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The Astros Trade Deadline Conundrum

The trade deadline presented a maddening dilemma for the Astros.

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Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros reacts after popping out in the eighth inning with runners in scoring position against the Toronto Blue Jays at Minute Maid Park on August 3, 2016 in Houston, Texas.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

If you are a blackjack player, the deal you dread the most is a sixteen. Hitting that hand is more than likely to bust you out. Standing pat is not a good option either, especially if the house is showing a strong upcard.

Which is pretty much exactly the position the Houston Astros found themselves in at the trade deadline last week: a maddening dilemma. Some wanted them to trade veterans for even more prospects and build for next year. Others made a case for them to peddle prospects from their burgeoning farm system so that they might win now, build on last year’s playoff momentum. They were so close to taking out the World Series champs, after all.

But this season has been up and down. They came out of spring training roaring, and then fell flat on their face in April. Although they rallied in June and July, they now find themselves in another funk. Some wonder if AL batsmen have figured out 2015 ace Dallas Keuchel, and this year’s best starter, Lance McCullers, is about to miss a few starts. Aside from the exquisite performance of Jose Altuve, and solid contributions from George Springer, Luis Valbuena, and Carlos Correa, the offense has been pallid: this year’s new future superstar Alex Bregman beginning his MLB career with an .031 batting average over his first 32 at-bats.

And with a single win against nine losses against the Texas Rangers, it doesn’t look like this is the year the ‘Stros win the AL West. As USA Today’s Bob Nightengale put it, “the Rangers’ six-game lead over the Houston Astros in the AL West may as well be 60 games.”

That seemed to be the case even before the Rangers doubled down at the deadline—raking in All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, closer Jeremy Jefress, and former Astro postseason hero turned booed “Judas” Carlos Beltran, in exchange for three of their five time minor-leaguers. The future is now in Arlington.

At best, the Astros are a wild-card team this year, and with the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Tigers all playing so well, they seem on the outside looking in even there.  

The Astros best “veterans” are young. Nobody wants to deal Springer, Altuve, or Correa, and the rest of the roster isn’t enticing enough to attract good talent in return, so keeping the line-up was general manager’s Jeff Luhnow’s best option.

Waiting on time is frustrating, especially in sports success-starved Houston.

As Climbing Tal’s Hill Cory Farr put it:

As you watch the Astros’ bullpen give up the lead, the two catchers on the roster go 1-10 with 7 K’s and the outfielders go 2-14 with 5 K’s on the day of the deadline, you cannot help but wonder how much a few good trades could have helped this team and just how far they could go if its needs were met.

To many, it feels as though the Astros organization has given up on winning the division this season and they are banking on the Rangers dropping off in the next few years, having given up their best prospects for a couple of short-term fixes. But it could prove to be a very sound strategy if the Astros are able to pull off multiple world series victories in the very near future. Only time will tell.

Smart bets. The Astros can’t beat the Rangers now, but very soon, a year or two hence, they will be their masters. After all, back in 2014, Sports Illustrated declared the ‘Stros 2017’s world champs, not 2016’s.  

Wait ‘til next year, Astros fans. That’ll be the year where we can split tens against the Rangers’ five upcard.
Sigh.

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