Seller Beware: A History Lesson From The Houston Astros

The MLB trade deadline is the great divider. With two months left in the season your team is either going to make a push for the playoffs or sell off veterans and look to the future. Even though a lot can change in two months of baseball, July 31 forces general managers to make these distinctions quickly, so as not to be left in the dust. Some fans even welcome their teams becoming “sellers” to bring in young talent for the next year and beyond. However “selling” is no easy task, so be careful what you wish for.

This year there were a lot of big names moved at the deadline, including Ryan Dempster, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. Yet no team traded away more vital pieces to their team than the lowly Houston Astros. If there was a player you could name on the Astros roster at the beginning of the season, he was certainly traded by July.

Brett Myers. Carlos Lee. Wandy Rodriguez. J.A. Happ. All gone (and not exactly household names to begin with).

Who did they get in return for these superstars (at least Astro-versions of superstars)? Your guess is as good as mine.

Yet the Astros really had no choice. As of today they are the worst team in baseball and are well on their way to 100 losses. Most of the players they traded were going to be free agents at the end of this year (or next) and likely leave for a team that will finish FEWER than 30 games out of first. I don’t blame them for making the deals they did, even if they now have very little talent left on their Major League team and not much more in their minor league system. The Astros are in big trouble for the next five years, but the problems started way before this season.

“At least I’ll be traded soon…”

The Astros’ issues started in 2009 when their big league team, coming off an 86 win season in ’08, did not live up to expectations. They were a .500 team coming into July 31 and held out hope by not moving anyone at the non-waiver deadline. As things continued to snowball, they traded Ivan Rodriguez in August for two players who have yet to reach the majors.

2010 is when the rebuilding went completely haywire (profanity excluded). That July, Astros fans saw three-time all-star Roy Oswalt dealt to Philadelphia for Jonathan Villar, J.A. Happ and Anthony Gose (who was quickly flipped for Brett Wallace). Villar, 21, has yet to reach the majors and is a career .256 hitter in the minors. Happ has been a disappointment and now at age 29 has been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, who want him to be a reliever. Wallace, 25, has yet to prove he is capable of consistently hitting at the major league level.

Two days later Houston traded Lance Berkman, the face of the organization, to the New York Yankees for Jimmy Paredes and Mark Melancon. Paredes, 23, is an “ambidextrous” gap hitter (code for not enough power) who may only project to be a backup infielder. Melancon had a good 2011 and was traded in the offseason to Boston for Jed Lowire, 28, and Kyle Weiland, 25. Lowrie’s hitting .253 this year as their starting shortstop and Weiland has been out since April 25 because of shoulder surgery, always a promising sign for young pitchers.

Then there was last year, when the ‘Stros traded Pence and Michael Bourn in deals that already have hints of disappointment. While four of their top 10 prospects, according to mlb.com, came directly from those two trades, all four players acquired for Bourn have had terrible 2012 seasons at both the major and minor league levels. Things aren’t looking great, but Astros fans maintain hope. Some will make the argument that there’s still talent in the players the Astros got back in these trades or the players they were later traded for.

You can keep telling yourself that, but let’s be honest. They are the worst team in baseball and, to make things worse, they entered this year with a very average minor league system, 18th according to Baseball America. The prospects they’ve added the last two years may be decent, but if you’re waiting on the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, don’t hold your breath. According to MLB.com they do not have a prospect in the top 30 (see link above).

So what’s the lesson to be learned from the Astros? Trade your established veterans at your own risk. If you don’t get quality in return, you’ll end up with a roster of nobodies whose best player is a 5-foot-5 slap hitting second baseman. Next year’s planned jersey change may make this team literally unwatchable.

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