Marisnick had been the regular center fielder for the Astros; now his best-case scenario is on the soft side of a platoon with Colby Rasmus. If this is the way it plays out Rasmus will take a little bit of a hit, but Marisnick is the one who really gets dinged. He is a pure AL-only play now barring an injury or a terrible slump by either Rasmus or Preston Tucker.
It is possible that Scott Feldman is pulled from the rotation, but eventually the Astros are going to start using their veterans to keep McCullers and Vincent Velasquez at their inning limits. McCullers will continue to provide value, but even if he sticks in the rotation, this move will hasten his move to the bullpen, particularly if the Astros want to save his bullets for the playoffs. –Mike Gianella
Acquired OF-L Brett Phillips, OF-R Domingo Santana, RHP Adrian Houser, and LHP Josh Hader from the Astros in exchange for OF-R Carlos Gomez and RHP Mike Fiers. [7/30]
Although the Brewers have given conflicting signals about whether they’d listen on their cost-controlled players, the trade-that-wasn’t sending Gomez to New York ultimately put the team’s cards on the table for all to see. Not only were the Brewers listening on the former All-Star, but they were highly motivated to move him, starting a much-needed (perhaps overdue) rebuilding process.
Doug Melvin has historically prioritized high-minors players in big trades, targeting players in Double-A or above. It’s precisely what he did when trading Zack Greinke to Los Angeles in 2012 and when trading Yovani Gallardo to Texas this past winter. Such an organizational philosophy is predicated on the theory that prospects who have successfully navigated the treacherous jump from High-A to Double-A have a better chance of doing the same from the minors to the majors. Similarly, the Brewers wish to avoid a rebuild that drags on for a half-decade or more. Targeting players in the high minors should hypothetically shorten any period of non-contention, a strategy owner Mark Attanasio desperately hopes to be true.
Gomez is one of the top four players -- including Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Ben Sheets -- to wear a Brewers uniform since the turn of the century. As such, losing his presence in center field will be a massive drop in production, both offensively and defensively. Assuming Gerardo Parra is also traded before the deadline, someone like Shane Peterson or Logan Schafer may play center field for the remainder of 2015. The Brewers will transition from above-average production, even with a bit of a down season this year, to replacement-level production.
Fortunately, their performance throughout the remainder of the 2015 season isn’t important. This trade signals an explicit acknowledgement that the club’s window of contention has closed, and that they must reload for the future. Although Gomez is a special player, his greatest service to the Brewers’ organization, at this point, is bringing in talent that can contribute beyond 2016.
If the decision to move Gomez represents a shift in the Brewers’ competitive strategy, trading Fiers only raises the white flag higher up the pole. The right-hander had four years of control before reaching free agency and has arguably been the Brewers’ best starting pitcher in 2015. He has posted an ERA that’s roughly league average (3.89) and has struck out over a batter per inning, all while making the minimum. Moving such an asset clearly signals a total rebuild.
For the Brewers, though, Fiers is a terrific asset to market to contenders. He’s a pitcher who could help beyond the 2015 season, but he’s also 30 years old. For an organization that recognizes its next chance for legitimate contention lies a few seasons (at least) in the future, an aging mid-rotation starter is hardly something to clutch too tightly. Moreover, with Wily Peralta returning to the rotation and Kyle Lohse/Matt Garza currently untradeable, the Brewers had excess starting pitching.
It's not clear if Melvin and his scouting staff targeted a specific position in trade negotiations, but the addition of Phillips gives them a long-term plan in center field now that Gomez has departed. Tyrone Taylor has been the internal plan for the past two years; however, his struggles in Double-A and the arrival of Phillips should stabilize the future at the position, perhaps as soon as late 2016.
Ultimately, though, this trade wasn’t about acquiring specific talent or clearing salary. It was about amassing talent across the board, which is what a package of four prospects—two of whom ranked in the Astros’ 2015 top-10 prospects—accomplishes. The Brewers began the 2013 season with one of the worst minor-league systems in baseball. Through quality drafts, a recent trade, and aggressive signings on the international market, that system had begun to creep up the organization rankings. A further infusion of talent through this trade will only contribute to that cause.
The Brewers continue to reload their system with potential major leaguers and are committed to moving big-named pieces for future help. That, in itself, is perhaps more important than the any individual deal. It’s a signal that Milwaukee understands its status and is willing to meaningfully address it. –J.P. Breen
Drafted out of high school with the first pick of the sixth round in 2012, Phillips has impressed with his growth and linear development at every stop in the minors since. What stands out most about him, on top of his raw tools, is his work ethic and demonstrated ability to address his shortcomings, particularly at the plate. He's a max-effort player who demonstrates the kind of engagement with the game and leadership qualities that give confidence that he can maximize his potential. If he does so, the Brewers' will have an above-average center fielder on their hands.
