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?