Friday, November 20, 2015

In between award ceremonies, the Astros get some work done

We interrupt the regularly scheduled Exit Music (For A Music) series to quickly acknowledge the flurry of transactions that occurred earlier today.  The Constable has beaten me to the punch, but I was wanting to write some thoughts about Jonathan Villar regardless, so I thought that I would plough on.  I didn't expect the ol' Constable to post anything today, because I thought he would still be dancing in joy about Jonathan Villar joining another organisation.  He has, after all, made his feelings about Villar known over the last few years, most recently dusting off the face-butt-plant image on June 8, right before Carlos Correa made his ML debut.

I feel differently about Villar to most people, however.  I always pulled for him to succeed, because I really enjoyed watching him play.  I was able to keep the memories of the freaky-good defensive plays that he made, and I managed to erase the memories of the muffed routine plays that he tended to blow.  He had periods at the plate when he looked like he was locked in, and in those periods, if you squinted, you could see 15 or 20 home-run power, an OBP of .330-.340, and 40-odd steals in a year.  All that from a young, controllable, switch-hitting shortstop who had some serious athletic potential in the field.

The miscues always seemed to come at the wrong time.  That awful play when he fell over Jose Reyes who was standing on second base - right before Correa's call up - was brutally unlucky, I thought.  Perhaps a superior defender would have found a way to make that play, but Villar muffed it, and the Astros lost the game a couple of pitches later.  But the good bits always seemed to be pretty good, too.  For a period of time in September, and when it seemed like the rest of the Astros offence was struggling, Villar had a hot run at the plate, managing a couple of big hits in key situations.  He contributed a solid .284/.339/.414 line in the Bigs in his 128 plate appearances this year, but his .381/.435/.619 line in 23 September and October plate appearances got me thinking that he might have a future with the Astros.  I get that he was trade bait, but I wondered whether the Astros might look to trade one of their other utility guys, and keep Villar for 2016.

Even the manner in which he was traded was a little disappointing.  I always thought that Villar would be winging his way to San Deigo, with perhaps Luis Valbuena and Mark Appel in exchange for Tyson Ross or something.  Or perhaps he would allow the Braves to trade Erik Aybar in a larger exchange for Freddie Freeman, again with a platoon of other minor leaguers.   I guess I expected more than a #26-rated Brewers prospect, a low velocity guy who "has fringe-average stuff" for example.  It's not that Cy Sneed is nothing (although he does sound like an olde-timey golfey-baseballing guy), but I personally valued Villar a little higher than the initially perceived return.

(As an aside, Cy Sneed has some serious major-league facial hair - the kind the Astros lost when they traded Daniel Mengden to the A's - and Sneed also had a serious breakout season across two A-ball levels in 2015.  So I absolutely accept that I am not in a position to judge the return, I just thought that if Villar was going to bring someone back, it would be more of a headlining trade that he would be involved in.)

And so there is the problem.  My perception of Jonathan Villar is distorted, as perceptions tend to be.  We are all human, after all, and we all have trouble putting biases to one side, and being objective.  To me, Villar also represented the Astros' rebuild - a toolsy player that could be given a chance to stake his ML claim - with a bit of underdog sprinkled in.  And I love me some underdog.

Anyhow, every fan has funny little biases and weird misperceptions that lead to player favouritism.  If you had a thing for Robbie Grossman, then this would have been an even worse day for you.  I kind of liked the idea of Luis Cruz as well, and I wondered whether he would be the lefty out of the 'pen next year.  Who wouldn't root for an undersized strikeout guy (although he wasn't much of a strikeout guy above AA) who didn't appear on many prospect lists??  But all three of these now ex-Stros have been removed from the 40-man, making way for the next group of prospects for us biased fans to salivate over, and form distorted biases and beliefs about.

Villar's departure may sting a little if he suddenly finds a way to minimise the silly mistakes, and consistently put together good at-bats.  Joining David Stearns and most of the rest of the Astros' boom-or-bust prospects in Milwaukee is probably not the worst career move, either.  But this has merely been a long-winded way of saying that I will miss him (or more accurately, his potential) even if most Astros fans don't.

Or as the Constable would say... good night, sweet prince.