Jeff Luhnow fancies himself a genius. Theo Epstein has been previously hailed as one. Both believe strongly in sabermetric Moneyball principles. So it will be interesting which one comes out ahead after Luhnow traded one of his priciest players to Epstein's Cubs for a pair of guys who fill roster gaps at least and may upgrade the Astros overall.
Fowler: Next stop, Wrigleyville
(c) Associated Press
Sent to Chicago was outfielder Dexter Fowler after one season from Colorado. In his final arbitration year before hitting free agency, Fowler failed to come to terms with Houston and could earn as much as the $10.8 million he asked for in arbitration or the $8.5 million Houston offered.
A .276 hitter last season in 116 games, Fowler was one of the team's offensive catalysts and clubhouse leaders. Fowler, who will turn 29 in March, missed time with injuries but the Astros seemed to find suitable center field replacements in George Springer and Jake Marisnick in the interim.
The Astros received infielder Luis Valbuena, a 29-year-old who played at third base for the Cubs. He batted .249 last season with 16 homers in 149 games. A career .229 hitter, the lefty bat may platoon with Matt Dominguez at third to begin the season but should see the majority of at bats, being the lefty half of the platoon. The Venezuelan also has experience at second base and the corner outfield positions. Valbuena is slated to earn $4.2 million in salary for this coming season.
The other player acquired is starting pitcher Dan Straily, a 26-year-old righthander with an up-and-down record so far in the majors. In 2013, he started 27 games for Oakland, crafting a 10-8 record and a 3.96 ERA. Last year, however, he was sent to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija trade and never found a home on their pitching staff. Straily has yet to reach arbitration eligibility so he is a low-cost gamble for a rotation that has lost candidates Nick Tropeano and Mike Foltynewicz in trades this winter.
On paper, the Astros are losing a proven talent for two guys with iffy futures but the Astros are also saving at least half of what they would have to pay Fowler while shoring up two positions that needed better depth.
The trade puts Dominguez on the hot seat to make the club and may weaken Marwin Gonzalez' leverage as well. Gonzalez was the other player besides Fowler that did not reach agreement by the arbitration deadline. MarGo asked for $1.4 million in salary while Houston countered with $800,000. Gonzalez was talked about as a possibility to platoon with Dominguez but that's out now.
Coming to terms and avoiding arbitration were DH Chris Carter ($4.175 million), C Jason Castro ($4 million), P Tony Sipp ($2.4 million), C Hank Conger ($1.075 million) and C Carlos Corporan ($975,000). Corporan has been linked in trade rumors with the Rangers and seems the most obvious to be traded with four catchers on the 40-man roster plus newly-acquired Evan Gattis may also catch.
The Astros were also rumored to be looking for another starting pitcher. Perhaps the deal for Straily satisfies that but perhaps not. Rumors pegged righthander Ryan Vogelsong, recently of the Giants, signing with Houston.
- Bob Hulsey