Friday, August 12, 2016

Fisking Jeff Gordon's post

St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer/reporter/columnist/whatever Jeff Gordon had a blazing hawt take yesterday regarding the Astros and their lack of progress under former Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow. This makes perfect sense, given that the Cardinals - like the Astros - are 60-55 and that the Astros don't play the Cardinals for another four days. The piece was really only a reaction to the Carlos Gomez DFAing. And it's also highly suspect on its own merit. Let's see!

Somebody should hack into the Astros' baseball operation and check that scouting report Jeff Luhnow had an outfielder Carlos Gomez.

LOL felony jokes! Always fun for a local writer to advocate the very action that disgraced Teh Cradinal Way (sic) and landed their former scouting director in a federal penitentiary for almost four years.

...At the time (of the Carlos Gomez trade), agent Scott Boras insisted nothing was wrong with Gomez.

Despite the Mets backing out of the deal due to Gomez's reported hip issues, the Astros were comfortable enough to go ahead and make the deal the Mets didn't, giving up four prospects in the process. There was nothing wrong with Gomez physically at the time, unless Gordon has difficulty in envisioning that players can just not play well.

...Yeah, well good luck with that. Gomez hit .242 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 41 games with Houston last year and struggled with an oblique injury in September.

Is this the proper time to point out to Dr. Gordon that the oblique is not the hip injury he spent the preceding paragraph highlighting? The oblique is not the hip. Are we all clear on that? Good! I guess we'll just ignore how in the final 19 of the 41 regular season games in which Gomez played for Houston in 2015 he hit .318/.370/.561. He did struggle with an oblique injury in September which, given how hot Gomez had gotten over the previous three weeks, could have been instrumental in the Astros' losing the division. Or they could have lost it anyway and had to go to New York for the Wild Card game...where Gomez hit a pretty massive home run. But good luck with that, too.

OH! As a minor aside, Gordon was an awfully big fan of the "good luck with that" phrase back in 2012 when Brad Mills was fired:

(Quoting interim manager Tony DeFrancesco): "There's going to be a commitment to excellence. I want to be the guy who changes the environment around here."

Yeah, well, good luck with that. Real progress is at least a few years away.

Sure would be nice for Gordon to tell us when the Real Progress has finally been achieved.

This season he posted a dismal "slash line" of .210/.272/.322 this season before the Astros finally designated him for assignment.

Why are we putting "slash line" in air-quotes like it's similar to a magic spell? Or do the air-quotes act as a visual cue for the best fans in baseball (TM) to pay attention. Oh, but stats! It's true that Carlos Gomez was not very good this year. That's why he's not with the team anymore.

"The play on the field was not what we expected," Luhnow said, according to "I don't know if anybody could have forecasted a change like that. We didn't..." 

...Actually, the Mets forecast a change like that and backed out of the deal with Milwaukee.

Wait, I thought the Mets backed out of the deal because there were concerns about his hip, not because they thought he wouldn't hit for the remaining 15 months on his contract. The Mets' initial target was Gomez, likely because of the extra year remaining on his deal and his relatively low cost. When they backed out, it was because they didn't like what they saw out of Gomez's hip at that time. They, like the Astros were trying to make the playoffs. At the time that the trade between Milwaukee and New York fell apart, the Mets were two games out of the NL East lead. And since they had concerns over Gomez's hip, they were concerned he wouldn't help them in the 2015 race. They pivoted to Yoenis Cespedes, who obviously worked out much better for the Mets than Gomez did the Astros. However, that the Mets traded for Cespedes shows that they were more interested in the 2015 race than risking missing out on 2015 and taking another shot at 2016. The 2015 Mets have a young core of pitchers, but Daniel Murphy was going to be a free agent, Bartolo Colon was 42. Cuddyer was 36, Granderson was 34. Their window was presumably shorter than the Astros' perceived window. And the Mets had to sign Cespedes to a 3yr/$75m contract to keep him, while the Astros had Gomez under contract for $9m in 2016. The Mets backed out of the deal because they wanted short-term bang, the Astros were interested in a longer-term bang.

The Gomez trade was just one of the mishaps that prevented the Astros from converting their tank-and-rebuild sacrifice into Cubs-like dominance. Here are some more:

Oh this should be good.

