Sunday Update: Thoughts on potential Astros’ trades

So, Morgan Ensberg has said he would quit if the Astros traded Brett Phillips, Preston Tucker and/or Domingo Santana for Cole Hamels. And not as a package, but just straight up.

Is the old third-sacker crazy? Maybe. My guess is Ensberg, who works as a roving instructor for the Astros’ farm system might just be a tad tied to these young players he’s obviously spent time grooming. So maybe Ensberg just doesn’t want to see some of his hard work go to another team.

But trading a handful of prospects for an ace — well, that’s what it takes these days. Heck, Houston’s been on the receiving end of those trades, trading middling young pitchers such as Mike Foltynewicz and Jarred Cosart for other teams’ prospects. So, this is obviously the price of doing business. And Hamels — in spite of his price tag — is a quality arm. Imagine a rotation of Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers Jr. plus whomever.

Memory Lane
It’s not like Houston hasn’t traded for an ace before. Remember the Randy Johnson deal? Great deal, right?


Well, I’d be Ensberg would say no. And, honestly, I kind of agree with him. Because, frankly, a deal like that flies in the face of the Luhnow Plan.

On July 31, 1998, the Astros picked up The Big Unit for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama. In 11 regular season starts, Johnson went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA. He posted a 4.3 WAR in those 11 starts. It was amazing. Unfortunately, in two post-season starts, despite his 1.93 ERA, Johnson picked up two losses against the Padres and never wore an Astros’ cap again.

Meanwhile, the Astros gave up two quality young arms, one of whom was an All-Star, and an All-Star shortstop. Meanwhile, Houston gave up players with a combined career WAR of about 69, with Seattle getting the benefit of about 43 WAR from the trio.

Seattle got 10 times the benefit that Houston did out of the deal. Sure, the Astros got Randy Johnson and had a chance to go all the way. But that chance evaporated with Kevin Brown‘s slider, and Houston mortgaged the future for a witch with some magic beans. Imagine those early 2000s teams with Guillen at short. What would the 2004 Astros — or the 2005 Astros! — have done with a shortstop of his offensive caliber? Or with Garcia in the rotation.

The Astros traded one chance in 1998 for two chances — 2004 and 2005, if not more — to get Johnson.

Different, But Not Different

So, Hamels is a bit different. He’s already signed through 2018, so Houston would get at least three full seasons (he’s got a team option in 2019) of Hamels if they got him in a trade. Not worrying about the money because Philly would probably pay part of his salary — plus, it’s only money — Hamels is probably worth about 4.5-5.5 WAR a year, That’s about what he averages through his career. He’s 31 now, so hopefully his production will hold through his age 34 season. To Get, You Must Give

In total, with the half season they’d get him for 2015, the Astros would get about 19 WAR out of Hamels. Maybe 24 WAR if they pick up that option year.

But what’s the cost? In 24 games, Tucker has picked up about a half WAR. Over a season, that’d be maybe 3 WAR. Add in Santana or maybe Phillips. I’m guessing one is probably worth what Tucker might be worth. Murphy’s Law what it is, I’m sure we’d give up the two best WAR players for Hamels. Maybe add Chris Devenski or Josh Hader to the deal, and Houston’s probably out 6-8 WAR a year.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Cole Hamels is a quality pitcher. And, yes, to get talent, you have to give up talent. But Hamels is 31 right now. Devenski is probably the oldest of this bunch I’ve mentioned, and he’s 24. Buying Hamels would help the Astros into the near future. Maybe for 2017. But when I watch games right now, it’s the lack of guys with a solid hit tool that’s killing Houston.

The Astros are leaving guys on base. The strikeouts are killing scoring opportunities. Cole Hamels won’t help with that. But I’m betting in a couple of years Phillips will. Tucker will. I won’t even dignify the Phillies’ GM’s comments about getting Carlos Correa. That’s just insane.


1. Was the Randy Johnson deal worth it?

2. Is it worth pursuing Cole Hamels?

3. What would you give up for Hamels?

4. Is the window of the next three years — plus this year — worth it?




49 comments on “Sunday Update: Thoughts on potential Astros’ trades

  1. Hindsight is always 20/20 and if I knew the Astros were going to get eliminated in the 1st round by the Padres in 1998 I would not have approved of the Randy Johnson trade. However, that information was not provided to me. If you recall the Astros were lauded for only giving up 3 unknown prospects for RJ back in 1998 and that team is widely regarded as the best Astros team ever. You only get so many chances to win a World Series and if you have a team capable of doing it then, in my opinion, you go for it. There are never any guarantees in life, but I have no regrets over the Randy Johnson trade. Those final 2 months were exciting times in Houston and every Astros fan felt we had a shot to win the NL pennant going into the 1998 playoffs.


  2. Regarding Cole Hamels, as you pointed out, is a different situation than Randy Johnson as the team will have control of him for, at least, the next 3 seasons. I would consider a trade for Hamels, but it depends on what Philly wants in return. I hang up the phone if they are adamant on the inclusion of Carlos Correa. I also balk at any discussion involving Velasquez and McCullers. After that, I will listen on other players, but depending on how much of Hamels contract Philly is willing to absorb determines the prospects I include in any trade. Honestly, I think Boston panics and, eventually, includes Swihart in a trade, which will trump any offer the Astros will make. I am fine if we don’t get Hamels, but if we can get him for, let’s say, a package of Santana, Singleton and Hader then why not.


  3. 1. Yes. But with hindsight no. But we didn’t know we would get Clemens and Kent and Pettitte later.
    2. It’s always about the pitching. Once you have enough hitting. Still, we should wait. We don’t have the hitters of the calibre of Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman. Do you think we ever will again? Was 2004 or 2005 our best chance? Ever? So not yet, no.
    3. Nothing, therefore.
    4. No, therefore. We don’t have the hitting to go with it. So we wait. There will be other equally good or better pitchers along in 2017.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi,
    Long time reader, first time commenting here—although I did send a few things in when Chip was at the Chronicle.

    First, let me compliment the blog— you are simply outstanding. What a great way to begin my morning–and what a talented group of writers/participants!

    My main comments, below, will relate to Preston Tucker.

    But, very briefly, I grew up in NYC, was a Yankee fan, loved Bobby Shantz when he was a RP for the Yankees, and became a Colt 45/ Astros fan with Shantz’ first pitch for them. Saw the Colt 45’s/Astros at the Polo Grounds (Nottebart, Bruce, Farrell, etc.), Shea (I was there the day Hodges walked slowly out to LF, to take out Cleon Jones), Forbes Field (I’ve lived in Pittsburgh since 1969), Three Rivers, and PNC Park ( I was there when we were up 8-2 in the 9th, two outs, no one on base—and still LOST, when B. Giles hit a GS off Wagner). In short, I’ve seen more Astro losses than I care to remember. While I have never set foot in Houston, my older son and I have done ST for 11 consecutive years (he’s a Bucco fan, so we split the ST games), and now with a subscription to MLB, I haven’t missed a game this year.

    Now—about Tucker—and my (hopefully accurate) historical perspective. First, if memory serves me correctly, I think it is rare for the Astros to have a young, talented left handed hitter, who both hits lefties well and hits gap shots to the opposite field. What is not so unusual is for the Astros, historically, to underestimate left handed hitters and then to trade them prematurely (e.g., Staub, Morgan. Lofton). Each went on to a stellar career. To the best of my knowledge (& I am not looking this up), I can’t think of a single trade in which we’ve ACQUIRED a young left handed hitter who then went on to a stellar career with US. Have we? In fact, how many hard hitting, pure left handed hitters (so, not Berkman) have we ever had, who are similar to Tucker? We tend, oftentimes, to acquire the “big” slugger, usually right handed (e.g., Lee May, Carlos Lee, Evan Gattis), but rarely the sort of player who I believe Preston Tucker is/will be. In addition, Tucker is a smart/aggressive base runner and an acceptable outfielder. I would not compare Singleton to Tucker as I see Singleton as more the slugger type, and a poor fielder. But, Tucker can make things happen in a variety of ways.

    Now—that might not be a sufficient reason to keep Tucker, if you can get a TOR guy (although personally I would NOT do so—meaning I would not trade him), but for whatever reason, my subjective sense is that if we do trade him, we will eventually lose out.
    Now—this may all be “bad” history, or superstition ( I am a psychologist), but I truly believe Tucker is an unusual player (who may struggle for a bit), but who will eventually be a real contributor down the road.


    • Welcome to the commenting side of things Roger. I do think you have a good point about Tucker being one of the few good young lefty hitters we have had who can hit leftys too. I don’t know – Rusty Staub?? We haven’t had that many great lefty hitters that I can think of.


    • I’ll echo Dan. Welcome to the comments section here at Chipalatta.

      I agree completely about Tucker. Scouts talk a lot about a player’s hit tool. Tucker has that. I’d rather have a team full of guys who make contact and drive to the gaps than whiffing sluggers. Tucker is the former. He harkens back to that prototypical Dome player like Jose Cruz or Terry Puhl in his prime.

      Looking at tomorrow’s draft, we will probably get a chance to grab Tucker’s little brother who, scouts say, is a better version of Preston.

      Draft and sign that boy, I say. And while you’re at it, send his parents on a romantic vacation and see if there’s another one in 19 years.


  5. All the typos. I feel like a Chron (spit!) writer.

    Tim, my biggest problem with the Johnson deal is there was no deal made with The Unit before the trade was done. No extension-in-principle with his agent.

    In 98, the Astros won over 100 games, and he signed with a team that had won 66 in 1998. We should have been able to keep him, and it should have been in place before that trade was made.


  6. I have to echo some comments above. To give up a bunch of out future young stars to add Hamels ( spit for me), think he is a chump, to a team who has to many holes in the lineup is pre- mature. I think Fausto, Obie, Peacock, Buchanan , are all good guys, all a waste of time. WE need another 1-3 like right now, but Hamel’s I pass. We need a couple bats almost worse. I still would like Kazmir better for the right deal, or just Bring up VV or Feliz for some seasoning

    Pumped for the draft a SS and Tucker Jr.


  7. I keep vacillating on whether the team should pull a big trade for pitching. Unfortunately I feel like I want to see what we are giving up before giving the go-ahead. And that is cheating I know.
    I think if we gave up Carter, Appel and Santana I would be OK with that – but the Phillies would not want Carter because they have an albatross 1B and I don’t want that 1B back. And they already traded away Santana to the Astros – so I don’t think that is happening.
    Maybe they will make a lesser trade for a lesser pitcher – but would that be any better than handing one of the young guys (Feliz or Velasquez) the ball and saying – show us what you are make of.
    It is tough because deep in my mind I feel like this team will slowly sink back towards .500 and the trade might not even get them in the playoffs.


    • I don’t really see that trading for a lesser pitcher helps us long term over bringing up our young guys. I want somebody under team control for several years that has playoff experience; even if we don’t make it this year we will surely need that experience next year and beyond. Hamels is cheaper than any free agents will be in the off season in terms of salary. My only hesitation about Hamels is he is a NL guy.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nearly everyone appears anxious to make a trade for a TOR, but other than bailing Ruben Amaro’s dumb butt out of trouble, how does this improve a team whose major problem is it can’t hit a lick? With two, and possibly three, genuine starters and a variety pack of wannabees at four and five the Astros to day are 23rd in runs allowed, eleventh in strikeouts, seventh in ERA, and number one in WHIP in the major leagues!

    Meanwhile, our position players seem to be confused as to the purpose of that piece of wood in their hands … it is not a fan, guys. Our stalwarts are 28th in batting average, 26th in hits, 25th in OBP, and tied for eleventh in runs scored.

    I’m tired of hearing we need more pitching … bring up the young sticks and sent those currently on the 40-man with options to AAA for remedial training in the use of a piece of wood in a baseball game.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m not going to try to change anyone’s mind. Some of our prospects will flame out. Some will be major leaguers. Many of us have a few we feel are destined to be on a Hall of Fame ballot someday. Will Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama get 5% of the votes cumulatively in any of their years on the ballot? The Randy Johnson trade was a shot of adrenalin. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t sign to remain here. Carlos Beltran? We can all agree that was another shot of adrenalin that put us on the cusp of the World Series…and then devastated us when he went to the NYM following a failed bidding war instigated by his agent. Cole Hamels? I don’t see the same result in 2015…but the years of control and price intrigue me. Depending on what we can send to Philly it makes a ton of sense. It’s a trade we don’t have to make…which should give Luhnow some leverage the closer we get to the deadline.

    Last thing – Tim, if Boston is in the mix for Hamels it almost makes my point that you swing that trade for 2016 and 2017. They aren’t going anywhere this year. Giving up their top prospects makes little sense unless it’s to fortify and prepare for next year. I’m actually hoping Houston makes a run at Clay Bucholtz. We’ll see what happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Terribly tough loss today. The Astros got hurt on a play I’ve never seen before in 50 years of watching baseball. Man on 2nd and the batter pops one up right by 2nd base. Altuve calls it but backs away and Villar drops the popup as he tries to go through the runner for the ball.
    Instead of man on 2nd and two outs you have men on 1st and 2nd and one out and after a double steal a single ends the game.


  11. That was an absolute bitter loss today. Part of the blame goes to Gregerson, but our golden boy, Altuve, gets a big part of that loss. He absolutely has to call off Villar on that pop up in the 9th inning. That was a big play and hurt this team. Not to mention he was 0-5 at the plate. It’s official, we have hit our first, prolonged slump of the season.


  12. No excuse for them to lose this game
    Now..we will see how they react to losing. Too bad we should have won this game. Period.


  13. All these comments about the team not being ready for Hamels….

    Every team in this league has holes. This isn’t the NL with solid teams in LA and St. Louis to fight. This is the AL, where every team doesn’t have 5 dependable starters, 8 reliable, every day players and good BP. This division, and this league, is winnable. If we were in a division with the Dodgers or the Cardinals and were up by 3 games on them, I wouldn’t move minor leaguers to get Hamels. We aren’t, we are competing with Angels and Mariners, and maybe Rangers, all with as many holes as us. Go for it.

    The only untouchables are Velasquez and Correa. After that, try some quantity over quality, if they want quality keep the number of quality really low.

    Also keep Tucker out of the discussion. He is too good a fit for this what this offense needs. Ditto McCullers, keep the conversation about minor leaguers. If it’s not good enough for Philly, thank them for participating, and move on.

    Phillips, Santana, and Hader sounds like the right deal. I am not sure Philly will want more though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you. It isn’t like Hamels is just for this season. He will be in the rotation for several more years. If Philly would accept the offer you mentioned I would pull the trigger if I was Luhnow. Even if we miss the playoffs this year it is clear we are back to being a competitive team and should be challenging in the division for the foreseeable future. Having Hamels and Keuchel anchoring the rotation should also make us more palatable to free agents wanting to sign here. I am baffled why so many just don’t even want him. We have a load of prospects and 3 of the top picks tomorrow. We have an abundance of contact hitters in the farm system so parting with a few won’t derail the rebuild.


  14. By the way, can anyone explain how the official scorer in Toronto gave Bautista a hit on that popup in the 9th? That is inexplicable to me.


    • He tried to
      A. Give the error to Altuve for not taking charge with him having the best angle
      B. Give the error to the runner Reyes who had the best chance of catching it
      C. Give the error to Villar for being Villar
      D. Give the error to Luhnow for not providing Hinch with a professional backup SS
      E. Give the error to Hinch for ever letting Villar near SS
      And in the end he threw up his hands and helped up the hometown heroes batting average

      Liked by 1 person

    • Recall last year that David Ortiz appealed a similar play scored an error during the game. He won the appeal. To be short, home team scorekeeper awards hits to the home team on anything possible if they want to keep their job.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I am going to give Altuve a 1/2 pass. After getting run over by Paredes, He was thinking “Oh my God, Jimmy II is on Short. I better get out of the way.” Seriously, Villar has to get out of the way. That was never his ball to chase. In the replay, you can see Altuve calling for the ball initially. Tough game to lose.


  16. If you can’t hit and still continue to make bonehead plays, Cy Young won’t make a difference on this team. Those numbers that Wallee alluded to 8, 11, 25, 26, 28 and a “bonus #” sounds like the losing numbers for Lottery. Maybe we should play them next week. On second thought, save your money. Just like save your players and see what happens.
    Our expectations were to be a .500 team this year and maybe get into the playoffs. We still have a good chance, but not at the risk of throwing away the future for a quick fix w/o having several crucial pieces here. We all know what those are so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
    I was following the game on game day and I felt that when I saw the lead off dbl and then the single that the outcome was in doubt. I wish I had been wrong, but there have not been a lot of positives lately. These guys need an attitude adjustment or something.


  17. I’d be okay with losing Santana. Throw Conger in too and bring up Heineman. I’d try to get a SS, though, and when Lowrie comes back, maybe flip that new SS for a pitcher. I dunno. Something’s gotta change soon.


  18. Happy for you, Carlos. May you Live Long and Prosper. Wear the Orange and Blue proudly, and do it – and yourself – proud.


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