Here’s a trade that’s as much about a trade that didn’t happen as it is about itself. Yeah, it’s independently interesting that the Brewers traded Carlos Gomez to the Astros. It’s made all the more interesting by the fact that the Brewers also traded Carlos Gomez to the Mets, except that they didn’t, officially. The Mets, as you’re probably aware, claim they didn’t like Gomez’s medicals. Gomez and the Brewers said there’s nothing wrong in there. The Astros evidently didn’t see enough to convince themselves Gomez isn’t worth a barrel of prospects. So now it’s basically about the Astros’ evaluation vs. the Mets’ evaluation, and it was the Astros who freaked out about Brady Aiken.
Could be, it wasn’t actually about health. Maybe the Mets didn’t want to take on money, and we’ll see if they do anything else before Friday afternoon. Could be, also, there are just valid differences of opinion, since passing a physical isn’t always black and white. A few offseasons ago, Grant Balfour passed a Rays physical after failing the Orioles’ version. Teams look at things differently. I don’t know how right or wrong the Mets really are.
Here’s what I do know: another team in the race has determined Gomez should be able to help them. That team is paying a lot for the privilege. For the Mets, Gomez could’ve solved two problems. Instead, he’ll try to solve problems for the Astros, and honestly, this package is probably a better one for the Brewers, too, compared to Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores. The Brewers had a trade fall through, and then they made a better one. I don’t mean to make this about the Mets, but they’re the most fascinating party in all of it.
I should probably give you some details. Gomez is going to the Astros, but he isn’t going alone. He’s bringing Mike Fiers with him, and he’s also bringing an international signing slot, maybe in a large envelope. Here are the four players going in the other direction:
Phillips has rightly been identified as the prize. The 21-year-old has carried much of his breakout success into Double-A, and he might be able to stay in center field. Still, there’s more here. Santana has had his cups of coffee laced with acid, so no one’s really sure what those meant, but the tools are present and he’s hit the living crap out of the ball in Triple-A. Hader’s started to perform against advanced competition, and he’s a 21-year-old lefty. And Houser has enough life in his arm to be a reliever down the road. All four of these players could play in the bigs. Phillips would be a No. 1 prospect in several systems, and Santana’s about as interesting as a player gets.
As pleased as the Brewers might be, though, the bigger story’s about the team in the race. For the Astros, Carlos Gomez makes all the sense in the world, and he helps to round out a pretty complete roster. On top of that, Gomez is pretty cheap next year, too, relative to his ability, so this isn’t just a Scott Kazmir-like rental. This is the Astros, who are good now, plugging in one of baseball’s best center fielders. This is the Astros going on the offensive. Contention came quicker than everyone expected. The Astros are responding to that.
For their part, the Astros continue to say good things about Jake Marisnick. I’m sure they’re rather fond of him. But, remember that point, earlier this year, where you looked at the leaderboards and thought, “wow, I guess Jake Marisnick can hit now?” Ever since that point, he hasn’t hit. He’s been a nightmare since May, at the plate if not in the field, and so Gomez is a major upgrade. Preston Tucker has been a nice surprise, and eventually George Springer will come back. The Astros are going to have a quality outfield.
And no matter what they do the rest of this year, it could be back next year, along with most everyone else. Kazmir is going to be a free agent. Maybe the Astros don’t try to re-sign him. Some relievers might be free agents. Colby Rasmus will be a free agent. But if they wanted, the Astros could return most of their depth chart. It’s the depth chart that’s put them in first place. They can return the whole infield. Save for Rasmus, they can return the whole outfield. Kazmir leaves, but now the Astros have Fiers, who’s simultaneously 30 years old and under team control forever. We knew the Astros would arrive as more than a flash in the pan, and it’s like the window just opened itself. Nothing had to be forced. The Astros are now comfortably acting like a team that knew it’d be a buyer from the start. It’s a convincing lie.
Gomez is the sexy addition, but Fiers is worth at least a paragraph. There are two factors. One, Fiers has five remaining years of control, including this one, so he’s a cheap starting pitcher. Everybody wants those. But while it might not be so easy to fit Fiers into the picture immediately, this is, again, about thinking ahead. Fiers gives the Astros some flexibility as they think about monitoring innings down the stretch. He has both started and relieved, so he’s flexible, and while his repertoire might not be enough to pull a scout from the concession stand, he’s sitting on a sub-4 career ERA, with other numbers to match. If you pay attention to K-BB%, Fiers is actually just above Michael Wacha. No, that doesn’t mean Fiers is better than Michael Wacha. We’re just at the point where the numbers demonstrate it’s safe to take Fiers seriously.
So the Astros are paying, but they’re paying for talent and control. That control buys them a little extra time to re-fill the system, that’s currently being depleted. At some point, we’ll have to stop thinking of the Astros’ farm system as being stocked, since they keep promoting and subtracting, but the whole point of a farm system is to boost the major-league product, and with that in mind 2015 has been an absurd success. When a team starts winning, priorities always have to shift a little to the shorter-term.
The Brewers are right to be pleased. In almost no time at all, they recovered from the first Gomez trade catastrophe. They got a return that’s probably better, and with the Brewers playing for nothing, it’s a good opportunity for Domingo Santana to try to be a menace. As tough as he is to project, it’s easy to see how he could be a star. It’s maybe easier to see how Phillips could be a star, if a bit less flashy. Phillips feels fairly safe. Santana’s a mystery box you find in the home of a rich and eccentric dead uncle. That one’s all about your own risk tolerance.
And, there’s Hader. And, there’s Houser. The Brewers had to do this. They did well. It’s a start, and it’s a strong one.
It’s also a strong step forward for the Houston Astros, who, in the year 2015, could really and truly win the World Series, the very one we’re always talking about. Maybe it won’t come to be. Lots of good teams out there. But 2016 doesn’t look markedly worse. This seems like one of those organizational turnarounds we won’t be able to really appreciate until the winter. Maybe, though, it’ll hit us sooner than that.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.