Mailing List

Sign up for email updates from Hot Corner Harbor any time there's a new post!

    Monday, December 20, 2021

    What Does the End of the Tanking & Rebuilding Process Look Like? Comparing the Orioles and the Astros, Part 1

    I figured that, with the lockout, now would be a good time for an in-depth breakdown. However, this article got substantially longer than I originally planned.  I didn't want to cut any of the information out, and it's not like the lockout appears to be ending any time soon. So instead, I'll be running my whole breakdown in three parts over the next two weeks or so. Check back later in the week for the next part!

    I’ve seen a few headlines about the Orioles and their plans for this winter. Most of them say that the team is unlikely to spend big in free agency this year, which… I suppose is understandable. They are a rebuilding team, after all, although something about it stuck in my brain.

    But the more shocking reports say that they’re considering trading John Means, which in contrast, doesn’t seem like the type of move a rebuilding would make. Means, who turns 29 in April, has had about as strong first three years as a team could hope; he finished runner up in the 2019 Rookie of the Year race, he’s already been an all-star, he threw a no-hitter last season that might be the best game pitched in team history* (no small feat on a team with the pitching history of the O’s).

    *If you go by Game Score, Means’s no-hitter had a score of 99, which as far as I can tell, is higher than any other pitching performance in team history. That’s not a bad opening argument in the discussion, at least!

    We can’t really know how serious the team is about this; maybe they’re actively considering offers, or maybe it’s just the principle of “anyone can be moved if a team is willing to overpay enough”. But it did get me thinking about their larger rebuilding process, which has been going on since the trade deadline of the 2018 seasons. Here we are, three and a half years later; how far along should the team be at this point? Are they really still at the “trading away stars for prospects” stage? Or should they maybe be looking at picking up some free agents?

    Each rebuild is of course different, and I’m no expert on prospect evaluation. But I did want to compare it to another major rebuild, that of the early 2010s Houston Astros. Partly because both teams started from a similar place, partly because I’m fairly familiar with the Astros’ rebuild, and partly (perhaps mostly?) because Orioles GM Mike Elias was a key part of the front office of those Astros teams. They won’t be identical, but we should see at least some overlap in strategy, right?

    When comparing the two, it seemed like the best place to start was during the 2010 season for the Astros, and the 2018 season for the Orioles. That makes it easy to line both of them up chronologically (since we’d be starting at a trade deadline for each team), and both represent the point where both teams really started to dismantle their existing teams (including trades of Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Manny Machado, and others). If we use that alignment, our general equivalencies in this scenario would be:


    And as a reminder, 2015 was the year the Astros returned to the postseason as a Wild Card team. Of course, one major complicating factor here is that we didn’t lose most of the 2012 season to a pandemic like we did 2020, but there’s not a ton we can do about that other than to just keep it in mind. However, it’s also worth considering that the Elias administration in Baltimore got an earlier start on their project than Jeff Lunhow and company did in Houston; Ed Wade was the Astros’ GM through the 2011 season, while Elias was already in place for the 2019 Orioles season. I don’t know if those factors balance everything out perfectly, but at least it’s not extremely lopsided in one team’s favor, I suppose.

    So, with that out of the way, how do these team’s seasons line up? And is there anything we can learn about where the Orioles should be in the process, and what they potentially should be doing this winter after the lockout?

    YEAR 0
    2010 Astros
    -Midseason: Traded away Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, and Pedro Feliz for prospects

    I should mention at the start, I will be focusing mostly on the major league players for this piece. I will make a note of interesting Astros acquisitions on the prospect front, but I am not a prospect evaluator, so I won’t be able to do much for the present-day Orioles beyond aggregate other people’s rankings. Also, given that actually developing prospects has been a weak point of Baltimore’s over the last decade or so, I’m not sure that I should be comparing their potential here to what the Astros of the 2010s actually accomplished. We can compare development rates of the two systems at a later date, once we have a better idea of how Baltimore has fared; in the meantime, let’s just focus on the general types of moves both teams were making.

    In any case, the beginning of the rebuild in Houston began with the trading of two long-time franchise icons. Roy Oswalt was dealt with a year and a half left of his contract (plus an option, which the Phillies would decline) two days before the trade deadline, while Lance Berkman was traded on the last day of July in the final year of his deal (plus an option, which the Yankees would also decline). Both were in their early 30s after spending a decade-plus with the Astros. The team would also deal Pedro Feliz, an ill-advised signing from before the start of the season who was having a miserable year, in August to a desperate Cardinals team that had lost David Freese to injury.

