For the second year in a row, the Astros have traded not only their two best players, but the most recognizable faces of the franchise. Last year it was Lance Berkman to the Yankees and Roy Oswalt to the Phillies. This year, Oswalt gets to see a familiar face in Houston’s lone All-Star, OF Hunter Pence, and the Braves (losers on the Pence sweepstakes) get the consolation Astro and league leader in stolen bases, Michael Bourn.
With the Phillies’ and Braves’ additions of Pence and Bourn, respectively, and the Giants picking up former Astro rental Carlos Beltran, the National League playoffs are sure to be full of intrigue (and story lines) this fall. While Atlanta and Philadelphia fans rejoice, however, Astros fans wallow in another season in the gutter. The only reason to make a trip to Minute Maid Park the rest of the year is to watch pocket-sized second baseman Jose Altuve take batting practice and tell you’re friend, “If he can make it, I can make it!” while guzzling down another beer to forget you’re about to watch the Astros.
In all seriousness, though, these deals mean one thing: GM Ed Wade has no idea what he’s doing. His game plan, if you can call it that, is in such disarray that Astros fans are scratching their heads and beginning to root for the Texas Rangers for rest of the year. With the worst record in baseball, and a chance to be only the third team in league history to finish the season with 110 losses, the Astros were bound to be sellers at this year’s trade deadline. But they really need to sell their two best players?
When a team is in rebuilding mode, they have to have something to build around. Pence and Bourn were both all-star caliber players who filled their niche perfectly. Pence was the energy, the hustler, the steady hitter who plays hard everyday. Bourn was the speedster, the gold-glover, and the quintessential leadoff man. Neither were superstars, but they were the heart of a very young and poorly constructed team. While both could not have been hotter names on the trade market than they were right now, why even deal them? They both had very friendly contracts, and would have been great pieces to continue to build around for the future. With Carlos Lee’s massive, bloated contract coming off the books after next season, we could have retained Pence and Bourn and started over fresh. With new owner Jim Crane vowing to spend money and put together a winner in Houston, I see no reason to remove the only bright spots in an otherwise very dark era in Astros baseball. But the biggest story here is Ed Wade’s ineptitude to run a franchise. Let’s really look at what Ed Wade has done in the last few years:
In the fall of 2007, he traded closer Brad Lidge and utility man Eric Bruntlett to Philadelphia for Bourn, who struggled when he was first acquired by the Astros, while Lidge went on to pitch a perfect season for the 2008 Word Series champion Phillies. Bourn eventually became an All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner. Now, when Bourn is hitting his prime, he’s sent to the Atlanta Braves in return for four more prospects in a trade that is widely being panned as a steal for the Atlanta Braves and a major bust for the Astros. While OF Jordan Schafer has some promise, the other three prospects the Astros received are all pitchers, and most are not projected as major impact players in the future. So I have to ask, why trade the fastest outfielder and one of the best leadoff men in the game, for a decent young outfielder and three very hit-or-miss pitching prospects?
In 2008, Wade traded promising young players Luke Scott, Matt Albers, and three other players for Miguel Tejada. Tejada enjoyed a successful stint as the Astros shortstop, but has since been shipped out and shortstop has become a major weak spot in the Astros’ lineup since, both offensively and defensively. Scott has had a fairly productive career in Baltimore, while Albers has struggled throughout his career. The point here is, Tejada was never the answer, and that trade essentially stunted the Astros further in their rebooting process.
In 2010, Wade traded franchise favorites Oswalt and Berkman. Oswalt went to the Phillies and helped them to the NL Championship series, where they’d eventually lose to the world champion San Francisco Giants. In return, the Astros received J.A. Happ, who is 4-13 on the year with a 6.01 ERA, and Brett Wallace, the supposed “first baseman of the future” in a separate trade with Toronto. Wallace is hitting .268 on the year with 4 HR, 26 RBI, 35 BB, and 84 SO. In the trade a few days ago that sent Pence to the Phillies, which was reportedly an inferior deal to the one the Braves were offering for Pence, one of the main prospects the Astros received in return is Jonathan Singleton, a 19-year-old first baseman who plays single-A ball. Um … what? Didn’t we just trade our former ace in Oswalt to get the first baseman of the future?
This year our starting rotation and bullpen have been among the worst in baseball. And our only legitimate prospect, Jordan Lyles, is getting battered around in the fifth spot, something that must be great for his confidence going forward, because we have nobody else to throw out there. Hopefully, one of the prospects we’ve received from the Pence and Bourn trades will help with this, but that won’t be any time soon.
Lastly, Wade traded longtime Astro and hometown product Lance Berkman to the New York Yankees for practically nothing. While Berkman fizzled out with the Yankees, he has reemerged this year with the Cardinals, earning himself an All-Star spot and sitting near the top of the NL in most offensive categories. When Berkman and his agent expressed interest in returning to Houston this past fall, Wade told him, “thanks, but no thanks.” Good job, Ed. Instead of bringing Berkman back to tudor Wallace and split time at first or with Lee in the outfield, you let him go to a division rival and have an incredible season. While nobody could have predicted Berkman would perform as well as he has, it still stings to think we could have had him back for a relatively cheap price, if for, nothing else, nostalgic reasons.
And, so, here we are, Astros fans — a lost, wayward ship adrift at sea. Some may remember the incident in 2008, when Wade upset pitcher Shawn Chacon to such an extent that Chacon choked him out in the clubhouse and threw him to the floor. On this Sunday afternoon, most Astros fans probably wish they could do the same. I’m sure this is how most Phillies fans once felt about Wade when he was running their team, but they’ve softened their stance since he moved on to Houston and made Philadelphia one of the best teams in baseball by trading all of our All-Star’s to the Phillies. If Philly wins another ring this year, they should have one mailed to Wade’s house as an official thank you. The way I see it, there’s only one move left to make: Wade must go.