To Trade Or Not?

added 07/28/2017 by Bob Hulsey

On the weekend that Jeff Bagwell is enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he also remains a cautionary tale for every general manager. Bagwell was smacking the ball around on the AA level for his beloved Red Sox organization yet he appeared to have a long wait ahead of him to get to the majors.

Boston already had Wade Boggs manning third base and a highly-respected prospect named Scott Cooper holding the hot corner in AAA. Bagwell had nowhere to go. Houston Astros G.M. Bill Wood had a deal in place to send reliever Larry Andersen to Boston before the August 31st trade deadline (the secondary one after the more famous July 31st deadline) and was pressing hard to get Cooper in return.

As time was running out, Wood finally agreed to accept Bagwell instead. The rest, as they say, is history. Bagwell tore up the 1991 spring training camp in Kissimmee but the Astros already had Ken Caminiti cemented at third base. So the coaches came to Bagwell with an offer - switch to first base and stay in the majors or continue as a third baseman and go down to AAA. Nobody said Jeff Bagwell is stupid.

For his part, Andersen is quick to remind people that Boston got exactly what they wanted from him that September. He was a reliable reliever with a stupefying slider that helped win the division for the Red Sox back in the days before baseball had wild cards.

Unlike the 1990 BoSox, the Astros aren't afraid of losing their division. They're afraid, correctly so, of being a quick out in the playoffs. Houston fans remember all too well the winningest team in franchise history, the 102-win 1998 squad, lost in a four-game playoff to Caminiti and the San Diego Padres. That regular season resume means very little come October.

Case in point is that the Astros, with a banged-up pitching rotation, wins 66% of their games yet still has no pitcher with 10 wins or more. The Astros rarely see a starter escape the sixth inning and the bullpen is showing the strain. In addition, offensive stars are now catching the injury bug as half of the "Core Four" (as Jeff Luhnow likes to call Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman) are on the disabled list.

The fan base is clamoring for Luhnow to make a trade and upgrade an already crowded rotation, but with who? Sonny Gray? Yu Darvish? Ervin Santana? Francisco Liriano? Johnny Cueto? None of them seem like sure bets the way Randy Johnson seemed to be back in 1998 when he was acquired from Seattle. Luhnow doesn't want to part with his best prospects anyway, which is naturally what the rest of GMs want to obtain.

Last year, the Astros stood pat at the trade deadline while the Rangers added Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran. The Rangers won the division and the Astros finished out of the money.

Fans don't want a replay of this and they don't care to see journeymen like Charlie Morton or Mike Fiers making a playoff start against the likes of David Price or Corey Kluber. They want someone with the cache of Johnson or Roger Clemens that could intimidate hitters as they were mowing them down.

Luhnow got his first general managership with the reputation of someone who can rebuild the farm system and make that the fulcrum to produce a winning franchise. On this, he's done quite well. But is he holding too tightly onto his future stars and robbing his present ones of the opportunity to bring the Astros their first World Championship?

It's been a very improbable year so we can't count out that the ploy ultimately works but veteran Houston baseball watchers would love to see the club add an ace-like starter to match with Dallas Keuchel come playoff time. That is, if one can be found that fits the budget.

The clock is ticking. Are the Astros "all in"?