August 17, 2012
Resetting the Astros Roster
Since taking over as the general manager in Houston last December, Jeff Luhnow has turned over a good chunk of the 40-man roster he inherited, a collection of players who contributed to the Astros’ first 100-loss (106-loss, to be precise) season in franchise history in 2011.
Lame-duck GM Ed Wade was able to unload the Astros’ top marketable assets—Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn—last summer, but the task of moving the team’s more onerous veteran contracts was left to Luhnow. That process picked up in earnest this summer when Houston shuttled veterans J.A. Happ, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, and Wandy Rodriguez off to contenders in exchange for more than a dozen minor-league prospects from five organizations.
Luhnow’s moves last month shed the organization of at least $40 million in contract commitments—and potentially much more—to veterans whose services largely would have been wasted during Houston’s rebuilding effort. The new-look Astros have only $5.5 million committed to their 2013 roster (not counting expected arbitration increases), and no money committed to the 2014 team. In addition to payroll flexibility, the moves also provided an influx of young talent to a farm system that had routinely fallen among the bottom five in Kevin Goldstein’s annual organizational talent rankings.
Organizational Talent Rankings
Of the 15 prospects Houston acquired last month, six ranked among their organization’s top 10 prospects heading into the season: Robbie Grossman (No. 6, Pittsburgh), Matt Dominguez (No. 6, Miami), Bobby Borchering (No. 8, Arizona), Colton Cain (No. 9, Pittsburgh), Kevin Comer (No. 10, Toronto), and Rob Rasmussen (No. 10, Miami). Five others were among the top 20, and four more were unranked.
Adding depth is one thing, but it’s another to deepen a farm system while also adding players with star potential. There are few, if any, potential stars among the prospects Houston brought in via trade last July; the most intriguing players are pitchers, led by Cain and a pair of 2011 supplemental first-round picks, Musgrove and Comer. The Astros were able to add potential impact via the draft, however, netting top prep shortstop Carlos Correa with the first-overall pick and one of the best prep arms, Lance McCuellers Jr., in the supplemental first round.
As part of his analysis of the Astros’ top prospects last winter, Goldstein included a top-10 list of the organization’s best under-25 talents. Some of the names would have fallen off or aged out this year, but only two or three of the players acquired via trade last month would be likely to make a revised version of the list.
Pre-2012 Top 10 Players Under 25
Speculative Current Top 10 Players Under 25
Two players (Castro, Wallace) will be ineligible for this offseason’s “official” revised list. J.D. Martinez, Brett Oberholtzer, and Jimmy Paredes are unlikely to make it after disappointing seasons, despite still qualifying. Two players who were already in the organization (DeShields, Foltynewicz) have played their way onto the list, and players acquired from Pittsburgh in the Wandy Rodriguez deal fill two other vacated slots.
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Houston’s priority when dealing veterans this summer was to get contracts off of the books and free up roster slots for younger players. In that sense, Luhnow was successful. Receiving valuable assets in return was a secondary objective, but it’s fair to say the Astros have succeeded in that regard as well. While there may not be any stars in the bunch, many could develop into useful major leaguers. That’s a step in the right direction for an organization whose road to recovery still looks at least a few seasons long.