Jul 29, 2010, 4:48 PM EDT
They were in a bad position all along, but the fact that the Astros had to kick in $11 million of the $23 million that Roy Oswalt is guaranteed and still didn’t get a top talent in return has to be viewed as a failure on GM Ed Wade’s part.
J.A. Happ isn’t nothing. The 27-year-old finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting after going 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 166 innings last season. He was declared off limits when the Phillies went after Roy Halladay both at the trade deadline last year and over the winter. However, the elbow injury he suffered in April changed things dramatically. It was called a strained forearm, but Happ still hasn’t fully recovered more than three months later. While he returned to the majors this week, his velocity fluctuates and his command has been off.
Happ was never a particularly good bet in the first place. He put up excellent strikeout numbers in the minors, but a good portion of those K’s came off a curveball he decided to scrap a couple of years ago. His slider and changeup are both quality pitches, but he doesn’t overwhelm with an 88-91 mph fastball and he’s always walked too many batters. He’s also a flyball pitcher, and now he’s going to another ballpark that’s particularly kind to right-handed power hitters. At best, he’s a long-term No. 3 starter. He could well be more of a No. 4 or 5, and now that he has the arm issues, he’s just not a particularly valuable property.
The prospects the Astros received back are also underwhelming. Fleet-footed center fielder Anthony Gose is just 19 (20 next month) and has plenty of room for growth, but he’s lacking when it comes to baseball intellect. He’s been thrown out 27 times in 63 steal attempts this year, and he has a 103/32 K/BB ratio in 418 at-bats. His overall .263/.325/.385 line isn’t bad at all considering that he’s one of the youngest players in a tough league for hitters, but he’s far more of an athlete than a baseball player at the moment.
Jonathan Villar, 19, is a switch-hitting shortstop hitting .272/.332/.358 with 38 steals in the Sally League. Like Gose, he struggles to control the strike zone, as he’s fanned 103 times and walked just 26 times in 371 at-bats. He’s also iffy to stay at short. If he retains his range as he fills out and shows he can make steady contact from both sides of the plate, he has a chance to make it as a regular. Still, he’ll probably be a bottom-of-the-order guy.
If the Astros had managed to flip Oswalt for this trio without kicking in a whole bunch of money, I’d be giving Wade some credit. As is, though, one could argue that Happ, Gose and Villar aren’t worth the $11 million the Astros had to kick in to get the deal done. Oswalt wasn’t going to take the Astros anywhere in the next year and a half, so there was little harm in moving him. However, if Wade had simply built a better team in the first place, he wouldn’t have needed to go this route and accept such a modest return for one of the best players in franchise history.
Update: This will help some. The Astros have sent Gose to the Blue Jays for first baseman Brett Wallace.
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