Sean Pendergast

Houston Astros Fall Short of Big Trade Deadline Deal

Jeff Luhnow had several lines in the water, but only reeled in Francisco Liriano.
Jeff Luhnow had several lines in the water, but only reeled in Francisco Liriano. Screen grab via YouTube
There's an old saying in the world of sports wheeling and dealing — sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make. Of course, it's a phrase that is rarely brought up in the moment that a deal is almost done. More often, it's invoked after a team who narrowly missed on making a trade experiences some level of success in the end. In other words, it's most often a retrospective observation.

For the sake of Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, one hopes that is how Astros fans feel about the 2017 trade deadline come October, because in the end, July 31 was one gigantic popcorn fart for a franchise rich in the proverbial "coveted assets" and deep in need of the things those assets could have purchased — pitching, pitching and more pitching.

Also, pitching.

It's no secret that the Astros pitching staff is leaking holes everywhere. Dallas Keuchel is still a question mark one start into his return. Lance McCullers had an ERA of nearly 10.00 in July and just made his second trip of the season to the disabled list on Monday. The bullpen is a bit of a hot mess right now. Still, nothing out there tickled Luhnow's fancy enough to move prospects in deals for the likes of Sonny Gray (now a Yankee) or Justin Wilson (now a Cub). He says they came close on deals, but no cigar...
Instead of pulling the trigger on a bigger name, the Astros’ only move was to send reserve outfielder Nori Aoki and minor league outfielder Teoscar Hernandez to Toronto for veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano, who will now take the place of left-hander Tony Sipp, I suppose, as the designated "lefty setup guy with an ERA hovering around 6.00." That's it.

Meanwhile, the teams the Astros need to worry about come October — because let's face it, August and September are meaningless at this point — got better. The Yankees picked up a Gray from the A's for a package of prospects that was impressive but beatable, if you're Luhnow. The Cubs got the fireworks started a few weeks ago with the Jose Quintana trade, and they nabbed Wilson Sunday night. The Dodgers backfilled Clayton Kershaw's injury with Yu Darvish.

The Astros? Francisco Liriano.

I do agree with Luhnow that, when healthy, this is a roster that can win a championship. Even without McCullers, their starting rotation has five guys who are all capable of giving you six innings of one run ball to hand over to the bullpen on a fairly frequent basis, more frequent on the aggregate than most teams...
The problems are a) they haven't been fully healthy (aside from Fiers and Peacock) and b) they're a little too capable of giving up, say, four earned runs in four-plus innings, on the aggregate — too capable of that for one to feel fully comfortable with this as your starting rotation in October. The bullpen isn't covering up those flaws anymore, and the everyday lineup isn't going to mash for seven or eight runs a game in the postseason.

The Astros needed to do something on Monday. They got Francisco Liriano. And now, for the first time as general manager of the Astros, Jeff Luhnow has made decisions that put him squarely on the bullseye for heavy criticism come this fall.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast