I always admired Jeff Luhnow’s effort to completely tear down the Houston Astros. If you’re not contending, you should be rebuilding. And boy, did he rebuild.
Anybody of value was dealt and at the top of the depth chart were outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn and starting pitcher Roy Oswalt. Oswalt went first —to Philadelphia in 2010— followed by Pence and Bourn to Philly and Atlanta respectively in 2011.
From the three deals made with their biggest assets —albeit made by former GM Ed Wade and not Luhnow— the current Astros roster boasts none of the ten players acquired.
The rebuild that has taken place in Houston is one of the most talked about in baseball history...because of how low the team sank but most of all because it worked. Surprisingly, the Astros didn’t make the most of their main trade options, instead finding future members of their World Series contending roster in sweet, sweet bargains.
There were a few missteps along the way. A beneficial Jordan Lyles-for-Dexter Fowler swap with Colorado was canceled out when the Stros dealt Fowler to the Chicago Cubs for bat flip god Luis Valbuena.
Dealing Lance Berkman for Mark Melancon was a real get. Until they sent Melancon to Boston. Which did get them Jed Lowrie, who would be traded to Oakland for current rotation member Brad Peacock.
The curious J.A. Happ trade in 2012 returned Houston a whopping seven players. Joe Musgrove emerged from the crop but as it turns out, Happ has been one of the most under appreciated starting pitchers in baseball since the trade five years ago.
Two deals involving relievers with no future in Houston have become absolute steals for the Astros. A way, way under-the-radar 2013 trade deadline deal sending Jose Veras to the Detroit Tigers netted the club Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later, eventually identified as David Paulino.
Before an 80-game substance abuse suspension at the onset of July, Paulino had established himself as one of the organization’s best overall prospects and looked like he was grabbing a hold of a rotation spot at age 23.
Veteran Brett Myers gave the Astros some real quality outings as both a starter and reliever during the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons. As someone who lived in Houston at the time and had a front row ticket to these horrible games, Myers’ legitimate dedication to the sorrowed club resonated with the thousands in attendance and made his times on the mound very watchable.
His anticipated departure came in 2012. The White Sox added an arm to the roster for the small price of prospects Matt Heidenreich and Blair Walters. Of course, player to be named later Jedi Master Luhnow snuck in the inclusion of Chris Devenski, who has not only become a super-weapon out of the Astros bullpen, but one of the most valuable relievers in all of baseball.
These deals that only the hardcore fans even notice happen have shaped Houston’s roster. Truthfully, they missed the opportunity to add an impact player in the Oswalt, Pence and Bourn trades.
A few major leaguers have come from those trades. Jonathan Villar and Domingo Santana have both succeeded, just for the Milwaukee Brewers. Villar was swapped for Cy Sneed in 2015 and Santana was included in the package for Carlos Gomez that summer.
Another trade that really highlighted the fearlessness in Jeff Luhnow’s house-cleaning was the Bud Norris deal. It didn’t matter who you were. If there was a return out there that improved the future forecast, you were gone. Even if you were one of the lone bright spots in some dark times in southeast Texas.
The homegrown Norris, drafted in 2006’s 6th round, had surprised evaluators and developed into a legitimate starter. Predicted as a likely bullpen arm, Bud reached the majors in 2009 and broke out in 2011 with a 3.77 ERA in 31 starts across 186 innings.
At 26, he was one of the few players to potentially build around on the big league club after all of the trading. Not a frontline starter, but a building block on a team barren of such quality players.
He backtracked in 2012 and in 2013 he was on the trade market, with many teams interested. Eventually, Baltimore secured him for mid-level prospect L.J. Hoes, pitching prospect Josh Hader and a 2014 competitive balance pick.
Norris, expectedly, had become a capable back-of-the-rotation arm. If he had become more, the Astros could have really gotten a haul. But even with his value seemingly diminished, the team made out with a great trade.
Hader was regrettably included in the failed Carlos Gomez expenditure, but that 2014 competitive balance pick brought the team yet another top prospect turned MLB regular: Derek Fisher.
Fisher, the only player so far of the seven Competitive Balance Round A selections in 2014 to reach the majors, had a very good rookie season and adds yet another player to Houston’s mix of extremely deep talents.
There have been countless trades discussed, more winners than losers, but this one is my favorite. The redemption of Jarred Cosart.
Cosart, who headlined the package received from the Phillies along with first baseman Jon Singleton, gave the Astros nothing but frustration. Until they found a taker in the Marlins to relieve them of his services.
It cost Houston promising utility man Enrique “Kiké” Hernandez, but they acquired future regular Jake Marisnick as well as Miami’s top prospect Colin Moran (oh, well) and A-ball pitcher Francis Martes. Martes, of course, is one of the best young arms in the game now. Meanwhile, Cosart gave the Marlins the same result as he did the Astros.
We’re not done with this one, either. The Marlins also included their 2015 compensation draft pick. The pick became Daz Cameron, whose salary demands saw him fall right into the Astros lap. Cameron would be used to acquire Justin Verlander at the 2017 trade deadline, the latest in a long line of trades that has morphed the Houston Astros into a team capable of breaking a 55-year World Series drought.