Wednesday, December 22, 2021

What Does the End of the Tanking & Rebuilding Process Look Like? Comparing the Orioles and the Astros, Part 2

This is a direct continuation of Part 1, which can be found here

YEAR 2

2012 Astros
-Preseason: Traded Mark Melancon for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland
-Midseason: Traded away Brett MyersJ.A. Happ, David Carpenter, Brandon Lyon, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, and others for prospects

2012 marked the start of the Astros’ new ownership and front office, as they stepped in on the heels of the franchise’s first 100-loss season. There were again a number of reclamation project signings (Chris Snyder, Zach Duke, Livan Hernandez, Jack Cust…), and a lot of them didn’t even wind up playing a game with Houston. No Clint Barmes-like successes this time.

They did, however, make a trade for a veteran player, sending Mark Melancon to Boston for Jed Lowrie. Lowrie was 28 at the time and had played in parts of four seasons, but hadn’t managed to lock down a regular starting role. He had a breakout campaign in Houston as the full time shortstop, marred only by an ankle injury that cost him a few months.

During the season, the team basically traded away every notable holdover from the previous front office. Brett Myers went to the White Sox for three players (Chris Devenski being the most notable). Carlos Lee went to Miami for more than a straight salary dump. Wandy Rodriguez went to Pittsburgh.

There were also two notable moves that weren’t simply trading away older players. First, the new management apparently had thoughts on J.A. Happ similar to what I mentioned in Part 1, not helped by Happ’s performance since the trade taking a nosedive (or rather, his FIP was rather consistent, but his ERA jumped, likely due in part to pitching in front of a worse defense). He was packaged with David Carpenter (also see Part 1) and Brandon Lyon (another big free agent overpay) and sent to Toronto, in exchange for a seven-player package (although one of those was veteran Francisco Cordero, as part of a salary dump). A lot of those players didn’t pan out, although one of them was Joe Musgrove, who would play key roles on the 2017 squad before being dealt for Gerrit Cole.

The other was trading away Chris Johnson. I remember people making a bigger deal about this at the time, but in retrospect, he was a 27-year-old third baseman with a decent bat and a bad glove. He would play okay for Arizona down the stretch, then the D-backs would flip him and Justin Upton to Atlanta for a big package of players. The Braves would immediately sign him to a three-year deal, which would give them his single above-average season (by Baseball-Reference WAR, at least) and two bad ones. Given that, the Astros probably sold on him at close to peak value; the biggest gripe you could probably put on their side of this whole sequence was that the prospects they got for him didn’t really pan out, either.

2020 Orioles
-Preseason: Mark Trumbo departs as a free agent; Dylan Bundy traded away for prospects; Jonathan Villar waived and traded away; Signed Jose Iglesias, Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone
-Midseason: Traded away Rich Bleier, Mychal Givens, Tommy Milone, Miguel Castro for prospects

The Jose Iglesias signing was again one of a number of small pick-ups, and it was the most successful. Iglesias would have a strong season, the team would pick up his 2021 option, then ship the then-31-year-old shortstop to the Angels. That’s basically what you want rebuilding teams to do.

I don’t know what to make of the Dylan Bundy trade just yet; Bundy had long been a top prospect for the Orioles who the team had failed to develop to his full potential (maybe some of it is bad luck or something on the prospect’s end, but at this point, it’s happened so frequently that I just assume it’s due to the Orioles). His 2020 season with the Angels was so good that it got him Cy Young votes, but he struggled hard in 2021. I suppose we’ll see this year if ‘20 or ‘21 was the fluke, but either way, pitchers who look immediately better upon leaving Baltimore is a clear, frustrating trend.

The other two preseason deals really feel like they accentuate some of the difference in the Orioles’ and Astros’ strategies. Maybe Trumbo leaving was inevitable, as he wasn’t exactly some hot trade candidate; but then again, the Astros got something for Carlos Lee. Maybe it’s a shift in philosophy or a change in the league strategies or some other underlying change in attitudes, but it’s a difference all the same.

The other was the Villar dealings; Villar was arguably the best player on the 2019 Orioles, a shortstop who could handle the position and provide above-average offense. He was 28 and entering his final season of control, so he might not be a leader on the next Orioles winning team, but he should at least be able to fetch the team something in return if they shopped him around effectively. Instead, the team waived him at the end of November, basically guaranteeing they wouldn’t have him on the roster in two weeks time. Paying for his raise was never seriously under consideration.

With that, the Marlins were basically able to get him for very little, a former 14th round pick who the GM said could maybe be a back-end starter if he developed right. Because, again, if there’s one thing the Orioles have become synonymous with in recent memory, it’s properly developing their young pitching talents. Again, it’s hard not to look at this next to, say, the Lowrie deal in Houston; sure, he wasn’t going to be in Houston for the long-term either, but the team actually kept him around until they got something for him.

The reliever sell-off is what it is. A good bullpen wasn’t going to fix the other massive holes on this team; we’ll see if the prospects they got ever develop.



YEAR 3
2013 Astros
-Preseason: Traded Jed Lowrie away for prospects; acquired Alex White for Wilton Lopez
-Midseason: Traded Bud Norris, Jose Veras, and Justin Maxwell away for prospects

There were again a number of lottery ticket, fixer-upper types who didn’t pan out (Rick Ankiel, Erik Bedard, Carlos Pena, Eric Thames, Wade LeBlanc). White was the most interesting case, though; he was a former first-round pick who had been one of the major prospects in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, but had struggled in his first year and a half in Colorado. Houston had to give up a decent reliever in Lopez to try and fix him, but White ended up needing Tommy John surgery in 2013 and couldn’t improve his minor league numbers in subsequent years.

The Lowrie deal brought back some interesting players, though. Brad Peacock contributed the most to the Astros’ success in the back half of the decade, but Chris Carter and Max Stassi also spent notable time on the Major League roster. And of the midseason trades, Josh Hader was probably the best player the team got back; however, he was part of the package of prospects (along with Domingo Santana, who came over in the Hunter Pence deal) the team sent to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez.

2021 Orioles
-Preseason: Traded away Jose Iglesias and Alex Cobb for prospects; Hanser Alberto leaves as a free agent; signed Matt Harvey and Freddy Galvis
-Midseason: Traded Freddy Galvis away; Wade LeBlanc leaves as free agent

Once again, this feels like a mixed bag. They definitely sold high on Iglesias. Getting something for a stopgap player like Galvis isn’t bad. Harvey (plus Felix Hernandez, who was released after Spring Training) were at least interesting gambles.

On the other side, Alberto left as a free agent. That maybe made sense in the old system, where a Clint Barmes-like player signing elsewhere gets you another draft pick, but that hasn’t been the case since 2017; the Orioles got nothing. And Alex Cobb netted them a prospect, but once again, he also looked much better with the Angels. I’m less inclined to chalk this up to a just Orioles problem, since Cobb also looked rough his final two seasons in Tampa, but at the same time, it’s yet another pitcher who immediately improved upon leaving Baltimore.

(Wade LeBlanc might also count here, since his second half in St. Louis was usable despite his disastrous stint on the Orioles, but at least the Brewers and Rangers also both cut him before the Cardinals “fixed” him, so it’s maybe not a Baltimore-exclusive issue this time.)

To be concluded in Part 3

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