The Pallilog

Astros increase their wow factor by dealing for Greinke

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

Zack Greinke, Houston Astro. Zack Greinke, Houston Astro! Imagine that the Texans had a General Manager capable of Jeff Luhnow's work quality. Or, just imagine that the Texans had a General Manager.

A la the Justin Verlander acquisition two years ago, Luhnow again struck like a cobra just before the trade deadline, dealing for the Diamondbacks' ace to give the Astros a Verlander-Gerrit Cole-Greinke 1-2-3 starting pitching punch that is unmatched in the Major Leagues. Add in Wade Miley and it's the best 1-2-3-4 punch.

The rest of the American League postseason contenders aren't going to cancel the rest of their seasons. Any of them can beat the Astros in a three out of five or four out of seven playoff series. It's simply how baseball works. But man has those other contenders' task gotten tougher.

The 1971 Orioles had four 20 game winners. And lost the World Series. For years the Atlanta Braves had a future Hall of Fame starting pitching trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. They won one World Series, and over their last seven seasons together, reached only one other World Series, and got swept in it. The 2010 Phillies had Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, then traded for Roy Oswalt from the Astros. They lost the National League Championship Series. The next year they added another stud in Cliff Lee, won 102 games, and lost in the Division Series.

Postseason baseball results aren't random but chance plays a role and the truly better team doesn't always win a series. The better team within a series wins a series. The job of a General Manager is to plausibly build a team with the best chance of competing to win it all. Luhnow has done that. Again.

Greinke is signed for two more seasons. So is Verlander. What about free agents-to be Cole and Miley? I wouldn't fret about them until after the season. But know that keeping both would have the Astros 2020 payroll ballooning toward 250 million dollars. Incredible.

When Jim Crane and his partners bought the Astros and gutted the payroll to about 25 mil, Crane said when the time was right the Astros would carry a payroll somewhere from fifth to tenth among the 30 franchises. He couldn't have walked the walk any straighter in support of the talk he talked. The Astros were top 10 in payroll last year, are again this year, and next season could wind up with the biggest payroll in all of Major League Baseball. Incredible.

The Astros acquired Greinke for his pitching talent, but every little positive piece makes for a better puzzle. Greinke is a five time Gold Glove winner. He's an excellent hitting pitcher. Good enough that if the Astros indeed reach their second World Series in three years it will make sense to slot Greinke to start in the National League park. So if the Astros meet the Dodgers with L.A. having homefield advantage, Greinke should go in game two and then in a possible game six. If the Astros have homefield, Greinke should go in game three, which then means the start in a decisive game seven.

Texans should make moves

Of course the Texans should be inquiring about a trade for holdout Washington left tackle Trent Williams. Until proven otherwise the Texans' offensive line still stinks. It does not excite that first round draft pick Tytus Howard seems to be slotted at left guard. That means incumbent Julie'n Davenport (regularly overmatched last season) or Matt Kalil (played zero football last season) at left tackle. Williams has his own question marks (two substance abuse suspensions, six games missed to injury in 2017, three in 2018) but the 31 year old would be a serious talent upgrade. If Washington decides its Williams impasse is unsalvageable, the Texans should negotiate from an offer of a third round pick for him. The Texans have salary cap space galore to take on Williams's roughly 11 million dollar contract for 2019. Next year he's due 12.75 million. Williams wants a new contract with a lot more guaranteed money. The Texans shouldn't go there. Watch the Patriots trade for him.

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon has asked for a trade. He's evidently upset the Chargers have offered him only 10 million dollars per year. Gordon is two years younger and certainly better than Lamar Miller. Both are in the final years of contracts. If you'd be willing to lavish millions upon Gordon, and willing to deal Miller and a 2nd round pick for him the Chargers would have to at least listen.

I'm sure the Texans' GM is kicking the tires on this stuff. Well…

Buzzer Beaters

1. In Astros' history, at the time of the deal the Randy Johnson trade still had the biggest WOW! factor. 2. It's still quite a WOW! to drop the Rockets getting Russell Westbrook to number two on the July Houston sports WOW-O-METER. 3. Greatest players ever traded (greatness at time traded): Bronze-Alex Rodriguez Silver-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Gold-Wayne Gretzky

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

Remember The Texans

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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