Where are they now: The ones that got away

In a little follow up to the last post, let’s take a quick look at three players, two who have turned into valuable ballplayers after leaving the organization and one who continued his excellence elsewhere. It is bound to happen with any team as no one is perfect. But it is hard not to think about what they might have done in an Astros’ uniform.

J.D. Martinez. 2011 was the beginning of the dark period of 100 loss seasons and really bad baseball in Houston. But during a two-week period, the Astros brought up three young players from AA to the majors to make their debut. Those were future superstar and MVP Jose Altuve, future utility man Jimmy Paredes and future superstar (for other people) OF J.D. Martinez. Martinez was drafted in the 20th round of the 2009 draft by the Astros and distinguished himself on a quick tear through the minors until his call-up on July 30, 2011.

He hit decently in his 2011 call-up (.274 BA/ .319 OBP/ .742 OPS) and then fell off in 2012 (.241 BA/ .311 OBP/ .685 OPS) and even more in 2013 (.250 BA/ .272 OBP/ .650 OPS). After the 2013 season, he totally rebuilt his swing, but only received 18 at bats to show anything in Spring Training (something that the organization admitted was a mistake after the fact). He was released towards the end of Spring Training in 2014, was picked up by the Tigers and suddenly became a force. In 3-1/2 seasons with Detroit he slashed .300 BA/ .361 OBP/ .912 OPS with 99 home runs and 285 RBIs. In 2017 he was traded as a 1/2 season rental to the D’Backs, tore things up there and then signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. He turned it up even more in Boston in 2018 and 2019 posting 43 HRs / 130 RBIs and 36 HRs / 105 RBIs. Like many other players, he had a rotten 2020, but the Red Sox are on the hook for 2 more years and $38+ MM through 2022, so they will have to hope he returns to his normal self.

There is a good chance the Astros would not have met market prices on Martinez in 2018, but they sure would have loved that big bat in the lineup between 2014 and 2017.

Charlie Morton. This may not have been as much a matter of the one who got away as the one who wanted to get away, but this one was tougher than the Martinez loss because the Astros were the organization who believed in Morton and turned him from a below-average journeyman to one of the best starters in the league. Morton was drafted in the 3rd round in the 2002 MLB draft by the Braves. He wobbled slowly up the minors until he had a strong 2007 showing in the Arizona Fall League, followed by a top-notch time in AAA in 2008 earned him a call-up.

He then was traded to the Pirates and had a mediocre 6-1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh going 41-62 with a 4.39 ERA. After a short injury-ridden stint with the Phillies, the Astros in a head-scratcher at the time signed him to 2 years/ $14 MM heading into the 2017 season. As it turned out, the Astros and Brent Strom rejuvenated his career and made him one of the best pitchers in the league. After a strong showing in the 2017 season, he wended his way into Astro fans’ hearts winning two Game 7’s during their World Series run. Morton was even better in 2018 as he went 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA and becoming an All Star.

We do not know how hard the Astros went after Morton when he became a free agent after 2018. It is known that if he did not return to Houston, he wanted to sign with one of the Florida teams close to his home. He did hook on with the Rays and was one of the three best starters in baseball in 2019. Oh what would a Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton triad have looked like, even if Zack Greinke was not brought in? He beat the Astros in one start in a losing effort in the playoffs for the Rays in 2019. He battled injury in the 2020 season, but his two wins against the Astros were a big factor in their elimination in the ALCS.

Morton stays close to home for 2021 as he signed a one year deal with Atlanta. Will this be it for the 37-year-old? Well, another playoff run with the Braves might convince him to stick around a little longer.

Josh Hader. It is a little tougher when a team “loses” a top player who never played at the major league level for them. The Orioles drafted Hader in the 19th round of the 2012 amateur draft. After a season and a half of good numbers at the low levels of the minor leagues, Hader was included with L.J. Hoes and the draft pick that would become Derek Fisher in a trade for the Astros Bud Norris.

Hader continued to rise in the Astros system, specifically catching fans eyes when he put up a 9-2 record with a 2.70 ERA at Lancaster which was like putting up a 1.00 ERA at that wind tunnel. He was one of the top left-handed arms in a system that lacked leftys. The Astros then packaged him in mid-2015 with Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana and Adrian Houser to Milwaukee for Mike Fiers (Spit!!) and Carlos Gomez. Ironically, David Stearns was in the Astros front office when the trade occurred and took over as Brewers GM two months later.

