While waiting for the Astros Front Office to make a move before the trade deadline, one’s mind wanders off to past moves that worked or failed.
Justin Verlander trade? Big Yes. Gerrit Cole? You bet. Picking up Tony Sipp, Will Harris and Colin McHugh for nothing? Great work. Trading for Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna? Very good so far…..and onward.
How about giving Jon Singleton that early multi-year contract? Oops. Sending 5 prospects including the former 1-1 draft pick for Ken Giles and a throw-in? Collapsed pretty quick. What about sending four youngsters including Josh Hader and Domingo Santana for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers? Ouch. Letting J.D. Martinez walk away? Oh, man….and onward.
But perhaps the worst move the Astros current front office has ever made was a non-move. That non-move was not wrapping pitcher Charlie Morton up with a nice 2 year / $30 million bow (that could have vested up to a 3 year / $45 million contract).
The Astros were facing a season, where Dallas Keuchel was going to be gone, Lance McCullers Jr was going to be unavailable and the team’s options were iffy. Having to replace three starters was a huge step over replacing two starters and brought lots of risks. They did go out and pick up Wade Miley, who has been really solid and they did install former starter McHugh in the rotation, where he floundered a bit and after a term on the IL moved to the bullpen. They also moved swingman Brad Peacock into the rotation where he was fine until he was hurt. Along with this, top prospect Forrest Whitley hit a physical and mental wall, Corbin Martin had Tommy John surgery and J.B. Bukauskas struggled at AA. Framber Valdez failed in his attempt at grabbing a rotation brass ring, Josh James has been succeeding at one and two inning stints in the bullpen and the only solid help has come in small samples from Rogelio Armenteros and Cy Sneed.
Meanwhile, Morton, who the Astros failed to even hand a Qualifying Offer has been simply one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. His 11 wins only trails the much luckier Lance Lynn in the AL. His 2.35 ERA (1st), 1.037 WHIP (5th), 0.7 HR/ 9 IP (Tied 1st), 11.2 K/9 IP (6th), his 2.79 FIP (1st – it measures effectiveness in preventing HRs, BBs, HBPs and causing Ks) are all top notch.
So why did the Astros not try to tie up Morton for two or three years? Well, he was 35 y.o., though Justin Verlander who they did extend is one year older. He did miss time in both 2017 and 2018 with injuries, though he did pitch very well for both seasons. Did Morton say he didn’t want to return – would only sign with Tampa Bay near his home? He never said it as an absolute.
Or was this a budget situation? Did they see bringing in Michael Brantley for about the same as Morton signed for as more of a sure thing due to their relative ages? According to Spotrac.com the Astros are currently within $6 million of the competitive tax limit. Did they not want to bust the budget? Is this affecting who they are chasing in a trade right now?
The odds are that the Astros thought that they had their rotation covered between Peacock, McHugh, Valdez, Cionel Perez, and James, with call-ups of Whitley, Martin or Bukauskas in their back pocket. They wanted to spend that money elsewhere.
Right now that looks like a mistake – their biggest mistake to date.