A big deal

Patrick Creighton: Luhnow does it again as Cole trade = Grand Theft Astros

Jeff Luhnow and the Astros pulled off a steal in the Gerrit Cole trade. LA TImes

“In Luhnow We Trust.”

It’s fair to say that with full confidence the way Patriots fans say it about Bill Belichick.  In his six-plus years as Astros GM, Jeff Luhnow rebuilt the farm system into one of baseball’s best, constructed a powerhouse MLB team that led the majors in runs scored and won the first World Series in franchise history.  

After pulling off the biggest deadline deal of the 2017 season .landing future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander after months of patiently waiting out the market (early in the season teams were demanding packages centered around 3B Alex Bregman, whom Luhnow refused to deal), Luhnow has struck again.

The Astros already have the best lineup in baseball.  They may now have the best rotation as well.

Luhnow swung a deal Saturday for Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, a top young pitcher who is only is only 27 years old and under team control while being arbitration eligible in 2019.  Cole just agreed Friday to a one year, $6.75M deal to avoid arbitration, an incredibly low number for a pitcher of Cole’s caliber.

In exchange for their new star pitcher, Luhnow managed to deal zero of his top prospects.

You read that right, zero.  

Luhnow traded 3B Colin Moran, RP Joe Musgrove, RP Michael Feliz and OF Jason Martin to acquire Cole, a 2015 All Star with a career record of 59-42 , a 3.50 career ERA and averages nearly a strikeout per inning.

Moran, 25, is a 3B with middling pop, limited range and no speed.  He doesn’t project to ever be a regular in Houston.  He’s certainly not overtaking budding superstar Alex Bregman anytime soon, and he’s not bumping Yuli Gurriel off 1B either.

Musgrove, 24, regressed in his first full season in the majors, struggling badly in the rotation before eventually being moved to the bullpen, where he found some success.  In 38 games, including 15 starts, Musgrove was 7-8 with a 4.77 ERA, while giving up a stunning 18 HRs in 109.1 IP.  The moves the Astros have made in both the rotation and the bullpen (Joe Smith, Hector Rondon) made Musgrove an expendable piece.

Feliz, who will be 25 in June, has struggled to find a place in the Astros bullpen.  He was 4-2 in 2017 with a 5.63 ERA.  He surrendered 53 hits (including 8 HRs) and 22 walks in only 48 IP last season.  Feliz has struggled to show any consistency in his 2+ years with the big club, displaying wipeout stuff but lacking control, and has been unreliable.

Martin is the youngest of the players in the deal, is 22 and finished last season at Double-A Corpus Christi.  In 2017, Martin slashed to a line of .273/.319/.483 in 300 AB with the Hooks, bashing 11 HR with 37 RBI.  He doesn’t project as a power hitter at the MLB level (approx. 15 Hr guy) but has shown some raw power.  He has good speed but needs to learn better basestealing technique (7/13 SB).  He will need to improve his defense in CF and learn better routes to balls to ever be a major league regular as he doesn’t project as a corner OF due to lack of power and below average arm.

For that quarter of non-top tier prospects, Luhnow landed a starter who finished fourth in the NL in the Cy Young voting in 2015, is in his prime, is inexpensive, and under control until 2020.  

The Astros projected starting rotation is now:

Justin Verlander

Dallas Keuchel

Gerrit Cole

Lance McCullers Jr.

Charlie Morton

That may very well be the best rotation in the majors.  It’s certainly the deepest.  Plus, should injuries arise, Brad Peacock (13-2, 3.00 ERA, 161K in 132 IP in 2017) and Collin McHugh (5-2, 3.55 ERA 62K in 63 IP in 2017) are ready to step in.  Not only is the starting five the deepest in MLB, they legitimately have the best two “in house guys” ready to step in.  

It’s a brilliant move by the GM who has shown he is willing to go for the gold but always pays the "iron price." Every other team in baseball is groaning today that the World Champs just got better.

This team is not only built to win in the regular season, it's built to dominate.  There’s also nothing to say that Luhnow is actually done improving the roster.  He just does it his way, patiently stalking and pouncing when the moment is right.

Grand Theft Astros.

This is why every Astros fan can say this loud and proud, “In Luhnow We Trust.”

Houston accused of more wrongdoing

New report of illegal sign-stealing puts Astros back under scrutiny

Jason Behnken / Getty Images

Back in 2017, the Houston Astros could be considered the darlings of the MLB. They helped pull a Harvey-ravaged city out of despair and into a celebration in a matter of months with the acquisition of Justin Verlander and subsequent World Series victory. The young team full of potential suddenly had the attention of not only fans but other MLB clubs and the league's front office.

On Tuesday, that attention reared itself yet again in a severely negative way, with the Athletic reporting (subscription required) that former-Astro Mike Fiers was alleging and confirming that his former team used illegal means to steal signs in their 2017 championship season. Fiers, along with three other anonymous sources with the team in 2017, claims that the team used cameras and other technology to monitor opposing catchers to relay signs to batters in real-time. The Astros have released the following statement:

"Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time."

While GM Jeff Luhnow had this to say:

Another negative blow to the team's reputation

This is not the first time the Astros have been under a microscope in recent years, the most recent being less than a month ago when assistant general manager Brandon Taubman taunted reporters in the Astros clubhouse following their ALCS series-clinching win. The Astros fumbled that event, coming out with a rebuttal against the reporter, which would eventually be retracted, and Taubman terminated from his employment.

Neither is this the first time the Astros have dealt with accusations of sign-stealing and other forms of cheating. In this year's ALCS, the Yankees complained about a "whistling" noise from Houston's dugout they believed to be a method of relaying pitches to batters at the plate. Also, in the 2018 postseason, the Astros found themselves under fire for having an employee taking photos of the opposing team's dugout.

It's just part of the game until it's not

Both pitch tipping and stealing signs are things that are nearly unavoidable in baseball. With the catcher having to relay a sign to the pitcher 60.5 feet away using his hands, the opposing team will inevitably try to decipher what's coming. The same is true of tipping, where if a pitcher has a tell before a specific pitch, that information will quickly spread through the dugout.

However, there is a line teams should not cross, and that comes by way of utilizing technology to aid further the ability to steal signs, and using that to give an immediate advantage to a batter amid an at-bat. The Astros are not the first team to be alleged of this type of grievance, as the Red Sox received a fine after utilizing a smartwatch to try and steal signs.

It's a widely known and accepted fact that teams will try anything within reason to get a leg up on their opponent. However, with technology ever improving both for organizations to use and be caught by, it's no surprise that this is becoming an issue that the MLB will have to deal with, and soon.

Ramifications could loom large

Will the Astros be found guilty and made an example of to deter other teams for trying similar tactics? It appears we will have to wait for the conclusion of this investigation to find out. While it may not be an indictment of the entire team, it will bring into question the integrity and character of many of the team.

Still, no matter the outcome, the report alone and continued negativity surrounding the Astros organization has made them villains of many, a role that many would not have expected this team to play if asked just two years ago.

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