Trade Deadline Arms Race

Houston Astros: 3 trade deadline scenarios

Jeff Luhnow has no shortage of potential moves at his fingertips. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Take a moment to rewind to 2012.  The Houston Astros were 33-53 heading into the All-Star Break.  They were 15.5 games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL Central crown, and first year General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s main concern was trading away team ace Wandy Rodriguez.

The Astros have changed ownership, leagues, and a whole lot of personnel since then, but Jeff Luhnow still remains.  For perspective, Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve are the only players who remain from that forgettable season. Following the first title in franchise history, Luhnow is looking to bolster a roster that looks potent enough to be the first MLB team to repeat as champions since the New York Yankees’ string of titles in the late 1990s.  What path might the Astros take in the coming weeks?

1)Trade for J.T. Realmuto

J.T. Realmuto is arguably the best catcher in baseball, and in my opinion, he is the best catcher in baseball.  Starting with traditional stats, Realmuto’s .317 batting average, 13 homers, and 44 RBI are first, tied-for-second, and third respectively amongst MLB catchers.  He looks just as good in the advanced stat category, where he boasts a 149 wRC+ and 3.5 WAR. Both numbers lead catchers leaguewide. Realmuto also has a reputation as a spectacular baserunner and good defensive catcher.  Oh, and he’s doing all of this playing for the lowly Miami Marlins. Imagine what he would do hitting between Carlos Correa and Josh Reddick instead of Brian Anderson and Justin Bour.

Realmuto won’t come cheap, as he won’t be a free agent until 2021.  The Marlins are in 2012 Astros rebuild mode, and they’ll be looking for the best return possible for their biggest fish.  The Astros have made it clear that Forrest Whitley and Kyle Tucker are off limits, but the farm system should still be deep enough to make a deal with Miami.  With Brian McCann on the shelf and likely on his way out of town at the end of the year, catcher is a need. Anybody have a problem dipping into the farm system to add the best catcher in baseball? No? How about having him until 2021? No again? Yeah, me neither.

2) Trade for a Reliever…but who?

Listen.  The Astros bullpen is spectacular.  The Houston Astros don't really need another reliever or a closer, but this is the era of the super-bullpen, and the Astros don't have a scary three-headed monster at the back of the bullpen like the present day Yankees or the 2015 world champion Kansas City Royals.

Raisel Iglesias, Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, and Brad Hand have all been tied to the Astros.  Iglesias is both the best and most likely option of those four. Iglesias is a failed-starter-turned-closer that’s in his second full season closing games, and in 2018 he has a 2.48 ERA with 18 saves over 37 games and 40 innings pitched.  In those 40 innings he has struck out 43 and walked 14, which translates to a 9.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. All respectable numbers.

However, not every statistic is glamorous.  Iglesias has a 4.05 FIP, indicating that he could be a bit lucky and face some regression.  Hitters have a .234 BABIP against him, which is considerably lower than its been over the rest of his career.  Could it mean he’s gotten better? Maybe. Could it mean he’s been a little lucky this year? Probably. I still wouldn’t have any complaints about adding an arm of his caliber to an already elite bullpen.

3) Stand Pat and Trust the Kids

Houston is 62-32, leads the AL West by 4.0 games, and is all but a lock for the postseason.  The team doesn’t have a clear hole, and a midseason acquisition isn’t a necessity. People have proposed trading for Jose Abreu or Mike Moustakas, which would likely lead to Yuli Gurriel playing left field, but young phenom Kyle Tucker is expected to be the every day left fielder now.  The Astros have even more depth in AAA, like A.J. Reed, Myles Straw, J.D. Davis, Garrett Stubbs and Yordan Alvarez. On the mound they have Rogelio Armenteros, Francis Martes, Riley Ferrell, and Cy Sneed. Just last week they called up top prospect Cionel Perez from AA, but sent him back to Corpus Christi before he ever made an appearance.  There’s no reason that if concerns arise that those prospects can’t plug the holes.

I bet Luhnow is enjoying his job a lot more in 2018 than he was in 2012.

 

Charlie Morton helped create a lasting memory. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

By the time this story is out it will be a fact; Charlie Morton will have signed with the Tampa Bay Rays ending his tenure as a Houston Astro.

Going into free agency this off season, it was hard not to expect changes to come, especially with so many high profile Astros up for free agency. I fully expect Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzales to be gone, but losing Good Ol Uncle Chuck was a little surprising.

All things considered, the Astros bringing back Morton seemed to make sense. Keuchel is due for a big pay day, and all signs point to that being with another team. Lance McCullers, of course, will miss the 2019 season to recover from his Tommy John procedure. With another year of Cole and Verlander, and a promotion to McHugh, it seemed like Morton would slide back into a solid rotation.

That, as we all know now, was not the case as CFM agreed to a two year, $30 million dollar contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.

……….

Maybe I'm a masochist, but I spent last night re-watching the 2017 World Series highlights, Game 7 to be specific. The Astros were in complete control, up 5-0 after the second. A platoon of McCullers, Peacock, Liriano, and Devenski got them through five. Morton entered the game in the bottom of the sixth. On his very first pitch, he gave up a base hit to Joc Pederson. He then proceeded to give up a walk to Foresythe and a single to Ethier, allowing the Dodgers to score their first run of the game, it was 5-1. After facing six batters in the sixth inning , Charlie reminded us why we added the F to his name as he retired the next nine batters in a row to win the game and the 2017 World Series.

Morton's post game interview with Buster Olney was as haunting, and prophetic, as it comes.

"All this (adversity) has made me a better person, a better ball player. I appreciate that as much as this ( winning the WS). This is the epitome of what you can do in this game. Look at us. This is crazy. To go from Fenway Park, to beat the Yankees and now the Dodgers. It's extraordinary. It hasn't sunk in but I'm so grateful for all these guys, for all the fans in Houston. I hope everybody enjoyed every second of this."

When the team who suffered through pitching ailments all of the postseason needed a stellar pitching performance the most, Morton delivered. When a city that needed something to believe in after a historical hurricane caused monumental damage, Charlie Morton did not falter. In a city where it's easier to find a reason why our teams won't succeed, Morton was not going to allow anything to take this moment away from him, away from us.

As iconic as Joe Bucks " ground ball to the right side could do it" call was, the moment in which McCann rushed a shocked Morton will live in my head forever. Finally, it was over. The Astros had their championship. Charlie Morton had his World Series win. Houston had its hero.

Growing up, my father had a plethora of stories about his favorite moments in sports. I have listened to more stories about Luis Hernandez than I care to ever have. It is funny looking back now because I will be doing the same thing to my eventual children. When it comes time for me to share why I love sports so much, it will be hard for me to not start with Charlie Morton's performance in the 2017 World Series.

Morton gave the best two years of his career to the Astros, and through that helped make this team a championship city again. He will, without a doubt go down as a hero in Houston sports. More importantly, to me at least, Morton will go down as a member of my favorite team of all time, the 2017 Astros.

Goodbye, my friend. Thanks for the memories that will last a life time.

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