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.”

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PROBABLE STARTERS

Thurs, Sept. 24 - HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33) vs. TEX: Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53)

Fri, Sept. 25 - HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78) vs. TEX: Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53)

Sat, Sept. 26 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87)

Sun, Sept. 27 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07)

STORYLINES

Season finale - The Astros will wrap up their regular season with their four game set in Arlington at the new Globe Life Field. Houston's magic number rests at two, as the Angels still have a puncher's chance. With Houston's miserable 8-20 road record, the postseason is anything but clinched.

Where's the offense? - The Astros offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few weeks, scoring more than three runs just twice in their last ten games. The bats really need to get going, especially if the team expects to do anything in the playoffs. George Springer has been the only reliable bat of late, with the performances of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and, most of all, Jose Altuve, leaving a lot to be desired.

Playoff seeding - If the playoffs started today, the Astros would face off with their division rivals in Oakland. There's an infinite number of possibilities over the next four games, but the Astros can see themselves finish anywhere from the fifth seed to out of the playoffs entirely. Any of Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Cleveland could be first round foes depending on how the cards fall.

PREDICTION

Lance Lynn has been one of the better pitchers in the game for a few years now, Kyle Cody is an intriguing young arm with good stuff, and Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson gave the Astros fits in Houston just last week. It isn't a recipe for success for Houston. The Astros win 1 of 4, which combined with the Angels and Mariners failing to take care of business, is enough to get Houston into the playoffs.

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