Astros return from road trip with a new look and a blueprint for the future. Onward.

Michael Bourn sat at his locker Saturday afternoon and chuckled as he watched everyone walk by him, or walk near him, or just look at him from across the room. They all wore the same expression, a mixture of curiosity and sympathy, with a touch of that frozen deer-in-the-headlights look. They had all heard the rumors and they all had the same question: was Bourn the next to go?

Having paid attention for weeks, Bourn knew he was on the trade block. After watching his teammate Hunter Pence depart the day before, he also understood the speculation would probably turn into reality, and that in all likelihood, he was headed out, possibly to Atlanta.

Dealing with trade speculation while trying to focus on playing baseball isn’t easy, but Bourn was actually grateful that the whispers were loud enough for him to hear. It gave him time to prepare himself emotionally for the change, a luxury he wasn’t afforded the first time he was traded. When he got the call in early November of 2007 that was dealt from the Phillies to the Astros, he was absolutely floored. He never saw it coming. And even though he was traded to Houston, his hometown, there was still plenty of anxiety involved.

The second time a player is traded is much, much easier. And this time, Bourn had time to prepare for it, even if he wasn’t positive where he’d be going, or when. But still, on Saturday, the eve of his departure from the Astros, he was wistful. In ’07, he wasn’t sure playing in the same city where he grew up and lived was a great idea. But over time, he grew to enjoy it very much, and even though the Astros are losing with alarming regularity this season, the thought  of leaving saddened him.

Going to a contender is exciting. Leaving what you know is scary.

_____________

The Astros received four players in the Bourn deal: outfielder Jordan Schafer, who is recovering from a fractured finger and should be ready to join the Astros in a couple of weeks, and three pitching prospects: left-hander Brett Oberholtzer and right-handers Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu.

The reaction to this trade ranged from muted approval to all-out crucification. One national writer said the Astros were going to be happy with the four players they received, all of whom were thought of highly in the Braves organization. Another writer wondered if Ed Wade was looking at the rankings of the Braves’ top 25 prospects upside down.

One thing just about everyone agreed on is that of the three prospects, Oberholtzer has the highest ceiling and the best chance for longevity in the big leagues. Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com’s Draft and prospect expert, broke it down this way:

* Clemens was ranked No. 8 on the Braves’ Top 10 at the time of the trade, an eighth-round pick out of junior college in 2008 who was in Double-A Mississippi’s rotation. A swingman in the past, Clemens has always impressed with his power stuff, though he hasn’t always been consistent with it.

A Southern League All-Star this season, Clemens was outstanding over the season’s first two months, posting a 2.08 ERA. He’s scuffled a bit lately, with ERAs of 6.85 in June and 4.81 in July, though he was still ninth in the Southern League in ERA for the season. He’s already surpassed his career high for innings pitched in a season, perhaps a reason he’s hit a bit of a wall.

Clemens, 23, can run his fastball up into the mid-90s, and the development of his breaking ball and changeup give him the weapons to be an effective starter. Most scouts see him as a No. 3 or 4 starter at the Major League level. If he doesn’t reach that level, the Astros know they can always move him back to the bullpen if needed.

* One talent evaluator felt Olberholtzer was the best player in this deal. The Braves selected the 22-year-old left-hander in the eighth round of the 2008 Draft from the junior college ranks as well. He was right behind Clemens in the Southern League with his 3.74 ERA.

Oberholtzer has the chance to have at least three average pitches at the big league level. He’ll throw his fastball in the 87- to 92-mph range, with a solid cutter and an above-average changeup. All of his stuff plays up because he has above average to plus control and command. He may not dominate, but he fits the profile of a “pitchability” lefty who can make a major contribution in the middle or back end of a rotation.

* Abreu, 26, has been around the block a time or two, but he’s still got the kind of power arm people covet in the bullpen. Originally signed in 2003 by the Kansas City Royals, he joined the Braves organization in 2010.

Abreu is all about arm strength. He’s got a plus fastball that has hit triple digits several times and he couples it with a good breaking ball. He misses plenty of bats, with a 10.9 K/9 ratio in his career (12.8 in 2011). Command has been an issue — he’s walked 5.4 per nine (5.1 this season) — and he has had some injuries in the past. He’s having the best season of his career now, and the Astros think he’ll be able to compete in the big league bullpen moving forward.

