Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Importance of the Houston Astros Loss of Draft Picks

Imagine AJ Hinch having to make this walk...

I want to preface this post by saying, in all honesty, that no matter what the punishment was for the Houston Astros, many, including myself, were just not going to be happy. Anything short of stripping them of the 2017 World Series Championship, which is not realistic or logistically feasible, and parading all the players down the street a la Game of Thrones with Cersei’s walk of shame (Season 5, Episode 10) was simply not going to be good enough. That’s fandom in a nutshell. We’re all fanatical about our team and we are all equally as fanatical when we feel like our team got screwed over and/or cheated. Yankees fans are rightly upset about the whole situation, and the subsequent punishments set down by the league after the fact didn’t help matters much in my opinion.

Admittedly, when the announcement came down, I put out a tweet stating that I felt like the punishment was pretty light. Truth be told, I still kind of do think the punishment was a little on the lighter side, but once I saw a Tweet from my very good friend, and the co-owner and founder of the blog, Bryan Van Dusen, I started looking at things another way. Could the loss of their first and second round draft picks for the 2020 and 2021 MLB First Year Players Draft have much more of an impact on the team than I am giving the league credit for? Maybe.

Now before we deep dive into this too much I will admit that many of these first round and second round picks that I am about to talk about came early on in the draft and came as a result of the Astros tanking for many, many years. These subsequent draft picks that the Astros are about to lose will likely come towards the later half of both drafts, Houston will lose the 30th overall pick and the 62nd overall pick in 2020, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

The Astros current core and roster was built via the draft. Star players like Carlos Correa (1st overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft), Alex Bregman (2nd overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft), George Springer (11th overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft), Kyle Tucker (5th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft), and Lance McCullers Jr. (41st pick overall in 2012) make up just a few pieces of the core that Houston was able to draft, develop, and bring up to the Major Leagues with varying degrees of success. It is also worth mentioning, while not part of the core and not a star player as of the time of this writing, that Blake Taylor will likely win a spot in the Astros bullpen to start the 2020 season. Taylor was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and was acquired by the Astros from the New York Mets, along with Kenedy Corona, for outfielder Jake Marisnick this winter. Taking away even one of these guys probably changes the dynamic of the team but imagine if potentially four of them got taken away. That would just be soul crushing to the team, in my opinion, and that could very well be happening in some capacity to the future of the Houston Astros with these punishments handed down from the league yesterday.

"I take back my congratulations post, because you're just a little cheater!"

My one gripe about the punishment, and my main reason for thinking the punishment was a little light, was that the Astros were not hit whatsoever on the international market. Some of my followers on Twitter quickly rebuffed this, stating that the Astros were not major players on the IFA market, but after researching a little I have to vehemently disagree. It only takes one player signing with the Astros off the IFA market to change the minds of the many, and the simple fact that the Astros plucked All-Star and 2017 MVP* Jose Altuve out of Maracay, Venezuela as a 16-year old in 2007 could potentially change a lot of minds in the market. On top of that, albeit in smaller roles, the additions of Yuli Gurriel (defected from Cuba in 2016), Yordan Alvarez (defected from Cuba in 2016 and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers), Aledmys Diaz (defected from Cuba in 2012 and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014), Jose Urquidy who broke out during the 2019 postseason (signed out of Mazatlan, Mexico), and a pair of IFA-acquired arms in Framber Valdez and Francis Martes that may be vying for the 5th starter spot in spring training 2020, may also go a long way to putting Houston as a desirable destination for potential future international free agents. How many kids growing up in Venezuela want to be Jose Altuve right now? I bet that number is staggering, so to completely disregard the IFA market in the punishment is completely irresponsible, in my opinion.

Yes, I realize that Gurriel and Alvarez were signed outside of the International market and would not have affected their IFA spending budget, but my overall point was to show that the Astros could, and now are, more attractive than ever on the international market. Oh, and by the way if you want to continue even deeper down this rabbit hole, the Astros traded RHP Josh Fields to the Dodgers for Alvarez. Fields bounced around a few times throughout his MiLB career, but that career started after the Seattle Mariners selected him 20th overall in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Another first round pick that never amounted to anything at the big-league level, but ultimately shaped the way the Houston Astros are currently constructed through the Draft.

"Let's bang one out and get that dub!"

To take this whole thing one step further, you have to mention the fact that the Astros best pitcher right now is the ageless Justin Verlander. Verlander was the 2nd overall pick of the Detroit Tigers way back in the 2004 MLB Draft, and it took RHP Franklin Perez (Astros #3 prospect at the time who was acquired on the IFA market out of Valencia, Venezuela), OF Daz Cameron (Astros #9 prospect at the time who was drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft), and C Jake Rogers (Astros #11 prospect at the time and former 3rd round pick from 2016) to acquire him back in 2017. So, in order for the Astros to acquire the pitcher that put them over the top during the 2017 postseason (and a former first round pick) it took them sending three of their top 11 best prospects, one of them being a former first round pick and the other being an IFA signing). You also have to remember that the Astros didn’t pay for the production that they received from Verlander; he was struggling mightily in Detroit before seemingly reinventing himself in Houston. Imagine if he had the same production in Detroit before the trade that he had while with the Astros, it may have taken three or four former first round picks to acquire him.