Skill-wise he offers a five-tool package highlighted by plus speed and a howitzer of a right arm. In the box he demonstrated significant growth in his time at Lancaster; his first trip through the Cal League was marked by a raw approach that saw him sell out for power at the expense of his balance. He gained strength in the off-season, helping the raw power tick up to average. Combined engaging his lower half and creating more natural torque, he showed an improved ability to drive the ball without selling out this season. The adjustments helped him stay on pitches longer and more effectively utilize the whole field, allowing the hit tool to play up despite a persistently aggressive approach. That approach means he'll give away at-bats chasing balls early in the count, and he tracks poorly against same-hand pitching. But the overall offensive package is solid-average, and there's potential for his plus speed to translate into additional value-added on the basepaths as he refines his base-stealing technique.
In the field he shows sound instincts with plus range to get to balls in the gap. He charges especially well, and the arm projects as a true weapon in center. The arm strength allows for a safety net in right and sets a high floor for Phillips as a versatile fourth outfielder if the offensive development stagnates in the high minors. –Wilson Karaman
Houser was a second round pick in the 2011 draft, and the Astros have taken it slowly with the right-hander from Oklahoma, as he's yet to pitch more than 110 innings in a full season. His best pitch is his fastball. While it doesn't have elite velocity, it does sit 91-93 mph with downhill plane and sink that gets him his share of groundball outs. His curveball is also an above-average offering, and its hard downward break also allows him to keep the ball on the ground. The changeup is easily the weakest of his three-pitch mix, though it has shown improvement as he gains more confidence and feel for it. He repeats his delivery well, and though he doesn't have the necessary command to pitch in the big leagues, there's no reason to think it can't get there in time.
There's not a ton of upside here, but Houser projects as a backend starter, possibly even a mid-rotation arm if the change continues to progress. –Chris Crawford
An easy comparison for Josh Hader could be “poor man’s Chris Sale,” but the lanky lefty also reminds of recent transactee Alex Wood, if just in mechanics alone. Hader joined the Astros from Baltimore in the 2013 deal that also sent L.J. Hoes and a competitive balance pick to the O's in exchange for starter Bud Norris. A 2012 draft pick, the 21-year-old Hader has worked his way up to Double-A at a fair pace, though not without his share of bumps and bruises in the ERA column along the way. Though he has both started and relieved, the bullpen likely given his quirky mechanics from the left side, particularly if he struggles to repeat his delivery. As for those mechanics: Hader has a slight rock-step in the beginning of his delivery, making the rest (a full turn towards second base; arms almost creating a straight line at full extension, whipping through a low 3/4 arm slot to a slightly off-balance finish) even more difficult for hitters to time than your standard lefty.
In a recent viewing, his fastball sat 92-94 MPH, and ran up to 97 MPH in the first inning. He did touch 95 MPH in the fourth inning, his last before being removed for an unknown reason. The aforementioned armslot and motion add both deception and life to the offering, which is by far his best pitch, and he relied primarily on it in that recent outing. Hader also works with a somewhat slider that can border on slurve in the mid-to-upper 70s, a pitch that could become a solid piece with more confidence and time. Hader’s third pitch, a changeup averaging 83-84, is by far his weakest pitch, and he would do well to drop it should he transition to the bullpen on a permanent basis. –Kate Morrison
At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Santana has an athletic physique and wiry strength. He has plus power and is seemingly just as comfortable lining a fastball over the right field wall as he is pulling his hands in to drive a pitch to left. He has average bat speed but plenty of loft in his swing and he puts a ton of leverage behind it. If everything clicks, it’s not unreasonable to think he could hit 30+ home runs at full maturity.
Santana’s hit tool makes that a big if, however. He can cover the entire plate effectively, but he often expands the zone, chasing breaking balls in the dirt and trying to catch up to fastballs above the letters. He doesn’t recognize spin well at all, and often flails at sliders and curves, even if they’re in the zone. He can hit anybody’s fastball but he’s really struggled against right-handers with good secondaries.
In the field, Santana has a plus arm but little else. His focus drifts in the outfield and he's been known to miss or bobble routine ground balls hit right at him. He’s a below-average runner too, so he doesn’t offer anything out there besides arm strength.
Having already reached the major leagues, there isn’t much growth left in Santana’s game. The Brewers can afford to give him every chance to crack their lineup as a regular but he’ll likely get chewed up by big league righties and it’s hard to project him as more than a second division starter with some pop. It’s possible that he exceeds that projection, of course, but in the long run, his skills best suit him in a platoon role where he can mash lefties and offer Craig Counsell a power-hitting weapon off the bench against everyone else. –Brendan Gawlowski