Thursday, May 19, 2016

Jeff Luhnow: A Retrospective (Part 2)

This is the second part of an ongoing series where I do my best to recap and grade each of Jeff Luhnow's major decisions since taking over the Astros in December 2011. (part 1)

August 27, 2012
Sold Steve Pearce to the New York Yankees.

Pearce was selected off waivers in July of 2012 and played in just 21 games with the Astros. The utility player wore pinstripes for 12 games before being picked up off waivers by the Orioles. After a decent 2013, Pearce broke out in 2014, hitting .293/.373/.556 while playing excellent defense on route to a 5.9 WAR in just 102 games. He battled injuries throughout 2015 and now plays for the Rays after signing as a free agent before the 2016 season.

Grade: D

Novermber 3, 2012
Granted J.B. Shuck Free Agency.

In 2011, Shuck hit .272/.359/.321 in 37 games with the Astros. As a 25-year-old in 2012, he hit .298/.374/.352 in Triple-A. And then he was released. This move didn’t make a lot of sense at the time and it made even less sense when he finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting the next season with the Angles.

That being said, Shuck has done next to nothing in the years since and even in his breakout campaign he was only worth 0.9 WAR.

Grade: C

December 4, 2012
Traded Wilton Lopez and Jose Monzon to the Colorado Rockies. Received Alex Gillingham and Alex White.

From 2010-2012, Lopez was arguably the Astros best reliever. When he was traded he was coming off a season with a 2.17 ERA, 10 saves and a 187 ERA+. His production dropped off drastically in the thin air of Coors Field and played just one more season.

Mozon played in 13 games for the Rockies Low-A affiliate before being released.
Gillingham appeared in just 3 games for the Astros High-A squad, giving up 10 runs in 8 innings before being released.

The gem of the deal was supposed to be Alex White. The 15th overall pick in 2009 dominated the minors after a shining career at the University of North Carolina. A consensus top 100 prospect, White did not throw a pitch in 2013. When he came back, he was never the same and was released in 2015, never reaching the majors with Houston.

Injuries make it tough to grade this deal. You can’t really fault anyone for what happened to White. What you can look at is the fact the Astros got a top 100 prospect for a reliever who had just 80 major league innings left in his arm after he left the organization.

Grade: B

December 6, 2012
Drafted Josh Fields from the Boston Red Sox in the 2012 rule 5 draft.

The former first round pick spent two unremarkable years in the Astros bullpen before being used as a high-leverage guy in 2015, posting a 2.19 FIP along the way. He has struggled to open the 2016 campaign and was recently optioned to Triple-A.

Grade: B+

February 4, 2013
Traded Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez to the Oakland Athletics. Received Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi.

Lowrie, as we’ve previously discussed, had one really good year and one decent year with the A’s.
Rodriguez missed the entire 2013 season but has established himself in the Oakland bullpen after 58.2 innings with a 3.84 ERA in 2015.

Chris Carter, as you may remember, struck out a lot in 2013. 212 times to be exact. But he hit 29 home runs and didn’t embarrass himself at first base so the Astros kept trotting him back out there. In 2014, Carter blasted a team-leading 37 home runs, good for a 123 OPS+. Hope was high as the 2015 season rolled around, but Carter was boom-or-bust. He hit 24 home runs, but hit just .199 in 129 games.

Peacock started 47 games for the Astros over three years but never really put it together at the major league level – he sports a career 4.69 ERA. The former 41st round pick is currently at Triple-A Fresno.

Once billed as the Catcher of the Future, Stassi was called up as a 22-year-old much to the delight of the Double-A Texas League where he was hitting .277 with 17 home runs. Stassi saw action in three games before he was hit in the face with a pitch and missed the rest of the season. Still just 25, Stassi has a long way to go before being labeled a bust, though the diminishing batting averages at Triple-A over the past two years are less than encouraging.

So this one pretty much hinges on whether or not Stassi can succeed as a major league regular. Fun fact: In 2013, Lowrie and Carter were both worth exactly 2.0 WAR.

Grade: B

April 23, 2013
Xaiver Cedeno selected by the Washington Nationals off waivers.

