It’s hard to call the decade of the 2010s a failure for the Houston Astros. From their disastrous stretch of 324 losses from 2011-2013, the Astros reinvented themselves with elite prospect development, great scouting, and a modern outlook on how to play the game: by using analytics on and off the field.
It culminated in a World Series* title in 2017, a second trip the Fall Classic in 2019 after a 107-win, American League-pennant winning campaign, and more success over a three-year string than any in franchise history. To get to this point in the Bayou City, the club had to make some moves, but some of them were franchise-altering in good and bad ways.
Over the next several weeks Baseball Essential will be doing a series on the best and worst trade every team in Major League Baseball has made over the last decade. Here is the best and worst trade the Houston Astros have made since 2010.
The Best Trade the Houston Astros Have Made Since 2010: Houston acquires Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers for Daz Cameron, Franklin Perez, and Jake Rogers (August 31, 2017)
I write this all knowing the 2017 World Series title won by the Houston Astros has been clouded in controversy, disappointment, and an utter lack of accountability. Regardless of the sign-stealing scheme that allowed the Astros to score their first World Series title, they probably would not have won the championship if this final-minute deal fell through.
Verlander had spent the first 13 seasons of his career in Detroit, dominating for a Tigers team that somehow couldn’t put things together around its star-studded set of starters. Earning a Cy Young Award and AL Most Valuable Player Award in 2011 as well as six All-Star honors in Michigan, Verlander was seeking just one more trophy to hold in his Hall of Fame career.
Waiving his no-trade clause and accepting the trade to Houston with, literally, seconds to go before the waiver trade deadline, the right-hander dazzled down the stretch as the instantaneous number-one starter for the Astros.
Verlander went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 43 strikeouts to just five walks in the final month of 2017 and continued his run into the postseason, collecting wins in both of his appearances against the Boston Red Sox in the AL Division Series. On to the AL Championship Series, Verlander was nearly untouchable to the New York Yankees, handily winning the ALCS MVP with 16 innings of one-run ball over two starts, including a complete-game, 13-strikeout victory in Game 2.
Though he failed to pick up his first World Series win in the seven-game classic against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Verlander was solid, throwing 12 innings of five-hit ball with a .583 WHIP in two starts.
The former AL Rookie of the Year has arguably been the AL’s best pitcher over the past two seasons, his full two campaigns with the Astros. Winning his second Cy Young Award in 2019 and finishing second in 2018, Verlander is 37-15 with a 2.55 ERA, 590 strikeouts, .851 WHIP, and a 7.47 K/BB ratio in 437 innings pitched over the past two seasons.
Though the ace underwent a groin surgery before MLB elected to push back the beginning of the 2020 season, the righty will be leaned on heavily when/if the season takes off.
The Worst Trade the Houston Astros Have Made Since 2010: Houston acquires Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, and cash from the Milwaukee Brewers for Josh Hader, Brett Phillips, Adrian Houser, and Domingo Santana (July 30, 2015)
This is a uniquely awful trade for any sports team, on and off the diamond. Not only did the Astros acquire Carlos Gomez, who by any measure was horrendous in his stint at Minute Maid Park, the team scored the services of Mike Fiers (who was good for the team until he, you know, set fire to the whole organization).
If one trade did this much damage to a team, surely they didn’t give up much of a return package, right? Only one of the best relievers in baseball over the past three seasons, Josh Hader, and a package of several useful players whom the Brewers have used either as reliable role players or trade chips to acquire better talent.
Gomez was once a legitimately great player. His 7.6 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2013 ranked third in the National League that season, earning him MVP consideration, an All-Star berth, and a Gold Glove Award.
Gomez with the Astros seemed like a completely different player. He looked like less of a 30-year-old major-league veteran and more like a 20-year-old who wasn’t ready for The Show. In 126 regular season games as an Astro, Gomez slashed .221/.277/.342 with a .619 OPS, nine home runs, 131 strikeouts, and a 72 OPS+.
He received consistent playing time in spite of his struggles but never seemed to turn it around. He was eventually designated for assignment and picked up by the AL West division rival Texas Rangers midway through 2016.
Fiers was a decent addition to some mid-decade Astros rotations that needed solid inning-eaters on the hill. Although he didn’t boast the best stats in the AL in his time with Houston (4.59 ERA, 1.337 WHIP) his 384.1 innings pitched over two and a half seasons with the team displayed his durability and reliability.
However, Fiers did something significantly more harmful to the Astros than give up a couple of poorly-timed home runs, and you’ve probably heard about it. The veteran pitcher was the initial whistleblower who broke the foundation of the Astros franchise by alleging to Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic that in 2017 the Astros (of which Fiers was a member) used a camera rig in center field that relayed opposing pitcher signs to the Houston dugout.
Fiers was shamed by some of the more notable personalities in the sport, such as Jessica Mendoza and Pedro Martinez, but had the backing of the majority of the sport’s community for helping restore the lost integrity of baseball.
The Astros were — rightfully — hit hard by this, which stemmed from the trade to acquire him. Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were canned, the team forfeited high draft picks in the next two seasons, and were fined the maximum allowable amount of money ($5 million). The impact on the players, although they avoided suspensions, will be large, as seven Astros were hit by pitches in their first five spring-training outings.
Of course, all of this is bad. But one other thing I have considered over the past few months is Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. With Zack Greinke pulled after a superb outing and Howie Kendrick going to the plate with a one-run lead and Juan Soto on first base, the Astros called in Will Harris, their fireman reliever.
Harris promptly allowed a two-run home run to the utility infielder, who went to opposite field on a pretty pitch in the lower corner of the zone. The Astros would never lead again, and the Washington Nationals would win their first world title.
Can you imagine if AJ Hinch signaled for Josh Hader? Would Kendrick have any chance against his elite fastball/slider combination? Anyway, time to stop thinking about that game.
Stay tuned to Baseball Essential over the next few weeks for more on the best and worst trades made by all 30 MLB clubs over the past 10 years.