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August 4, 2010

Future Shock

Org Watch: Astros, Royals, Pirates

by Kevin Goldstein

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The trades of Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee were potential race shifters, but overall, the moves teams made at the 2010 MLB trade deadline weren't seismic. Still, three organizations—the AstrosRoyals and Pirates— saw the most change within their minor-league systems as a result of their dealings.

  • The Astros have struggled for years and have a bad minor-league system to boot. Could they be on the upswing? Sadly, it doesn't appear that way after the deadline.
  • The Royals haven't been successful since seemingly the mid-1980s, but their minor-league system was among the best in the game earlier this summer. Where do they stand now?
  • The Pirates—well, we've heard these stories before. Are they finally assembling the pieces, especially pitchers?

Astros: Is that all there is?

With an aging, expensive team headed for its sixth straight season without a playoff appearance and a minor-league system all but bereft of talent, it was clearly time to start a rebuilding plan in Houston. Trading away stars (albeit ones having uncharacteristically poor seasons) like Oswalt and Lance Berkman should have kick-started that process, but in the end, a depressed market led to anything but.

For Berkman, the Astros received Mark Melancon. The middle reliever is nearly MLB-ready, at least by Astros' standards, but that's also his ceiling. Jimmy Paredes is a slick second baseman with some tools, but his lack of power and patience limits his upside and could hinder his progression through the minors. Sure, Berkman is only a rental for the Yankees, but the Astros needed to find a player who could play a role on their team if/when they are good again. Instead, they got spare parts.

The player who could be a real part of the Astros' future arrived via the Blue Jays when the club flipped speedy center fielder Anthony Gose to Toronto for first baseman Brett Wallace, who immediately took Berkman's spot on the big-league roster. Wallace is going to be in the big leagues for a long time; simply put, he can hit. Is that enough, though? He doesn't walk at even an average rate, and his power is average at best for the position. Plus, even though he'll turn just 24 this month, he has those dreaded "old-player skills" that don't exactly age or progress well. The average National League first baseman is hitting .274/.358/.465 this season, and that is a pretty good projection for the kind of player Wallace can be. More Lyle Overbay than the next big thing, Wallace is a placeholder, not a linchpin on a championship-level club.

In the end, Oswalt and Berkman are gone and the rebuilding has begun, but the Astros aren't significantly better equipped to build for the future than they were a week ago.

Royals: Small pieces

The Royals already have a star-studded system filled with many of the best prospects in baseball, and they certainly didn't expect to add anything of significance when the players they traded were the likes of Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel, Kyle Farnsworth and Alberto Callaspo. That said, they acquired some small pieces who could have big-league futures.

Picked up from the Braves, minuscule lefty Tim Collins is a unique prospect on whom scouts have turned a corner. Once seen as little more than a sideshow, the left-hander who is kindly listed at 5-foot-7 is now in Triple-A before his 21st birthday, and his career rate of 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings can no longer be ignored. Scouts now see a non-closing late-inning reliever who is equally effective against righties and lefties and could be in the big leagues for more than a decade.

Right-hander Sean O'Sullivan, acquired from the Angels in the Callaspo deal, could turn out to be an even bigger find. He's hardly the next big thing or anyone who is going to come up in a year of the pitcher discussion, but he's a durable strike thrower who should fit in the back of the Royals' rotation for years to come. As with Collins, that might not be the most exciting world, but every December, we're reminded that a talent like this on the free-agent market costs $10-12 million a year. The Royals picked small things—window dressing, essentially—to supplement the (hopefully) potential stars to arrive in the big leagues during the next three years.

Pirates: Here we go again

Like the Royals, the Pirates had little to give away and thus got little in return. Although some young talent is finally creating excitement in Pittsburgh, it's doubtful that anybody who was added to the system this past weekend will make a real difference in the Pirates' chances at their first winning season since 1992. In fact, most of these players already appear to be like current or recently failed Pirates if one looks at them with a critical eye, which is hard not to do when it comes to baseball in Pittsburgh. Here's the purely pessimistic first reaction on all four players picked up at the deadline.

John Bowker: 27-year-old bat-only player who has never proved himself in the big leagues and is limited to first base, just like Jeff Clement.

Pedro Ciriaco, SS: Provides slightly better defense than Ronny Cedeno but even worse bat.

Andrew Lambo, OF: Once-promising hitter has stalled at the upper levels, pretty much the next Brandon Moss.

James McDonald, RHP: Potential back-end starter similar to the pitchers the Pirates have filled their entire rotation with for years.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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