Valdez are also candidates to start in 2020. And of course, there could be more acquisitions in the offseason.

But given the salary the Astros absorbed in acquiring Greinke — according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, they will pay $53 million of the $77 million Greinke is owed through the 2021 season — this latest big investment would seem to significantly diminish the odds they re-sign Cole, who will garner a massive contract. Between Verlander, who will make $66 million over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and Greinke, the Astros already have a ton of money allocated to their rotation.

Because of the salary component, Astros owner Jim Crane was a driving force behind the Greinke trade. General manager Jeff Luhnow said the Astros didn’t even contact the Diamondbacks until really the last 48 hours before the deadline.

“It was Jim’s collaboration and desire to see another championship in Houston that motivated us to get in touch with Arizona,” Luhnow said. “There are a lot of details to work through when you’re going through a deal like this, but we couldn’t do it without the full support of Jim and our ownership group, and he was there for us and supportive.”

The Astros and Diamondbacks didn’t agree on the prospect package going to Arizona (right-handers Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas, first baseman Seth Beer and super-utility man Josh Rojas) until only a half-hour or so remained before the deadline. After medical information of the players was exchanged and MLB offered its approval, the deal was executed with only a couple minutes to spare.

“A little reminiscent of the (Verlander) deal,” Luhnow said.

Two of the Astros’ other three trades on Wednesday — flipping Derek Fisher to the Blue Jays for Sanchez, reliever Joe Biagini and minor-league outfielder Cal Stevenson and moving Max Stassi to the Angels for minor-league outfielders Rainier Rivas and Raider Uceta — were finalized in the final hour, as well. The relatively straightforward Tony Kemp-Maldonado swap with the Cubs was their only deal completed earlier in the day.

Luhnow, assistant GM Brandon Taubman and special assistant Kevin Goldstein led the Astros’ trade-deadline efforts back in Houston while providing updates to manager A.J. Hinch in Cleveland throughout the day. Matt Hogan and Will Sharp, who help comprise the team’s Houston-based pro scouting analysis group, were key figures behind the scenes.

3. Though pitching coach Brent Strom and the Astros are known for improving pitchers, in part by tweaking their pitch usage, don’t expect anything close to an overhaul of the 35-year-old Greinke. In his case, the message from the team will probably more closely resemble this: “Keep doing what you’ve been doing.”

Sanchez, on the other hand, has a lot of work ahead. The 27-year-old right-hander has electric stuff, and in 2016 he translated it to an All-Star campaign and an ERA title for the Blue Jays. But injuries, mainly a blister issue, and control issues have plagued him in the years since. His 6.07 ERA and 1.69 WHIP this season are both the worst among all qualified major-league starters.

As of Wednesday in the late afternoon, the Astros hadn’t yet decided whether Sanchez would be a starter or a reliever the rest of the regular season. Although given their lack of rotation depth, it seems likely he will make at least some starts. If he pitches decently, he could be a part of their postseason bullpen. Even if Sanchez goes straight to the bullpen upon joining the team, the Astros’ hope is that he will be able to slide into their rotation next season.

4. Biagini, also in the deal with the Blue Jays, should immediately become a relatively prominent member of their bullpen as a middle reliever. The 29-year-old right-hander is under team control through the 2022 season, so his presence theoretically will help offset the potential losses of free agents Will Harris, Collin McHugh, Héctor Rondón and Joe Smith. Biagini has a 3.78 ERA in 50 innings this season.

Sanchez and Biagini will find familiar faces in the Astros’ clubhouse. They both played with Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith and Aledmys Díaz during their time with the Blue Jays, and Sanchez was teammates with Jake Marisnick in rookie ball in the Toronto system.

That the Astros landed two controllable major-league pitchers with upside for only Fisher came as a surprise, especially because Fisher will enter spring training next year having exhausted his minor-league options.

5. Come next trade deadline, we should probably just bank on at least one trade between the Astros and the Blue Jays.

Wednesday’s Fisher-Sanchez/Biagini deal marked the fourth consecutive deadline Luhnow and Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins have made trades. It was their fifth deal overall since Atkins’ hire in December 2015.