The Astros were not done there and were seemingly not content with their 2017 World Series Championship*. After the 2017 season the Astros acquired another former first round pick in Gerrit Cole (drafted 28th overall by the New York Yankees in 2008, and then again first overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011) from the Pittsburgh Pirates. What did it cost Houston to acquire the talented right-hander from Pittsburgh before the 2018 season? Joe Musgrove (first round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011), Michael Feliz (IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic), Colin Moran (first round pick 6th overall of the Miami Marlins in 2013), and Jason Martin (8th round pick of the Astros in 2013). To acquire yet another former first round pick, and another piece that the team thought would put them ahead of the pack in the American League, it cost the Astros two more first round picks, an IFA signing, and a “lottery ticket” in Martin.

"Bang, because Yankees fans were making fun of me!"

But the Astros were not done there either. In their never-ending effort to stay on top of the competition in the American League, Jeff Luhnow and company acquired former Arizona Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke at the trade deadline during the 2019 season. Greinke, a former first round pick (6th overall) of the Kansas City Royals in 2002, was acquired from Arizona for SP Corbin Martin (2nd round pick of the Astros in the 2017 MLB Draft), SP J.B. Bukauskas (1st round pick, 15th overall, by Houston in 2017), 1B Seth Beer (1st round pick, 28th overall, by Houston in 2018), and UTIL Josh Rojas. It is worth mentioning that while the Diamondbacks were willing to eat $24 million of the remaining dollars on Greinke’s contract, Houston is still on the hook for $53 million including his salary for the 2020 season. Did the money factor into the prospects haul for the Diamondbacks? You would have to think so, but even then, it still took two former first round picks, a second-round pick, and another lottery ticket in Rojas.

The Astros are clearly not against trading top prospects and former first and second round picks for that key piece they need at the big league level, which may mean that some of these Top 30 prospects (Fangraphs) may also be in the market for new real estate before July 31, 2020. Here is a look at the Astros Top 30 prospects and a quick look at how they got here.

      1.       Forrest Whitley – 1st round pick 17th overall 2016
2.       Jose Urquidy – IFA signing out of Mexico
3.       Abraham Toro – 5th round pick in 2016
4.       Freudis Nova – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
5.       Bryan Abreu – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
6.       Cristian Javier – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
7.       Brandon Bielak - 11th round pick in 2017
8.       Korey Lee – 1st round pick 32nd overall in 2019
9.       Hunter Brown – 5th round pick in 2019
10.   Jairo Solis – IFA signing out of Venezuela
11.   Jeremy Pena – 3rd round pick in 2018
12.   Jose Alberto Rivera – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
13.   Enoli Paredes – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
14.   Tyler Ivey – 3rd round pick in 2017
15.   Angel Macuare – IFA signing out of Venezuela
16.   Jordan Brewer – 3rd round pick in 2019
17.   Colin Barber – 4th round pick in 2019
18.   Grae Kessinger – 2nd round pick in 2019
19.   Luis Garcia – IFA signing out of Venezuela
20.   Luis Santana – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
21.   Jojanse Torres – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
22.   Carlos Sanabria – IFA signing out of Venezuela
23.   Cionel Perez – Defected from Cuba, signed as IFA in 2016
24.   Ronnie Dawson – 2nd round pick in 2016
25.   Dauri Lorenzo – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
26.   Manny Ramirez – IFA signing out of the Dominican Republic
27.   Rogelio Armenteros – Defected from Cuba, signed as IFA in 2014
28.   Nivaldo Rodriguez – IFA signing out of Venezuela
29.   Garrett Stubbs – 8th round pick in 2015
30.   Chas McCormick – 21st round pick in 2017

The present makeup and construction of the Astros were largely built through the MLB First Year Players Draft, and it looks like the future of the organization (either through the system or via trade) could be largely made up through the Draft as well.

"Got out just in time, boys!"

So, in closing, are the loss of their first and second round draft picks for the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts important? Yes, absolutely. Would it have hurt Houston even more to lose some of their IFA money and spending capabilities? Also, absolutely, but you know what hurts the most? Well, besides when the Astros miss the playoffs entirely in 2020 and have to watch the Yankees finally bring that World Championship trophy home, is that the team had to watch their manager get fired, their GM (and probably the best GM in all of baseball) get fired, AND they had to watch arguably their best pitcher head to arguably their biggest rival via free agency. Unfortunately, though, the Astros WILL keep the compensation pick that they received, 72nd overall, from the Yankees signing of Cole. How sweet would it have been if they had lost that pick too?  

Now we wait on the punishment for the Boston Red Sox, and more importantly Alex Cora. More to come…