Drafting pitcher Mark Appel first overall in the 2013 draft, ahead of Cubs slugger Kris Bryant. Appel struggled in the minors before Luhnow dealt him last winter.

I'm trying to figure out if Gordon here is pissed at Luhnow or if he's pissed at the success the Cubs are having, mainly at the expense of the Cardinals. But sure, I'll play along with Gordon's revisionist history. When Mark Appel was the 1-1 in 2013, the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers said it was "impressive." Keith Law said he was the "best player available." ESPN said Appel immediately became the Astros' top prospect - ahead of Correa, mind you. Alyson Footer said the pick was "pret-tay pret-tay good." Jim Callis said before the 2013 draft that the Cubs and Mark Appel were close to a deal, anyway, with the 1-2 pick. Hey maybe the draft is a crapshoot and things don't work out exactly the way you hope they do. Or we can mention that Appel was at least part of a package that brought Ken Giles to Houston, or do we only focus on April when we talk about Ken Giles?

Drafting pitcher Brady Aiken first overall in the 2014 draft, ahead of the likes of White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon and Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber. Aiken had elbow problems and never signed with the Astros.

*Pauses to shove leaking brain back up through nose.* Wait, weren't we just talking about how great the Mets were for backing out of the Gomez deal? So the Astros draft Brady Aiken, finally get a chance to check out his elbow, and - with the benefit of the same hindsight that Gordon has access to - rightly have concerns over the elbow with which, as Gordon notes, Aiken has had problems?

Matter of fact, let's check in on Brady Aiken. *Opens Baseball-Reference* Yes, hmmm. 27IP, 36H/22ER, 36K:15BB. Fastball in the high 80s. Yes, he's only 19, and he's coming back from Tommy John surgery. Maybe it'll work out, but how are you gonna praise the Mets for backing out of a deal for medical concerns and then use that same argument to blast the Astros? Or do we talk about how not signing Aiken led to the drafting of Alex Bregman? No? Doesn't fit in the narrative? Okay. But hey, there's the Cubs again. Maybe Gordon should just get a Theo voodoo doll and save us all some time.

Cashiering outfielder J.D. Martinez, who became a power-hitting star for the Tigers.

I know for a fact that J.D. Martinez is the one player on which the front office wishes they had a mulligan. That said, Martinez *did* have almost 1000 Plate Appearances in Houston with a .687 OPS. When the Astros released him, the Tigers worked with him to completely rebuild his swing. I mean, (as Not Hank notes in the link) it happened to the Ramgers with Chris Davis. It happened to the Pirates with Jose Bautista. Should the Astros have totally rebuilt his swing? Maybe. Maybe crap like that happens, though.

Trading elite starting pitching prospect Vince Velasquez (along with Appel) to get Phillies closer Ken Giles - who fell into a middle-relief role in Houston this season.

Again, it's like this post was written in April. Yeah, Early Giles was bad. But since June 1 Giles has thrown 25IP, 20H/4ER, 43K:6BB. A 1.44 ERA/1.04 WHIP, and that's with a .380 BABIP. So the "middle relief role" is true, but that was when he wasn't performing while Luke Gregerson was, and Will Harris earned the next spot up. Oh, and Ken Giles won't be a free agent until 2021. Or is it not okay to deal from a position of (perceived) depth and a struggling minor-league pitcher to acquire a hard-throwing closer of Giles' caliber?

While the Astros still have Fiers from that Gomez deal, what they mostly have is regret.

I mean, the Astros did make the postseason...and came within nothing having to do with Carlos Gomez of making it to the ALCS. And they're only 2.0 GB of a Wild Card spot, even despite the lack of production from formerly-hated Cardinal Colby Rasmus (whom, of course, Gordon notes). So maybe "regret" is strong. They wish Gomez had performed well, but he didn't. So...

Fortunately for the Astros, Santana hasn't done much for the Brewers and Phillips has stalled out in the minors. That eases the pain somewhat. 

Wait. So...what are we complaining about again? That the Astros traded some prospects who - as of right now - aren't lighting the world on fire - to make a playoff push, less than five years after starting a dramatic rebuild? That's a negative? Or are we complaining about Jeff Luhnow because he was a polarizing figure when he was with the Cardinals?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports department has a long history of going out of their way to critique/criticize Luhnow. Maybe the issue isn't really with Luhnow, it's with Gordon.