    (The returns on these were notable and generally fine, but also maybe not what the team should have been looking for. J.A. Happ was the headliner of the Oswalt deal, but the team was buying high on a 27-year-old in his second full year; more on him later. Jonathan Villar was another prospect from that deal, as was Anthony Gose, who they flipped to Toronto for Brett Wallace. The Pedro Feliz deal brought back David Carpenter. And Mark Melancon was one of the two players who came over from New York.)

    2018 Orioles
    -Midseason: Traded away Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, and Jonathan Schoop for prospects, money to sign prospects, and Jonathan Villar

    The 2018 Orioles were just a year and a half removed from a playoff appearance, and consequently, had a lot of pieces to move at the 2018 trade deadline. Machado went to the Dodgers; Britton to the Yankees; Gausman, Brach, and O’Day all went to the Braves (across two deals); and Schoop went to the Brewers (who included Jonathan Villar in their package; more on him later). They also released a number of players, most of whom were underperforming. The only one maybe worth noting was Craig Gentry, who had been a useful fourth outfielder since the team signed him in 2017, but apparently no one was interested in taking him off of Baltimore’s hands.

    YEAR 1
    2011 Astros
    -Preseason: Traded Felipe Paulino for Clint Barmes; signed Bill Hall; traded Matt Lindstrom for prospects
    -Midseason: Traded away Jeff Keppinger, Hunter Pence, and Michael Bourn for prospects

    It can be a little weird drawing the line between “big deals” and “minor deals”. The preseason moves don’t necessarily seem huge right now, but I think they were worth mentioning. Hall was nowhere near his mid-2000s peak, but he had established himself as an above-average supersub in Boston the year before. Unfortunately, he was unable to keep that up, and was cut in June. The Lindstrom prospects didn’t pan out, either.

    The Barmes trade was surprisingly good for both parties, though. After a pretty bad 2010, he bounced back in 2011 and was an above-average shortstop. I was surprised he wasn’t dealt for prospects, until I remembered that this was back when teams got compensation picks for mid-tier free agents leaving. When he signed a deal with the Pirates, the Astros got the 41st pick in the 2012 draft… which they used on Lance McCullers Jr. So yeah, that’s definitely a choice you’d make every time.

    At the trade deadline, the fire sale continued. Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn were the big-ticket items, as All-Stars with a year and a half until free agency, and they went to the Phillies and Braves, respectively. Keppinger wasn’t as big a name, but he had led the team in batting average the year before and did have decent offensive numbers up the middle, so the Giants took him. Overall, there were some decent prospects involved, although most of them didn’t pan out (although I remember some chatter about the Bourn haul being on the light side and the Pence one being strong, for all the good those evaluations did); the most interesting name here for our purposes is probably Jarred Cosart coming over from Philly (once again, more on him later).

    2019 Orioles
    -Preseason: Adam Jones leaves as a free agent; traded away Mike Yastrzemski; claimed Hanser Alberto and Pedro Severino off of waivers
    -Midseason: Traded away Andrew Cashner for prospects

    Adam Jones had turned down a trade the summer before, exercising his 10-5 rights (players with ten years of MLB service time and 5 years on the same team can veto any trade) to end a potential trade to Philadelphia. I sometimes see grumbling when a player turns down trades off of rebuilding teams, but even leaving aside that Jones spent over a decade in Baltimore and was perfectly in his rights to turn it down, it’s not like the Phillies forced his hand. Philadelphia that year went 80-82, a third place finish that left them 10.0 games behind the division winner and 10.5 behind the second wild card; they led the division at the trade deadline, but only barely, and they were very clearly an overperforming bunch with a thin roster trying to fend off much better teams, so they weren’t exactly some prime destination for a veteran already skeptical of uprooting his life.

    Outside of that, there were a lot of grabbing of reclamation projects. Most (Alcides Escobar, Eric Young Jr., Nate Karns, Dan Straily, and others) didn’t pan out, and a lot of them were even released later on, but Hanser Alberto and Pedro Severino showed they could at least be decent bit players. The only other notable offseason deal they made was trading 28-year-old Mike Yastrzemski to the Giants without ever calling him up; Yaz II immediately made the Giants roster and has provided an above-average outfield bat ever since. But hey, the 2010s Astros also released J.D. Martinez too soon, so you can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

    The big mid-season deal this time was trading away Andrew Cashner, who was 32 and in the final year of his contract, but that was about it.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment