Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jeff Luhnow: A Retrospective (Part 1)

Since Jeff Luhnow took over as the General Manager of the Houston Astros in December 2011, the team’s fortunes have undoubtedly improved. Grading trades isn’t as easy as “Which player ended up better?” You have to take into account team needs, money, service time, etc. And on top of that some players are flipped for other players later on, making the web even more tangled.

I’m going to do my best to quantify each of Luhnow’s major acquisitions. You may see things differently than I do. That is fine. You can write your own article.

December 8, 2011
Traded Marco Duarte to the Boston Red Sox. Received Marwin Gonzalez.

After picking Duarte from the Rockies’ Triple-A team, Luhnow flipped the reliever to Boston for Gonzalez – who the Red Sox had just taken from Miami in the Rule 5 draft. In 5 seasons with the Astros, Gonzalez has hit .253/.300/.387 while serving as a super utility player. Duarte never reached the majors.

Grade: A+

December 14, 2011
Traded Mark Melancon to the Boston Red Sox. Received Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

Melancon saved 20 games for a team that won just 56. He saw 71 games in relief and somehow managed to have the second highest win total on the squad (8). After a disappointing 2012 with Boston, Melancon came into his own with Pittsburg where the two-time All-Star has established himself as one of the top closers in the game. Melancon is in his last year of arbitration, meaning he would still be on the Astros had he not been traded.

Lowrie, who presumably owns timeshares in both Oakland and Houston after being bounced around like a hot potato, played two injury-ridden years in Houston with two pretty good full seasons for the A’s sandwiched in between. The potential was always there, Lowrie just couldn’t escape the injury bug for the Astros.

Speaking of injuries, Kyle Weiland. He appeared in three games for the Astros in 2012 and then was banished to Weiland Island when he couldn’t bounced back from a series of injuries.

Grade: D

April 8, 2012
Selected Justin Maxwell off waivers from the New York Yankees.

The toolsy outfielder played in 124 games for the 2012 Astros, slashing .229/.304/.460 with 18 home runs – good for an OPS+ of 104. He played solid defense at all three outfield positions and was worth 2.4 WAR.

Grade: A

May 26, 2012
Traded Justin Ruggiano to the Miami Marlins. Received Jobduan Morales.

After signing as a minor-league free agent in February, the 30-year old Ruggiano hit .325/.409/.581 for Triple-A Oklahoma City in 39 games before being flipped for Morales.

Morales, a catcher/first-baseman, hit .285/.344/.420 between two levels of A-ball that season but fell off quickly in subsequent years. He was released in 2015.

Ruggiano, meanwhile, hit .313/.374/.535 in 91 games in the Marlins outfield, good for a 2.4 WAR. He followed that career year with a disappointing 2013 campaign and has mostly been a quad-A player since.

Grade: C-

June 4, 2012 (Draft)

An unbelievably good draft. Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Nolan Fontana, Brady Rodgers, Rio Ruiz, Andrew Aplin, Brett Phillips, Preston Tucker and Tyler Heineman just to name a few.

Grade: A+

July 4, 2012
Traded Carlos Lee to the Miami Marlins. Received Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen.

The Astros were paying a 36-year-old Carlos Lee $18.5 million in 2012. Somehow Luhnow convinced another team to not only eat that contract, but also send a former first-round pick? Wizardry.

Dominguez never lived up to his 12th overall selection, but occupy third base in Houston for the better part of three years all the while not making $18.5 million. Rasmussen was 4-4 with a 4.80 ERA in Double-A before being traded.

Lee retired after hitting just 4 home runs in 81 games at first base for Miami.

Grade: A+

July 20, 2012
Traded David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon to the Toronto Blue Jays. Received Joe Musgrove, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski and Kevin Comer.

This is a big one.

Carpenter pitched all of 2.2 innings for the Blue Jays before being traded to the Red Sox along with manager John Farrell. That’s fun.

Happ, who reached free agency after the 2015 season, was essentially league-average in three seasons with Toronto. In 2015, he threw 63 spectacular innings over 11 starts with Pittsburg, which was enough for Toronto to sign him to a 3yr/$36MM contract this offseason.

Lyon threw 25 innings, posting a 2.88 ERA for Toronto before being granted Free Agency. He was out of baseball by 2014.

Cordero was a 37-year-old warm body to occupy the Astros bullpen. He gave up 11 runs in 5 innings.
Franscisco (Not Cordero) hit .247/.289/.365 in 90 plate appearnces before being non-tendered.

Perez, a 21-year-old catcher at the time, hit .318/.368/.409 for the remainder of the 2012 season at High-A Lancaster. At 22 he hit .271 between Double- and Triple-A and was hitting .259 as a 23-year-old in Triple-A when he was traded to the Angles.

Rollins rose quickly through the Astros system, pitching in A, AA, and AAA in 2013. He was selected by the Mariners in the 2015 Rule 5 draft before being suspended for performance enhancing drugs. He is currently at Triple-A with the Mariners.

Wojciechowski had a 3.32 ERA between Double- and Triple-A in 2013 but his performance has been largely disappointing each season since. He is currently at Triple-A Fresno with the Astros.

Drafted in the 1st round (57th overall) out of high school by the Blue Jays in 2011, Comer has not come close to warranting that draft slot. He has had an ERA north of 4 at each stop of the minor leagues. The 23-year-old in his fifth professional season is currently at High-A Lancaster.

The gem of this trade is Joe Musgrove. The 2015 Astros’ minor league pitcher of the year has showcased pinpoint control of his less-than-dominant stuff throughout the minors. Also out of high school and drafted 11 picks before Comer, Musgrove had a 1.88 ERA between three levels in 2015. After opening the 2016 season with a 0.34 ERA, the 23-year-old was promoted to Triple-A.

Musgrove has the potential to change this trade from “meh” to great. Let’s check back in a few years.

Grade: C+

July 21, 2012
Traded Brett Myers and cash to the Chicago White Sox. Received Matt Heidenreich and PTBNL Chris Devenski.

After signing a 3yr/$28MM deal with the Astros in 2011, Myers started 66 games over two seasons. Before the 2012 season, he was converted to be Houston’s closer in a move that magically changed him from the very definition of a replacement level pitcher to must-have closer. The White Sox got 34.2 innings out of Myers who would retire midway through the next season.

A former 4th-round pick, Heidenreich was beat up all throughout his minor league career, never getting above Double-A. He was released after the 2014 season.

Devenski, meanwhile, was a Double-A All-Star in 2015. As of now, he has just 33.1 innings pitched at the major league level but has shown flashes of being a solid rotation arm. Even if his arm fell off tomorrow, he has already provided the Astros with more value than the White Sox got out of Myers.

Grade: A

July 24, 2012
Traded Wandy Rodriguez to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owens.

From 2012-2014, the Pirates paid Rodriguez $36 million. He gave them exactly 0.0 WAR.
Cain had a 3.66 ERA in A-ball when he was traded for but never made it above Double-A with the Astros, who released him in 2014.

Owens gave up 5 runs in his only start with Houston in 2014. He last played for Colorado’s Triple-A affiliate in 2015.

Grossman hit .294/.418/.451 at High-A in 2011, good enough to be rated as the 76th best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2012 season. He reached the majors just one year later, playing in 63 games with the Astros in 2013. After batting .268 in that short stint, Grossman was given a full season of at-bats in 2014 but was largely disappointing, hitting .233/.337/.333. He was released after the 2015 season and is currently in the Cleveland organization.

So, none of the prospects really panned out, but the Astros also were off the hook for that large chunk of change coming Wandy’s way.

Grade: B+

July 29, 2012
Traded Chris Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss.

Drafted in 2006 by the Astros, Johnson impressed in his first real taste of the big leagues, posting a 121 OPS+ in 2010. The third baseman was hitting .279 when he was traded. Arizona got just 41 games out of Johnson before flipping him to Atlanta where he had a career year in 2013, hitting a heavily BABIP-inflated .321/.358/.457. The recently acquired Matt Dominguez took over for the departed Johnson in Houston.

Borchering was a 1st round pick (16th overall) in 2009 but never made it above Double-A. He was released by Houston in 2014.

Krauss was drafted one round later by Arizona and played in 119 games with the Astros, his average hovering around .200 the majority of the time. He is currently with the Mets Triple-A affiliate.

Grade: D

This is part one of a four part series. (Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4)