Working mainly as a left-handed specialist, Cedeno posted a 3.77 ERA in 2012 for the Astros. He got off to a rough start in 2013, giving up 8 runs in 6.1 innings and was promptly designated for assignment. He didn’t do much for the Nationals at the major league level over the course of two seasons, but was very effective for the Rays in 2015, striking out a batter per inning on his way to a 2.09 ERA. Cedeno is still making the league minimum and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2020.

Grade: D

June 6, 2013

Drafted Mark Appel No. 1 overall. Kris Bryant went No. 2. It’s still early, but that is a decision that could haunt the Astros for a long time. Some positives – Tony Kemp (5th round), Jacob Nottingham (6th round) and Tyler White (33rd round). Other than that, this draft has largely been a letdown.

Grade: D

July 29, 2013
Traded Jose Veras to the Detroit Tigers. Received Danry Vasquez and David Paulino.

Veras signed with the Astros for 1 yr/$1.85MM for the chance to close any and all of the wins the 2013 Astros accidently got. By the trade deadline, the Astros had miraculously won enough games for Veras to save 19 of them with a 2.93 ERA. The Tigers, who were on their way to a first place finish but needed some bullpen help, sent two young international free agent signees to the Astros.
Vasquez, 19 at the time, was hitting .283 in A-ball. After breezing through High-A at 20, the outfielder struggled at Double-A in 2015. He is repeating at Corpus Christi in 2016 but is still just 22 – almost two years younger than the average player at that level.

Paulino missed all of the 2014 season with injuries. The 6’7” righty had a 2.81 ERA across three levels in 2015. He joined Vasquez at Double-A in 2016 where he currently has a 1.74 ERA.
This trade is still way too early to grade accurately, but it is definitely one to keep an eye on. If either of these players turn out to be even average at the major league level this is a steal for Luhnow, who gave up just 19.2 Jose Veras innings to the Tigers for this pair.

Grade: A

July 31, 2013
Traded Justin Maxwell to the Kansas City Royals. Received Kyle Smith.

Maxwell, who as you will remember was selected off waivers in 2012, was hitting .241 with just 2 home runs in 40 games when the Astros traded him. He played 35 games for the Royals in 2013 and appeared in just 20 for them in 2014. Last season, he hit .209 for the Giants and is currently in Triple-A with the Red Sox.

Smith, meanwhile, had a 2.85 ERA as a 20-year-old in High-A. He missed the 2015 season with injuries and is currently at Double-A. He is 23 years old and a long way from the majors, but he seems like more than a fair price for Maxwell.

Grade: B

July 31, 2013
Traded Bud Norris to the Baltimore Orioles. Received Josh Hader, L.J. Hoes and a 2014 competitive balance round A pick.

By virtue of being alive and having an arm that could throw pitches in the direction of home plate, Bud Norris was the defacto ace of the 2013 Astros. Norris had a 3.93 ERA with a career-worst 6.4 K/9 when he was traded. He had a 4.80 ERA in 11 games with the Orioles who were desperately trying to reach the playoffs but wound up 12 games behind the AL-best Red Sox.

Norris had a career year in 2014, winning 15 games with a 3.65 ERA for the Orioles but then the wheels fell off. He was released after a disastrous start to 2015 – allowing 52 runs in 66 innings. He is currently with the Braves.

In addition to having The Name That Launched A Thousand Jokes, Hoes hit .287 in 46 games for Houston after being traded. 2014 was a different story, Hoes “hit” .172 in 55 games before being optioned to Triple-A. He was released in 2015. Hoes is now back with the Baltimore organization.

Drafted by Baltimore in 19th round as a soft-tossing southpaw, Hader quickly added velocity to go with an arm slot that left hitters baffled. At the time of the trade, the 19-year-old had a 2.65 ERA against opponents years older than him at A-ball. He continued to impress the Astros in 2014 when he was named their minor league pitcher of the year after a sparkling 9-2 campaign at the hitter’s haven that is Lancaster. In no uncertain terms, Hader has been excellent and has vaulted himself into a legitimate star prospect. More on that at a later date.

And as if Hader wasn’t enough, the Astros also picked up a first round pick that they used to grab outfielder Derek Fisher. Coming into the 2016 season, Fisher was a consensus top 10 prospect in the Astros system. He owns a career .278/.367/.477 slash line in the minors and is currently at Double-A.

Grade: A++