Hader debuted with the Brewers in 2017 and was soon one of the best relievers in the majors, becoming an All Star in 2018 and 2019 and leading the NL in saves in 2020.

The Astros, who have had some bullpen needs especially from the left side, could have had the last 3-1/2 years for a total of $6 MM. There is no doubt they could have used that production at that price, especially if it meant Mike (stool pigeon) Fiers had never pitched here.

So, how did these losses make you feel? Who else do you miss who have shined in other places?

29 comments on “Where are they now: The ones that got away

  1. I’d say the top one of those that got away was Hader. I think it would have been quite an addition for those 3 1/2 years. That trade has to be one of the worst trades we ever made. Despite what we all think about the stool pigeon, what the hell was management smoking bringing Carlos Gomez here. Not a good player and in my opinion an absolute jerk! Oh, and I still think should erect a statue in honor of Fiers so that the Pigeons can do what they do best all over it.

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  2. Ramon Laureano would have been great in RF the last 2 years.
    Unless you want to talk about Joe Morgan, Curt Schilling and Rusty Staub, I’m pretty well done.
    OMG, Johan Santana.
    That Larry Anderson trade was kinda weak.

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  3. In the defense of fairness I will point out that Hader gave up the late lead that allowed the Nats off the hook in the 2019 Wildcard on the way to our eventual defeat.

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  4. When Hader got to professional ball, he was used as a reliever in the low minors at the beginning and was very good. Then the Orioles decided he was so good they made him a starter before trading him to Houston.
    With the Astros, Hader became a tandem starter, pitching multiple innings as a starter and then multiple innings as a tandem reliever the next time out.
    When Hader got traded to the Brewers he was a starter in their upper minors, but they had a need for a reliever on the major league club and brought him up to relieve. He was so good that the next year he was the Brewers Closer and the rest is history. Looking back, the Astros were blind to Hader’s true calling as a reliever, blinded by their tandem starting system to a truly incredible closing talent.
    They traded Hader away, and then traded for Ken Giles. That was two lousy decisions.

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  5. I wonder how much the comments Hader made when Appel was promoted to Corpus factored into Luhnow’s decision to move him in that deal.

    Regarding JDM, you’ll probably recall I predicted he would have a down year offensively in 2020 back during Spring Training. He held up his end with a .680 OPS while looking quite similar to the hitter we saw in Houston. I also predicted Mookie Betts would suffer a decline. He got off to a slow start, but ended up with numbers about what you’d expect from him, so I whiffed on that one. But regarding JDM, we had an outfield squeeze that year with Luhnow bringing in Dexter Fowler so he could keep Springer in AAA longer and a group of very similar guys in Alex Presley, JDM, LJ Hoes, and Robbie Grossman. Domingo Santana also got a good look that spring training and looked like a possibility for down the line. If I recall, JDM had some leg woes including shin splints in 2013 and got himself in the doghouse with the front office. To be clear, I fully blame the front office for mismanagement of personnel.

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  6. Any thoughts on what I would call the Elvis Andrus and cash for Khris Davis trade?
    https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2021/02/rangers-to-acquire-khris-davis-from-as-for-elvis-andrus.html
    Yes there are a couple young catchers swapped and a kid pitcher who was drafted out of Oklahoma in 2020 also involved.
    Both Andrus and Davis are pretty expensive and both have struggled for a couple years and both are similar ages (32 and 33). The A’s needed a SS with Semien gone to the Jays. The Rangers wanted Davis to team up with Gallo as the two power hitters that give you power or nothing??
    I guess with Choo gone they needed another bat…

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    • They’re run by Jon Daniels. Nuff said. Shame because they have a very loyal, and well-to-do fanbase.

      The A’s are known for being pretty smart under Beane, but they drafted Kyler Murray with their *1st pick* how dumb was that? Even some blogger guy like myself wrote they should trade Treinen summer of 2018 (could have gotten an absolute haul). They didn’t even have the wherewithal to realize they didn’t have enough firepower, and those two simple moves could have made a big difference for them in ’19 and ’20 (even if Treinen’s injury wasn’t predictable).

      The Art of War, never get in the way of those who make mistakes. Let them go right ahead..

