Monday, January 19, 2015

Astros trade Dexter Fowler to Cubs

So the Astros were back at it again today, trading Dexter Fowler and his .375 OBP (and injury concerns) to the Cubs for pitcher Dan Straily and utility infielder Luis Valbuena.

Since we're Astros fans, and have been conditioned to think of the financial aspect first, let's take a look at that. Fowler, who was arbitration-eligible for the final time and would be a free agent at the end of the season, had asked for $10.8m. The Astros had offered $8.5m. Valbuena settled his arbitration case last Friday for $4.2m, So at the very minimum, the Astros saved themselves $4.3m in 2015.

What is Houston getting in return?

1. 26-year old RHP Dan Straily, a 2009 24th Round draft pick (think: Billy Beane's devil magic) traded to the Cubs last July in the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal. Straily was bonkers in the minors, striking out 11.2 batters/9inn in 2011. He made 27 starts for Oakland in 2013, allowing 132H/67ER with 124K:57BB in 152.1IP. In 2014, that number came down to 9.4, and he posted a 4.42 ERA/1.35 WHIP in 118IP between Triple-A Sacramento and Iowa.

He's young, yes. Those are some glittery minor-league numbers, yes. Last year was not good, yes.

2. 29-year old utility man Luis Valbuena. He has a career .229/.313/.374 slash line in the majors. Before you vomit blood, 2014 was his first season of getting more than 400 MLB plate appearances, and he hit .249/.341/.435 for the first >100 OPS+ season of his career. Valbuena hit 33 doubles and 16 homers with 113K:65BB in 547 PAs. So that's not bad, right? 124 of his games for the Cubs in 2014 were at 3B, so Matt Dominguez is officially on notice.

But let's take a wider-angle view of this and see what has happened over the last five days:
The Astros have traded Dexter Fowler, Mike Foltynewicz (who, I thought, was a lock for SP5 in 2015), Rio Ruiz, and Andrew Thurman for Evan Gattis, James Hoyt, Dan Straily, and Luis Valbuena.

Hey, those look like moves from a team ready to do some "competing" in 2015. Valbuena won't be a free agent until 2017, Gattis won't be a free agent until 2019, and Straily is under team control until 2020, so it's not as though the Astros went all Randy Johnson trade in the last week, because there isn't anywhere close to a Randy Johnson in these deals. But they have traded young, controllable assets for not-as-young, controllable MLB players. By "MLB players" I simply mean that they are players who have played in the Majors.

Three questions I currently have:
1) Is Straily an upgrade over Foltynewicz?
2) Is Gattis an upgrade over Fowler?
3) Is Colin Moran better than Rio Ruiz?

Because the Astros believe they have answered all of these questions with a Yes this week. It's impossible to evaluate now if the Astros won the trades, or won anything at all. It might only be when Rio Ruiz turns into the 2nd Coming of Chipper Jones in Atlanta before we know. But the Astros have done Some Things this week that make them better in 2015.