Over the next four days, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow will try to tweak the Astros' roster as best he can in order to head into the pennant race with the optimal baseball machine. Certainly, minor league call-ups like Alex Bregman help, as do random out-of-nowhere signings like Yulieski Gourriel. But it's the art of the trade by which general managers are measured in late July.
And to be real about this, it's not just July. Trades year-round, actual and proposed, are the fuel for talk radio and the blueprint incarnated for a Major League Baseball team. Through the years, the Astros have been on the winning end of some of the most famous trades in MLB history, and have been fleeced a time or two as well.
In their 54th season, we've seen some franchise-altering deals made by nearly every general manager to work for the ball club. Without further ado, here are the ten most important trades in the history of the Houston Astros...
10. Ausmus returns for second stint
12/11/00: ASTROS trade Chris Holt (SP), Mitch Meluskey (C), and Roger Cedeno (OF) to DETROIT for Brad Ausmus (C), Doug Brocail (RP), Nelson Cruz (P)
After a dismal 72-90 opening act in then-Enron Field in 2000, the Astros needed to make some moves to solidify the leadership of the team and the handling of the pitching staff, a group that was completely spooked by Enron's cozy dimensions. Hence, the return of Ausmus for his second stint as an Astro, after two seasons in Detroit. The second time around would last eight seasons for Ausmus, and included one of the most famous home runs in Astros history in the 2005 NLDS.
9. Mike Hampton comes to the Astros
12/10/93: ASTROS trade Eric Anthony (OF) to SEATTLE for Mike Felder (OF) and Mike Hampton (SP)
The Astros tried like hell to make Eric Anthony a piece of the core in the early '90s, and try as they might, it just never took, despite Anthony's physical ability. So they moved him to Seattle for a scrappy left-hander named Mike Hampton who was openly recruited by Notre Dame to play defensive back. Hampton would go on to be a key part of the rotation for the three division titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999, including a 22-4 record in 1999. Hampton would get traded to the Mets that offseason (with Derek Bell) for Octavio Dotel and Roger Cedeno.
8. Marlins garage sale nets Alou for Astros
12/16/97: ASTROS trade Manuel Barrios (P), Oscar Henriquez (P), and Mark Johnson (P) to FLORIDA for Moises Alou (OF)
The garage sale the 1997 Florida Marlins conducted just weeks after winning the World Series is one of the more deplorable roster deconstruction endeavors in baseball history. That said, Astros fans were probably not all that offended when it netted the Astros Moises Alou for three minor league pitchers. Alou's bat would prove to be a godsend in 1998, as he finished third in MVP voting and finished his three seasons in Houston (he missed all of 1999 with a treadmill-induced knee injury) with an OPS of .988.
7. Astros' biggest mulligan request — Kenny Lofton
12/10/91: ASTROS trade Dave Rohde (2B) and Kenny Lofton (OF) to CLEVELAND for Ed Taubensee (C) and Willie Blair (P)
Some of the most important trades a team makes can be trades that backfired. Imagine the Astros in the '90s with Biggio, Bagwell and Caminiti in the middle of the order, with Lofton setting the table out of the leadoff spot. Depressing, huh?
6. Blockbuster sends Cammy packing, adds third Killer B in Bell
12/28/94: ASTROS trade Craig Shipley (IF), Derek Bell (OF), Doug Brocail (RP), Pedro A. Martinez (P), Phil Plantier (OF), Ricky Gutierrez (SS) to SAN DIEGO for Andujar Cedeno (SS), Brian Williams (P), Ken Caminiti (3B), Roberto Petagine (1B/OF), Steve Finley (OF), and Sean Fesh (P)
A ton of moving parts in this deal, with the key principals being Derek Bell, the third Killer B, coming to Houston, and Ken Caminiti headed to San Diego, where he would win an NL MVP in 1996. Bell was a solid (if, at times, moody) right fielder for the Astros, with a .284 batting average and an average of 89 RBI per season.
5. Big Unit comes to Houston
7/31/98: ASTROS trade Carlos Guillen (SS), Freddy Garcia (SP), and John Halama (SP) to SEATTLE for Randy Johnson (SP)
In terms of shock and magnitude, this was the biggest mega-deal in the history of the franchise, as general manager Gerry Hunsicker was able to pluck Johnson from the Mariners at the stroke of midnight on the trade deadline. The Big Unit would go 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in two months as an Astro; however, a slew of silent Astros bats and a couple of scheduling quirks against the Padres in the NLDSS did in that 102-win 1998 team. The fizzle in the postseason that year is what keeps this trade on the fringe of the Top 5, as opposed to second place behind our eventual No. 1 trade (you'll have to keep going to find out what deal that is...NO SPOILERS!)
4. Cheo the Astro
10/24/74: ASTROS send cash to ST. LOUIS for Jose Cruz, Sr. (OF)
Until Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell came along, the greatest Astro in history was Jose Cruz, whom the Astros got for some cash in 1974. Cruz was the linchpin of the Astros team that nearly went to the World Series in 1980, and remains third in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in team history behind Bagwell and Biggio.
3. Astros get a big bat in Beltran
6/24/04: ASTROS trade Octavio Dotel (RP) and John Buck (C) to KANSAS CITY for Carlos Beltran (OF)
Behind the Johnson trade, the Beltran deal is the second most jaw-dropping in-season trade the team has ever made. Still, to this day, Astros fans seem more angry with Beltran that he left (and over how he left, delaying a decision while other free agents flew off the board) in free agency after 2004 than they are fond of him for hitting .435 with a 1.557 OPS in the 2004 postseason.
2. An ace out of nowhere, Mike Scott
12/10/82: ASTROS trade Danny Heep (OF) to NEW YORK METS for Mike Scott (SP)
The last two trades are about as lopsided as it gets, with the Astros getting a five-year ace from 1985 through 1989 and a Cy Young winner (1986) in Scott for a nondescript outfielder in Heep, and then...
1. Steal of a lifetime, Bagwell for Andersen
8/31/90: ASTROS trade Larry Andersen (RP) to BOSTON for Jeff Bagwell (3B)
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...getting a future Hall of Fame first baseman for a middle reliever.
That's as good, and as important, as it gets.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.