The folks here at Chipalatta, both writers and readers, have been around the block a few times, some of us in horse-drawn carriages. We know that no World Series is ever won just because a team has made all the right moves along the way. We know that the Astros going out and trading for pitcher Zack Greinke (along with bringing back catcher Martin Maldonado and grabbing pitchers Joe Biagini and Aaron Sanchez) did not clinch a victory parade when they picked up the best pitcher to change teams at the deadline.
But what Jeff Luhnow and his front office crew did was what they have done for the last few years. They made moves to give the team their best chance to win it all.
The mega-trade that brought Justin Verlander to Houston at the waiver trade deadline ended up being the move that drove the team to its 2017 WS Championship. The moves to pick up relievers Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly near the 2018 deadline solidified a bullpen that was getting as unreliable as closer Ken Giles‘ personality. This led to a strong run that fell a few injuries and victories short of another World Series. And here in 2019? Well an objective source — mlbtraderumors.com — looked at all the contenders and near contenders and their needs a day before the deadline.
Rotation upgrade? A huge move for Greinke (10-4, 2.87) ERA, and the Sanchez move could be huge if the 26-year-old can re-find his 2016 15-2, 3.00 ERA self.
Bullpen upgrade? The descriptions of Joe Biagini sound like a repeat of Ryan Pressly from last year. Solid season, high spin rate kind of guy, who may just need a little Brent Strom magic to move up a step – like Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Colln McHugh, Pressly, and others have.
Backup catcher upgrade? A little league backstop might have been an upgrade over Max Stassi, but the Astros picked up a very good (forget last playoffs) defensive catcher, who is a step up over Max offensively (because he has a pulse) in Maldonado in exchange for Tony Kemp, who would have had to be released in a couple days anyways.
Lefty upgrade? OK, they didn’t do this, but the handedness has never entered the formula of this front office. They want hitters who can hit and pitchers who can get hitters out without regard for which hand they brush their teeth.
From everything we’ve seen and by almost any standard you want to judge, Luhnow was playing chess, while his competitors, especially the contending Twins, Yanks and Red Sox were playing checkers.
- He did not want to trade his top two prospects in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley and the two youngsters are still with the team today.
- All the headlines “leaking” out showed him chasing Robbie Ray and Marcus Stroman and Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard and Matthew Boyd and Zack Wheeler. You might have to go back a month or more to see a headline involving Greinke – but Greinke it was and probably Greinke was the target for a long time.
- He wanted a pitcher to bridge across an off-season where he may be losing Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley and Collin McHugh and he found someone who they can keep around for two extra seasons (just like Verlander).
- Sure it was costly as Luhnow included four prime prospects in the deal for one of the very best pitchers in baseball. But Seth Beer might be the next Yordan Alvarez so he might be blocked forever. Josh Rojas is good but totally blocked at his natural infield positions. Corbin Martin will be out through most of 2020 after his TJ surgery. J.B. Bukauskas has a lot of talent but is clocking in south of the 5.00 ERA.
- Luhnow somehow turned OF Derek Fisher, who has been inconsistent in his time in the majors and who also is blocked through at least 2020 into Biagini, Sanchez and young outfielder Cal Stevenson, who might not have a huge upside, but has been solid in the lower minors.
- Luhnow somehow was able to trade both Tyler White and Max Stassi for more than a bag of balls for goodness sake.
In some ways, the race for starting pitching assistance at the deadline seemed like some perverted version of Musical Chairs. You just hope to end up with a chair to sit on when the music stops. And the game has no rules. Suddenly with the Reds picking up Trevor Bauer and the Mets trading for Marcus Stroman two of the chairs were pulled out by two players that seemed to be bystanders. The Mets pull back Syndergaard and there is another chair missing. And when not enough is offered, it is found that chairs like Ray and Wheeler and Boyd may have been mirages all along.
But when the music stopped today, Jeff Luhnow was sitting in a chair that looked a whole lot more like a throne. One GM beat the others at the deadline and he calls Houston home.