Aug. 1, 2016 — Scott Feldman for minor-league pitcher Lupe Chavez
July 31, 2017 — Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernández for Francisco Liriano
July 30, 2018 — Ken Giles, David Paulino and minor-league pitcher Hector Perez for Roberto Osuna
Nov. 17, 2018 — Trent Thornton for Aledmys Díaz
July 31, 2019 — Derek Fisher for Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini and Cal Stevenson

Luhnow laughed when asked Wednesday why the Astros and Blue Jays continue to match up so frequently.

“I think we like the Blue Jays’ players,” he said. “There’s no rhyme or reason why we’ve traded more with them than anybody else. But we have a really good rapport with the front office there. They’ve accumulated a lot of good players during their time. We like a lot of their players, and fortunately, they like a lot of our players. So, it’s just been a good match and hopefully it will continue.”

6. If the Astros weren’t willing to part with Kyle Tucker in this trade period, it stands to reason that they never will.

The 22-year-old Tucker is blocked through 2020 but also represents a potential franchise cornerstone for 2021 and beyond. All three of the Astros’ starting outfielders, George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick, and their top reserve, Marisnick, are in line to be free agents after the 2020 season.

Tucker has a .905 OPS in Triple A this season, which marks regression from the .989 OPS he had in the Pacific Coast League last season. And that is despite the spike in home runs this season in Triple A, where they are now using the major-league ball. Still, he’s a consensus top-20 overall industry prospect.

“I pretty much told everybody we spoke to this year that Tucker and (Forrest) Whitley were off-limits,” Luhnow said. “Obviously, there are exceptions to that potentially depending upon what’s coming back. But for the most part this trading season we kept them out of the discussion.”

As covered in this space on Monday, it is Luhnow’s MO not to trade top prospects. It worked out remarkably well in the case of Alex Bregman but terribly in the cases of Francis Martes and AJ Reed.

7. The Astros need Whitley to pan out more than ever after dealing their next-best pitching prospects, Martin and Bukauskas, in the Greinke trade. Parting with Beer also leaves them without an heir apparent at first base to Yuli Gurriel, who will be a free agent after the 2020 season. The pressure is on the team’s various departments to replenish the organization’s farm system through drafting and development.

8. Speaking of drafting and development, Rojas should be highlighted as a success story. He was the Astros’ 26th-round pick in 2017, out of the University of Hawaii, and developed into a legitimate prospect that enticed teams in trade negotiations. Before he was sent to the D-backs on Wednesday, he had a .987 OPS in 244 plate appearances in Triple A. He also plays every infield position plus both corner outfield spots.

9. Acquiring Greinke and Sanchez gives the Astros the option of rehabbing Peacock as a reliever rather than as a starter, meaning a quicker return. Peacock should factor into their postseason bullpen either way, so it would make sense for the team to let him settle into that role, especially since he’s coming off a shoulder issue. He could begin some sort of rehab assignment as soon as this weekend.

10. The Astros’ move to re-acquire Maldonado for the recently designated Kemp was made with an eye toward October. Maldonado’s cannon of a right arm neutralizes the opposition’s running game much more so than Robinson Chirinos would.

It will be interesting, then, to see how Hinch divvies the playing time between them. Chirinos is the far superior offensive player, but the Astros shouldn’t be lacking for offense. Maldonado, beloved by Houston’s pitchers in his half-season with the team last year, might provide more value than Chirinos in a postseason game because of the edge he provides defensively.

Maldonado started six of the Astros’ eight postseason games last year over Brian McCann and came in as a defensive replacement in one of the other two. He was undone in the ALCS against the Red Sox by a slew of passed balls, but much of the blame there can be ascribed to cross-ups in the wake of the mass sign-stealing paranoia that dominated that series.

This year’s Maldonado acquisition came at the expense of Stassi, who would’ve been designated for assignment and exposed to waivers if the Astros hadn’t found a trade partner on Wednesday. The Astros now sorely lack controllable catching depth. Chirinos and Maldonado will be free agents at season’s end, and Garrett Stubbs in Triple A is their only other catcher on the 40-man roster.
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