      As for Astros trades, win some lose some. Do the best you can, with what you have, where you’re at. I hated the Davis trade for its lack of return, but wow Alvarez Pressly and JV were all brilliant. Doing my best to keep perspective about a passtime. In the end they’re all kids, God love ’em and hope they can provide for their families in new uniforms — all the best! It’s nice to have Jim Crane who seems like he hires smart guys, and opens up his wallet to remain competitive.

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  7. If I were a betting man, I would bet that the Astros made an offer to Jackie Bradley Jr. two months ago for what they thought they could afford and that offer has remained on the table as he shopped around.
    It is getting late and the Astros do not have as much room on that luxury tax payroll as they used to have. But neither does anyone else.

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    • Joel Blanks on podcast was correct very early that Astros should bring Brantley back, and in the same interview he asked, “whose camp are the JBJ rumors coming from?” He said he thought theirs, and not Houston’s. Maybe we’ll never know, but I was never in favor of that move either. For me if teams themselves don’t make offers for their existing FA’s like NYM Marisnick and BOS Bradley, Jr. it speaks volumes. Likewise, Ozuna and Zimmerman get call backs from their respective teams, which tells me like Brantley and Maldonado, they always kept the line of communication open. I can imagine that conversation goes something like this from Click: “go test the market you deserve it, but promise me you’ll call us last to match or make a better offer. We can will wait (only signed AAAA, Siri in that interim), just not forever..”

      It’s pretty well worked out like I’d hoped! Straw gets first dibs, then McCormick, Souza, Siri, then perhaps Leon or De la Cruz by late-’21.

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  8. On that Rangers-A’s blockbuster. It appears one team dumped a 1971 Ford Pinto only to get a 1972 Chevy Vega. Right now it is hard to see how either team improved itself. Maybe there is a Hader-Santana for Gomez-Fiers in there.

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  9. I would be willing to bet the A’S will skip Fires turn everytime they play the Astros like they did last year….I’m not betting big money, but just a hunch.
    Yeah OP is right I was very unhappy when we let Hader go in that disastrous trade for Carlos (spit, spit) Gomez. But I remember Old Pro telling me Hader WANTED out of Houston, which I didn’t know. JDM was (still is) one of the biggest errors this club made. Luhnow didn’t even give him 2 weeks in Spring training before he cut him. A big mistake now….but hindsight is always 2020. It’s odd that after 3yrs Laurano STILL has a grudge against the Astros for trading him….that kid really needs to get help. I saw where the Rangers signed Folty, he pitched lights out for the Braves before he lost his spot in the rotation. Who knows we might be adding him to this list if he goes over there and becomes another Justin Verlander! Because my husband is a diehard football guy we watched the big game tonight. Tom Brady gave a perfect example that at age 43 he still has it, that should give Verlander haters proof age is just a number. I have a sneaky suspicion Crane will get Justin back for 2022….but that’s just me hoping that will happen!
    Always reading and I’m counting down the days to listen to Robert Ford and Steve Sparks calling Spring training games, so we can get a glimpse of how Alveraz has progressed and how our “baby pitchers” do! Yes…I saw the Springer interview, and yes it made me very sad, but I wish him all the luck with the Jays. I’ve got to stop falling in love with these guys and wanting to adopt all of them! Gonna be a beautiful week here in Houston this week, I hope to be able to take a drive to Galveston for lunch and see something other than this house and this dang chair I have to sit in! Ya’ll behave and Dan bring a sack lunch and go outside and enjoy some sunshine on your lunch hour! OP your story about your new calf brought back fond memories of my childhood when my sister and I used to go check on the new calf everyday, until one day it was gone😢 Never gave it another thought when we enjoyed T bone steaks on Sunday! Much love to all of you! Becky⚾

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  10. Another consequence of trading Hader is that maybe we don’t end up trading Teoscar Hernandez for Francisco Liriano. Teoscar looks like he will be a good player for awhile and Liriano did not do much for us.

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    • Yeah, that looks like another huge whiff (pun intended). I think the Astros were convinced that guys like Laureano, Teoscar, and Domingo Santana were not salvageable due to high K-rate. Clearly we needed to course correct after the years of Carlos Pena, Chris Carter, Brett Wallace, etc. Still, Teoscar put up really good numbers last year in the shortened season but still strikes out at an amazing pace. He’s one of those guys who brings enough skills to the table that I’d want to have during the inexpensive years and let someone else take him in the arbitration/free agency years.

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