Sean Pendergast

Rationalizing the Flood of Houston Sports Divorces Since 2020

J.J. Watt might be the most painful divorce of a sea of Houston sports divorces in the last two years.
J.J. Watt might be the most painful divorce of a sea of Houston sports divorces in the last two years. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Once upon a time, there was a psychiatrist by the name of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and in her 1969 book entitled Death and Dying, she outlined the five stages of grief that human beings go through in processing the loss of somebody. In short, she said that we all go through the following five stages in processing loss —  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

While sports should never be equated to life and death, the processing of grief when a sports figure leaves your life in some way — trade, release, free agency, retirement — does mirror Kubler-Ross' view of actual life and death loss. In Houston, we know this all too well. We've experienced a lot of loss in Houston over the last few years, with several prominent star players leaving, most of it extremely traumatic.

For purposes of this post, I know the title says "since 2020," but I am going to fudge the timeline to include Gerrit Cole's leaving in late 2019, since it was essentially the 2020 MLB offseason that he departed for New York. The exercise we are conducting here is a simulation. I want to operate as if we've never gotten out fo Stage 1 (Denial) of the Kubler-Ross model, and try to rationalize all of these departures across our MLB, NFL, and NBA teams. From there, I will rate just how badly we are lying to ourselves in doing so, rating our rationalization on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 meaning our rationalization is actual truth, and 10 meaning we are in SUPER DENIAL, if this is what we really think. The higher the score, the greater the denial!).

Make sense? Good, now let's DENY our sadness! GO!

GERRIT COLE (12/18/2009), signs with the New York Yankees
Sure, Cole had the greatest four month stretch of any pitcher I've ever seen wear an Astros uniform (and I was here for Randy Johnson!), but in the end, the guy was all about himself. Remember after Game 7 of the 2019 World Series? The first thing he did was put on a "Scott Boras" baseball hat and essentially declare himself a free agent. Then he went to the Yankees, because... wait for it... he GREW UP A YANKEES FAN! Good riddance! Don't need ya, Cole!
COLE RATIONALIZATION SCORE: 4.2

DeANDRE HOPKINS (3/16/2000), traded to the Arizona Cardinals
I hated it on the day that we traded Hopkins, because at the time, it was the most lopsided deal of any I've ever seen from a team that I root for. Hopkins for David Johnson and a second round pick. Since then, Hopkins has made a spectacle of himself on Twitter, throwing shade at the Texans, and oh by the way, the formerly unbreakable Hopkins now gets injured a decent amount! We will be glad we avoid the $27 million per year he is getting on his extension he signed with the Cardinals
HOPKINS RATIONALIZATION SCORE: 7.4

RUSSELL WESTBROOK (12/2/2020), traded to the Washington Wizards
Westbrook was here for one season, coming over in a totally lopsided trade for Chris Paul and multiple high picks, orchestrated by James Harden. That's how much Daryl Morey would bend over backwards for Harden — he would go so far as to make a trade the Rockets were clearly in danger of losing from Day One. Once here, the Rockets did what every Westbrook team has done for the last six years —- get knocked out early in the playoffs. Good riddance.
RATIONALIZATION SCORE: 1.4

JAMES HARDEN (1/13/2021), traded to the Brooklyn Nets
Shortly after Westbrook was traded, Harden staged his own coup, showing up to training camp fat, flouting COVID protocols, and being a general pain in the ass. Ultimately, he would just step to the microphone after games and trash his teammates. GM Rafael Stone got a nice return in draft capital for Harden, a return that should provide some complementary pieces for their young nucleus. Meanwhile, Harden has ALREADY forced his way out of Brooklyn to Philly, in barely one season! I miss James Harden's meaningless 50 point games in February, I do not miss his postseason flameouts.
RATIONALIZATION SCORE: 1.7

GEORGE SPRINGER (1/23/2021), signed with the Toronto Blue Jays
We all love George Springer, but $150 million for six seasons of a guy, who is in his early 30s at the BEGINNING of the deal is bad business. That was proven out over the 2021 season with Springer missing 84 games due to injury. (Granted, when he played, he had an OPS of over .900, but still!)
RATIONALIZATION SCORE: 9.2

JJ WATT (2/12/2021), released (signed with Arizona Cardinals)
Watt saw the writing on the wall throughout 2020, and probably realized after the trade deadline that season that the future was going to involved a LOT of losing in Houston. So the team released him, allowing him to choose his next destination. Watt chose Arizona, joining Hopkins in a walking reminder of the futility and incompetence of the Bill O'Brien Era in Houston. That said, Watt was getting older, was injured often, and tore up his shoulder in 2021. It was time to move on, even if he is a local hero and franchise icon.
RATIONALIZATION SCORE: 8.1

DESHAUN WATSON (3/18/2022), traded to the Cleveland Browns
When Watson requested a trade back in January 2021, most of Houston understood. The Texans were poorly run, and were essentially a laboratory for ill-fated experiments. Then came the lawsuits, which made Watson untouchable by other front offices around the NFL. Over time, Watson became less and less likable, and was clearly someone who was guilty of, at a minimum, poor judgment. Once it was time to trade him, he managed to weasel the biggest pile of guaranteed money in NFL history, and gloated about it on social media. Watson is a full on heel. Good riddance.
RATIONALIZATION SCORE: 3.4 (easily the most complicated of all these)

CARLOS CORREA (3/19/2022), signed with the Minnesota Twins
Carlos was the defiant face of the Astros, post sign stealing punishment. When he told the rest of the world to screw off, it basically made us forget the previous two seasons where he couldn't stay healthy, and had fallen to the seven hole in the Astros lineup. He broke a rib getting a massage in 2019! So now Carlos moves on to Minnesota, of all places, on a deal that basically allows him the option of free agency after each of the three seasons in the three year contract. Astros don't want that uncertainty, and don't need the drama. So take your ball, and take your weird contracts, and head to the great, white north, Los!
RATIONALIZATION SCORE:  5.6

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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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