____________

I’ve been asked many times over the last two days about my opinion of the players the Astros received in the Pence and Bourn trades. I’ll repeat now what I said after Pence was dealt to the Phillies: I really do not know. That’s not a cop-out. I have never seen any of these players in person. I read the stats and the evaluations from observers who are a lot more well-versed on prospects than me. Judging from the scouting reports listed above, these players sound pretty promising. But we won’t know if they’re Major Leaguers for quite some time. For most, it’ll take a couple of years, at the very least.

All I can do is hope the Astros got enough and that the insiders who gave their stamp of approval are right and those who blasted the trades are wrong. Anyone who says they can say with 100 percent certainty how these players will pan out is lying. Were these good deals for the Astros? We’ll have those answers — someday. But not yet.

During his press conference in Houston on Sunday, Wade talked at great length about progressing the organization back to respectability, and keeping it there. Winning tomorrow is important, sure. But winning long-term — season after season after season — is a greater priority. The only way to sustain long-term success is to have a healthy Minor League system. If the organization made the right decisions in the last week with the trades of Jeff Keppinger, Pence and Bourn, the process to rebuild the system might take less time, and be a little less painful in the interim.

Random:

* Here’s something I didn’t know — according to one person “in the know,” the Astros may have had a trade in place for Bourn sometime during the 2007 season, but it was scrapped because Bourn got hurt. Wade had not taken over as general manager yet, so that means even before he arrived, the former Phillies up-and-comer was on the Astros’ radar.

* The most bizarre moment of Trade Deadline Day had to be when a few of us were in the Astros’ clubhouse Sunday morning, watching coverage on MLB Network. The baseball universe was abuzz with rumors that Wandy Rodriguez was a hot commodity, being pursued by a few teams, most notably (at 11:30 a.m.), the Yankees. As we watched Mitch Williams and friends speculate whether Wandy-to-the-Yankees would be a good deal, Wandy wandered in from the field, casually looked up at the television and then realized they were talking about him. “Oh no!” he said. Then he cracked up and walked away.

I would imagine for the players whose names keep coming up in trade rumors, this has to be a stressful time. Players try to block out as much as they can but they’re human, and their lives are potentially about to be completely uprooted, even if they are heading to a much better situation (professionally speaking). I’ve never seen Wandy looked even remotely stressed-out and Sunday was no exception. He watched a couple minutes of MLB Network, chuckled and went to the lunchroom to grab a sandwich. Good old Wandy.

* The roster shuffle continued after the Astros landed in Houston Sunday night, when Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace were optioned to Triple-A and Brian Bogusevic and Jimmy Paredes were called up. Bogusevic comes up from Triple-A and Paredes arrives from Double-A Corpus. Paredes will play third, and presumably, Carlos Lee will play first base full-time.

And so it begins. The youth movement is in full swing and the last two months of the season will be about letting the kids play and finding out if they can do exactly that. I can’t guarantee wins, but I can promise you this: it will not be boring. Onward.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Check out our witticsms on AstrosOneLiners

Questions? Email afooter@astros.com

 

20 Comments

I can’t wrap my head around all these changes. Jeez… I’m kind of happy I’m so busy with finals week in school or else I’d be really upset about all of this. I guess I’ll just hope for the best? Le sigh… Anyhow, as always, GO ASTROS!

“I’ve never seen Wandy looked even remotely stressed-out and Sunday was no
exception.”

What? You’ve never seen Wandy pitch??

Ed Wade has no clue how to form this team; bottom line is he is meeting financials/budget!! He must not know about baseball because trading off 2 young players for no namers, most popular players and could be considered veterans to this club has hurt the fans that pay for everyone’s paycheck!! We may still have Carlos Lee but for how long? If we can be stuck with him, why not allow Berkman to return? He’s willing to take the paycut so what’s the problem? Pride in the way? Apparently not for him!!!!

I am very upset and hurt about this ridiculous trade!!!

Keep in mind that trades are made for lots of different reasons. The fact is that the Astros aren’t going to be contenders for at least 3-4 years, maybe more. Pence and Bourn’s trade values will never be higher than they are now, and their salaries will only go up. With that in mind, the Astros needed to get the best price they could right now. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all (or even most) of the prospects they got will pan out. What it does mean is that they give their farm system some needed depth, create flexibility by getting their eventual salaries off of the future payroll, and give themselves a better pool of players from which to increase their chances of actually having star players at a reasonable price in 2-3 years (or at least have more bargaining chips from which to further increase their prospects).

Lee? Make no mistake that he’d be gone if any team was willing to take on his contract, and Berkman won’t return because there’s not a place on the team for him. Although he probably has a few All Star seasons ahead of him, he’s on the downhill side of his career. There’s no way he’ll still be the power he is now when the Astros are ready to contend. That and his certain contract requirements (with or without a pay cut) make him a poor fit for the Astros in the near future.

All of that to say that the moves they have made make sense. As Alyson wrote, there’s no way to tell how well the prospects from these trades will do. They look okay or even great on paper, but games aren’t played on paper. Let’s wait to to call any of these trades “ridiculous” until they’ve given us some proof one way or another. That will be at least 3 years from now, probably more.

And my guess is that Ed Wade is gone as soon as a) the sale of the team to Crane is finalized, and b) the season is over. I’ll be shocked if he’s still the GM by Halloween.

If the last two months about “letting the kids play”, then what does it mean that Johnson and Wallace were sent down? What’s the logic behind letting Brian Bogusevic and Jimmy Paredes play but not Wallace and Johnson? (This isn’t a critique, but an actual question.) Do they believe Johnson and Wallace have had a lot of experience this year, and they want to give Bogusevic and Paredes time adequate MLB playing time? I don’t see the logic.

Deep breath INDEED! This might have been the most stressful week you’ve spent
with the Astros! We all understand, and although we are heartbroken, it was time to
“see” who, and what we have. I’m NOT happy about the players Ed Wade got back for Bourn. Any OTHER GM, would have insisted on Mike Minor. But……we’re getting
used to getting hosed by other teams, as long as Ed Wade is making the trades.
Sending Wallace and Johnson to OKC is a good move. We hope they can work on their stuff, and get back with the big club soon! Brad Mills is not a baby sitter, and
these guys are either gonna make it, or they’re not. It won’t be the same without
Hunter and Michael, and we were blessed to have them. I’ll cheer them on, no matter WHAT team they are on, it hurt to see them traded. Tell Happ we think his last start was VERY good! NO WALKS!! Unfortunately the defence behind him
let him down. Thanks for all you do for us! Becky:)

I have loved the astros all my life, but i can not believe some of the trades that has taken place. They just don’t want to have a winning team, or they would not have traded their bust players. I think i am done with the astros. It makes me so very sad,because i love to watch baseball.

I see no strategy in all of this except, “Let’s see what they’ll give us for X & Y.” I’m okay with the trades in principle but see little return. Phillie players may look pretty good. Braves players look like one middle reliever and a bunch of nothing. I was disappointed that we couldn’t move Wandy. His contract stood in the way, so why did we give him so much? Did we think we were going to contend this year and had to lock him up? And C. Lee continues to be an albatross around our necks. After the trades, he’s probably 1/3 of the team payroll. And produces nothing. Although I feel like we should release him, I know they won’t. They’ll still have him at the deadline next year in the final year of his contract. Here’s hoping he is hitting well then and can be moved for a prospect.

He doesn’t produce nothing. I watch every single game and have seen effort in Carlos Lee that I’ve never seen in him before. Loss of power, yeah, but good hard effort. I saw him tag from 1st to 2nd on a deep fly to center. I saw him go from 1st to 3rd on a passed ball. This isn’t the Caballo of last year. He’s hustling. I’ve seen him make diving catches, he leads the league in assists (10) (I don’t care if teams test him, he passes). I won’t stand for negative talk against ole Carlos. I like him. I hope he stays.

I don’t think they’re saying, “Let’s see what they’ll give us…” Nothing that cavalier. Rather, they’re looking to get the most for those players whose trade value will never be higher. (Even if Pence and Bourn get significantly better, which is unlikely, they’ll also get older and more expensive, both lowering their trade value.) With the understanding that the Astros won’t contend for at least another 3-4 years, the strategy is 1) rebuild the farm system, 2) reduce the payroll (current and future) to increase flexibility down the road, 3) go younger with players that will be under control for a while and won’t explode the payroll prematurely in arbitration, and 4) take full advantage of the draft. The fact is that no one knows exactly how these specific prospects will play out, but that’s not the most important factor. Increasing the pool of prospects from which to build a farm system is what matters. We make a mistake if we look for the next Oswalt or Berkman in any of these prospect. Maybe one of them is, but even the Astros will admit that’s unlikely. The next 3-4 years may be tough to be an Astros fan, but watching the twists and turns off the field may prove to be almost as exciting as on the field.

Good post. I would only like to say that the past 3-4 years have been tough to be an Astros fan, as we were never really in contention since 2006. If it takes another 3-4 years that’s a 7-9 year dry spell. Apparently extreme patience is required.

Pence and Bourn… I had just gotten their autographs at Busch on Tuesday and was the happiest dude in the world. Now they’re gone =/…. At least I got Altuve too.

I keep hearing that the Astros minor league system is in a shambles and that is the reason for the fire sale. If that is true, and I have no reason to believe that its not, then how did it get that way? Who created that situation and why? And perhaps more importantly, will the organization learn not to let it happen again?

It largely happened when the Astros were trying to contend they a) traded a lot of prospects to get players like Beltran, Tejada, and Valverde, and b) lost some draft pick by signing high profile free agents like Pettitte. I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons (certain prospects succumbing to injury, draft picks not panning out, perhaps even old fashion poor scouting for all I know), but there are a lot of reasons why this has happened. I would hope the Astros have leaned from it, but with a new owner and probably a whole new front office, there’s no telling what lessons will be retained going forward.

Lest ye forget…Tim Poopoora, one of the worst GMs in franchise history who after one draft didn’t get a SINGLE draftee signed to a contract. How pathetic was that? Funny that not many years before that, we’d received an award for the best minor league system in baseball. I don’t know if the award is still there but at one time that aware was on display at Union Station. Still hard to believe that only 6 years ago we went to the World Series!!! What a turnaround….and not for the better.

However, I have confidence that we’re moving in the right direction. Hard as it is to understand right now, I think these trades were the right move.

We’ve been having this conversation on the board at AstrosDaily.com… think we’ve narrowed it down better than conventional wisdom. That is, the farm system’s hey-day was centered on its success in Venezuela. When Reiner left that operation, the pipeline dried up. Had that not happened, and had the organization continued to generate a good-to-very-good player every 1-2 years out of VZ, you probably would have 2-4 good-to-very-good players on the roster today, potentially making HOU a competitor in the woeful NL Central, but almost fer-sure, not bottoming out as they did this weekend.

One other crucial note that gets overlooked: This team has enjoyed one of the top 5 payrolls in the NL for much of Drayton’s tenure as owner, and if you look at the viable major leaguers this farm system has generated over the last 6 years or so… that list amounts to Ben Zobrist and Hunter Pence and not much else… meaning when you reduce the payroll by an aggregate $30 million as has happened over the last two seasons, that’s going to hurt, and hurt significantly. Even Wade-Haters have to admit that his hands were tied this off-season to an extent that made it almost impossible to head off this kind of outcome.

I believe what we have here are the “who-dat-stros”

Ed Wade is a wheeler dealer that just gets his kicks out of making the trades, He has no real concern about the Astros or the fans. After all these years Drayton and Wade have left a bad taste in our mouths. I have really been disgusted with Carlos in the past, but this year he has really stepped up the pace and is trying. In the past when we went with the kids we at least had a couple of mentors left to help out. We have been left with nothing this time. Wandy and Carlos watch out.

“I can’t guarantee wins, but I can promise you this: it will not be boring.”
Without our two best players, it’s very possible that our .324 team average will slip to .300 or lower by the end of the season. Is that anything that a normal person would enjoy watching? Maybe not boring, but “excruciating” comes to mind.
The team needs to have a major Public Relations blitz to placate a devastated fan base.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 254 other followers

%d bloggers like this: