Houston Out-Ninjas the Ninja: Acquires Intriguing Prospects from Toronto

It’s no secret that I’ve been a big fan of the moves that Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has been making. He’s done an outstanding job of turning the organization around despite having almost nothing to work with. Astros fans will not see immediate results at the big league level but the organization – including the front office, scouts, and minor league development staff – have done an amazing job of infusing talent into the system.

Today’s trade with the Toronto Blue Jays will add even more talent to the organization and the 10-player deal (called the most boring 10-player deal ever) is being highly underrated from Houston’s perspective and will no doubt positively impact the club for a long time. Although Luhnow did not acquire an A-level prospect in the deal, he acquired three B-level prospects and a sleeper.

My first impression of this trade is that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos – referred to as a ninja by many Toronto fans as well as the media for his stealth-like moves – may have made a panic trade and served up too much talent for three so-so pitchers with big league experience.

Let’s breakdown the minor league players involved:

Carlos Perez
Position: Catcher
Drafted: 2007 non-drafted free agent (Venezuela)
Level: Low-A ball
Age: 21
Pre-Season Top 15 Ranking: Not Ranked

Toronto has chosen to deal Perez while his value is down, which is good news for Houston as he’s already begun to turn things around. Toronto can point to the fact that it has a lot of catching depth with prospects such as Travis d’Arnaud and A.J. Jimenez ahead of the young Venezuelan and Santiago Nessy and Seth Conner coming up behind him but you can never have too much of a good thing and both d’Arnaud and Jimenez are already on the disabled list and likely lost for the 2012 season. On my pre-2010 Toronto Blue Jays prospect ranking, Perez was ranked ninth before moving up to the fifth spot in 2011. He fell off entirely from the pre-2012 list and was forced to repeat A-ball this year while working to improve both his offense and defense. Perez has hit OK in every month but June and currently has a wRC+ of 125. He should be assigned to high-A ball with the Astros organization and could produce some very nice offensive numbers playing for Lancaster in the California League. Perez, 21, is a bat-first catcher but he’s improved enough to project as an average big league defender.

Joe Musgrove
Position: RHP
Drafted: 2011 supplemental 1st round
Level: Advanced Rookie
Age: 19
Pre-Season Top 15 Ranking: Just Missed

Musgrove is a beast on the mound at 6’5”, 230 lbs. The 19-year-old was nabbed with the 46th overall selection of the 2011 draft out of a California high school and he was a late-bloomer on the prep prospect landscape. Musgrove’s velocity crept up into the mid-90s last year but his velocity was down in early 2012, causing minor concern among the Jays’ coaching staff. He threw much better in his last game before the trade, though, and continues to battle with shoulder issues. Combined with high ground-ball tendencies, Musgrove’s new-found velocity gives him an impressive pitching repertoire. He’s working to improve his secondary pitches: a breaking ball and changeup. It’s easy to envision him as a durable, No. 3 workhorse. However, if his secondary pitches improve to the point where he has a second plus pitch he could develop into a No. 2 starter. Because he produces good ground-ball numbers, Musgrove is the type of pitcher that could perform well at home in Houston’s park. He’s overshadowed by Toronto’s big three arms in low-A (Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino, Noah Syndergaard) and he’s very underrated.

Asher Wojciechowski
Position: RHP
Drafted: 2010 supplemental 1st round
Level: High-A ball
Age: 23
Pre-Season Top 15 Ranking: 13th

Like Perez, Toronto is dealing Wojciechowski while his value is down. He was highly regarded as a 2010 draft pick out of college but Toronto tried to rework his delivery and he completely fell apart in 2011. The right-hander has finally settled into a comfortable delivery now and is back on track while repeating high-A ball in 2012. He had a rough May when his ERA was 6.94 in five starts but it’s been below 2.20 in both June and July. He’s struck out 38 batters with 15 walks during that 46.2 innings stretch. Wojciechowski only produces average ground-ball rates but he’s done a nice job of keeping the ball in the park with three homers allowed this year. The right-hander has nice velocity on his fastball but he struggles with his command and the consistency of his secondary stuff. His control has been above-average. Houston will probably keep him in the starting rotation for now but he could blossom as a high-leverage reliever. He’s probably ready to avoid Lancaster and will likely be assigned to double-A.

David Rollins
Position: LHP
Drafted: 2011 24th round
Level: Low-A ball
Age: 22
Pre-Season Top 15 Ranking: Not Ranked

Rollins was a low draft pick but he’s intrigued MLB clubs for a while now and was actually drafted four times as an amateur (also by the Dodgers and twice by the Mariners). The lefty has average stuff but he shows good command and his control is usually good but it’s been a little inconsistent in A-ball. As well, Rollins is an extreme fly-ball pitcher so that may not go over so well in Houston’s home park. The hurler has plenty of time to improve but he currently performs much better against left-handed hitters (.189 average against) than right-handers (.246) suggesting his future may lie in a big league bullpen. Rollins was in a groove in his last four starts (1.50 ERA, 10 hits, 20 Ks in 18 IP) but he has spent the past few weeks on the minor league disabled list.

The PTBNL

There is also rumored to be a Player to Be Named Later going from Toronto to Houston. I would gather that the player is one of Toronto’s 2011 draft picks who signed less than a year ago (A player cannot be traded until one year after signing). Possible names that could be on the move include Texas-born prospects RHP Jeremy Gabryszwski, RHP John Stilson, or 3B Matt Dean. Infielder Andrew Burns, who was selected out of the University of Arizona and has intriguing tools, is also a possibility. I would recommend high-A pitcher Marcus Walden, who is in his second year back from Tommy John surgery. He has a good fastball and produces crazy ground-ball rates (3-to-1) and could be an outstanding eighth-inning reliever.

* * *

With the recent trades with Toronto and Miami (which netted Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen), as well as an outstanding 2012 draft (Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., Rio Ruiz), Houston’s Top 15 prospect list is looking much improved. And the future looks very bright as the organization prepares for a move to the American League West division in 2013.



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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


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Ira
Guest
Ira
4 years 2 months ago

Amazing what a difference a competent GM can make…

Richard
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Dunno, Ed Wade clearly had his hands tied in many respects, and he did manage to fleece the Phillies once (the Pence trade), and get decent value another time (the Oswalt trade, the pieces of which factored into this deal).

Ira
Guest
Ira
4 years 2 months ago

I wouldn’t exactly say he fleeced the Phillies for Pence. Singleton is good, but he didn’t get much else. He certainly didn’t fleece the Braves in that Bourn deal.

RIP Carlos Baerga
Guest
RIP Carlos Baerga
4 years 2 months ago

Domingo Santana says hi.

Joe Morgan
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Joe Morgan
4 years 2 months ago

Jared Cosart, too.

hk
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hk
4 years 2 months ago

He also fleeced them by getting Bourn for Lidge.

hk
Guest
hk
4 years 2 months ago

It looks like he would have gotten more value out of the Oswalt deal if he had kept Gose instead of trading him for Brett Wallace.

Toronto fan
Guest
Toronto fan
4 years 2 months ago

panic panic panic panic panic panic jump
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splat

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
4 years 2 months ago

I was most upset about losing Musgrove, but the Jays have so many arms ahead of him that they might as well get 3 pitchers who we know can pitch to varying degrees of success in the majors.

ALEastbound
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Completely agree, when I saw Musgrove, Perez and Woj all on the move I was definitely disappointed it was only a pitcher like JA Happ coming back.

gobears
Member
gobears
4 years 2 months ago

Question from a non-scout: how can it be that Wojciechowski “struggles with his command and …. His control has been above-average.”

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
4 years 2 months ago

command = the pitcher puts the baseball exactly where he wants to put it
control = the pitcher does not walk batters

Thus in this case it might be that Wojciechowski is good at throwing strikes and keeping baseballs over the plate, but not so good at fooling hitters or painting corners.

Kyle
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Control is the ability to get pitches into the strikezone.
Command is the ability to accurately locate pitches.

Choo
Member
4 years 2 months ago

“Command” has become a bit of a loose term, particularly when it comes to breaking balls. Or maybe I just have a tendency to over-read scouting reports. Either way, it seems there might be at least three different ways it is commonly used, depending on the scout:

1) Ability to locate.
2) Repeat-ability of break & tilt.
3) Ability to adjust and vary break & tilt depending on the target and/or situation.

And maybe those are just three factors or levels of command. I keep going back to that interview with Trevor Bauer and how he concentrates on using pitch trajectory “tunnels” while he mixes his repertoire. For example, throwing a high fastball through the same tunnel that he just threw a curveball through. Each pitch may look the same for the first 20 feet but finish at opposite corners of the strikezone.

Alex
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Alex
4 years 2 months ago

I think Musgrove is injured… deserves a mention…

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
4 years 2 months ago

Would appreciate any comment on this – earlier today, as I tried to research Musgrove, I could only find stats for 8 IP this year.

Kyle
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

In a radio interview in Toronto around noon today, Anthopolous mentioned that Musgrove has been dealing with some shoulder issues, but Houston looked over the medicals and were satisfied with the reports. He also mentioned Musgrove should be throwing a bullpen here in the near future, so he should be just a couple weeks away from returning to action.

Still, shoulder injuries are pretty much the last thing you want a pitching prospect to have.

MLB Rainmaker
Guest
MLB Rainmaker
4 years 2 months ago

It was certainly a puzzler, though maybe it is time to panic when you’re trotting out Brett Cecil and Aaron Laffey as lefthanded starters. I’m more surprised AA couldn’t get the Padres or Mariners to bite on a deal for Richard or Vargas.

Nick
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Nick
4 years 2 months ago

A prospect guy overrates the relative value of prospects!! Shocking.

This is a deal of minor league depth for major league depth. Both are useful and each team here accomplished what they wanted to do. It’s a low impact trade that probably grades out as a wash.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

I agree, I highly doubt this will impact either team enough to see as a great trade for either team down the road.

Frito Bandito
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Frito Bandito
4 years 2 months ago

I wouldn’t call this move “panic”, exactly. As Rainmaker said, when Brett Cecil is your Staff Ace, you’re in a pretty bad place. Who knows? Maybe Happ and Lyon were acquired to be flipped to someone reportedly looking for major league starting pitching (Arizona…fingers crossed)?

Musgrove is an intriguing arm, but apparently is experiencing some shoulder issues. It’s a pretty underwhelming trade as is, but I’m fairly confident that AA isn’t done yet.

Danny
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Danny
4 years 2 months ago

AA said on the radio today that Musgrove is dealing with shoulder issues and Houston is aware of the problem.

Ed
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Ed
4 years 2 months ago

Aw, man, AA sucks now. Well that was fun for a bit, time to go back to hanging out with Baltimore.

jerkstore
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jerkstore
4 years 2 months ago

Lyon/Cordero & fransisco are confusing parts of the trade. Even if it was relief depth or a longer shot upside arm, i would expect AA to pursue pieces that will help going forward.

Musgrove, Wojo, Perez, Rollins + PTBNL seems like a lot for Happ and Carpenter.

Jon
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Jon
4 years 2 months ago

So…Toronto just decided to give up a bunch of prospects that look pretty decent in exchange for….nothing?

MLB Rainmaker
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MLB Rainmaker
4 years 2 months ago

The flip side is with the Jays system depth, at a certain point you end up with too much talent and not enough playing time throughout the organization. Moving Francisco, allows you to bring up Snider and frees up a AAA rosters spot and so on.

Mungo McGillicuddy
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Mungo McGillicuddy
4 years 2 months ago

Moving to the AL West just means they’ll have some annual competition for that cellar position. The M’s are quite comfy there, not sure they’ll be willing to give it up to the upstart ‘stros.

Kyle
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Not sure how you can say the Blue Jays sold low on Wojciechowski. He’ll be 24 later this year and is in High-A. When exactly do you imagine his value is going to peak? Even if he gets promoted to Double-A with the Astros and has a solid 2 months, he’s not going to have a ton of value. In my opinion, they traded an asset whose value has stalled, which isn’t bad at all. Losing Musgrove/Perez hurts, but I won’t be shedding many tears for Wojo.

ALEastbound
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Agreed with this, I have no beef with Woj being moved. That’s a bullpen guy in the end.

Marc G
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Marc G
4 years 2 months ago

“But sure, all the prospects could wash out. Toronto could also get a total of 20 or 30 innings out of the players they just received. You never know…”

These two aren’t really comparable as the likelihood of each event is vastly different.

MDR
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MDR
4 years 2 months ago

I am having difficulty figuring out how AA is getting criticism here. The Jays have a need for MLB ready pitching for the rest of this season and next- they have several 2 – 3 years away prospects.

Today, Happ is a bona fide # 4 or 5 MLB starter and under control for a few years. All of the prospects they gave up are in are a few years away, none are regarded as “A” prospects and blocked by the depth of the system.

Not to mention AA unloaded the 2 least productive players on Toronto’s MLB roster.

In 2017, we might see one of these prospects develop into an all-star, but I have trust AA can replenish the A ball talent and continue developing the best farm system in baseball.

Good job ninja.

Big Jgke
Member
Big Jgke
4 years 2 months ago

Yeah, getting rid of both Coco’s was a good move. Those guys were horrible. Plus, this move ends Travis Snider’s exile.

Impossibles
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Impossibles
4 years 2 months ago

While I’m not a huge fan of the trade, gathering a bunch of fringe prospects isn’t a ninja move, more like throwing a bunch of darts and hope you hit on something. AA’s philosophy has been to target star potential players, none of these prospects really fit that.

Now, if AA manages to flip Lyon or Happ at the deadline for better prospects, that would be a ninja move.

hk
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hk
4 years 2 months ago

If Lyon or Happ could return better prospects, I would think Luhnow would have taken them instead? This deal seems more about the Jays being 3 games (in the loss column) out of the Wild Card than it does about AA outsmarting another GM.

TBJFAN
Guest
TBJFAN
4 years 2 months ago

This trade is more about 2013 than it is about 2012.

Any post-season action in 2012 is already a bonus. It’s uncertain whether or not Carlos Villanueva will return for 2013, and if not, then Happ will likely be the new swingman (ie. can Happ might be the new long-reliever or emergency starter). Otherwise, Happ can always fill in as a 4th starter. Considering that Happ’s peripherals have been steadily improving since 2010, he might grow to be a passable third starter. But that depends on the FB/HR rate, which will be tough.

I think GM AA did give up one too many prospects, but look at it from his perspective: The Blue Jays have tons of prospects at the A+ level, and eventually it won’t be feasible to keep all of them.

Those traded prospects will likely take another 2 – 3 years before being major-league ready, and by that time, Toronto’s farm will have replenished.

Ultimately, it’s a good move for Houston, and a so-so move for Toronto.

Calvin
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Calvin
4 years 2 months ago

Is it too much to list the actual trade in the article about the trade?

Sleight of Hand Pro
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Sleight of Hand Pro
4 years 2 months ago

my thought exactly

Roster Management
Guest
Roster Management
4 years 2 months ago

Also should be noted that Perez has to be added to 40 man roster next year and is probably 2,5 to 3 years away so he’ll be a 24 year old catcher with no options left by the time he is major league ready. Jays simply didn’t have room on the 40 man for him, having 3 or 4 catchers there already and Jimenez needing to be added too. The best piece they gave away is a 19 year old with one pitch and shoulder issues. While I understand why the Astros would jump at the deal this is not a loss for the Jays

Matt
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Matt
4 years 2 months ago

It would be hilarious is Happ leaves Houston and turns into the pitcher he was in Philly. Then everyone will be all over how AA got Happ for 4 C prospects.

Jake
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Jake
4 years 2 months ago

This is his best year as far as tERA, SIERA, and xFIP is concerned.

Kev
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Kev
4 years 2 months ago

This year is the best you’ll get from Happ, and it ain’t nothing special.

Kev
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Kev
4 years 2 months ago

Seems like a lot of Toronto fans here trying to justify a low upside/high risk move. Trading for a high quantity of B-/C+ guys is what a team like Houston should do. If just one hits and contributes value at the major league level, it’ll probably be a win for Houston. Happ, Lyon and Carpenter are just guys now that’ll probably be replaced as soon as possible.

TBJFAN
Guest
TBJFAN
4 years 2 months ago

Lyon is definitely just there to ‘fill space’, but I can’t guarantee the same thing for Carpenter and Happ.

Happ’s peripherals have been improving steadily since 2010, and is likely to fit in as a fourth starter, or can supplement as a swingman.

It is correct to assume that GM AA did give up too many prospects, but look at it from his perspective: The Blue Jays have tons of prospects at the A+ ball, and eventually it won’t be feasible to keep all of them.

Those traded prospects will likely take another 2 – 3 years of development before being major-league ready. By that time, Toronto’s farm should replenish.

Ultimately, it’s a good move for Houston, and a so-so move for Toronto.

Stanley's Cup
Guest
Stanley's Cup
4 years 2 months ago

Kind of a strange review Marc you missed some facts:
1) Perez would need to be on the 40 man roster next year or would have been lost in the rule 5 draft, the Jays really didn’t have any room for him
2) Musgrove if I am not mistaken had arm/shoulder issues in college, and the fact that these have continued raises some red flags. Yes he has some upside but a guy in Rookie ball with arm issues for 2 years makes it hard to get excited about.
3) Woj- Bullpen arm in 2 years. Sorry but a guy repeating A ball after college and is 23 years old isn’t enough to write home about.

The Jays get an improvement over Cecil/Laffey this year and next and could be a long reliever next season when the rotation is healthy. That is some value especially since Luis Perez will miss all of next season too. PS have you looked at his XFIP?

You didn’t mention Lyon. He would quickly be the 3rd/4th best reliever in the pen

Carpenter has electric stuff from what I have read, the Jays have a season to work with him and see if they can get a servicable strikeout guy out of the pen.

You wrote this article with one perspective.

BTW Ninja’ing is when you get elite talent for cheap (Escobar, Morrow, Rasmus) This doesn’t come close. These guys may be ok in 3-4 years but definitely not “Ninja” worthy.

Simon
Guest
Simon
4 years 2 months ago

Or even getting Mike Napoli for Frankie Frank?

Anon21
Member
Anon21
4 years 2 months ago

I’ll say what we’re all thinking: the Astros should of kept J.A. Happ.

ChrisInHouston
Guest
ChrisInHouston
4 years 2 months ago

No, we are not all thinking that. Some of us are thinking that Luhnow is doing precisely the right thing by trading for lots of bodies, then using the spaghetti principle to throw them against the wall and see who sticks.

Anon21
Member
Anon21
4 years 2 months ago

should of kept j.a. happ

JP
Guest
JP
4 years 2 months ago

‘Should of kept Happ’

It’s a Phillies meme.

Kev
Guest
Kev
4 years 2 months ago

“Should have kept J.A. Happ” -No one but Anon21

Anon21
Member
Anon21
4 years 2 months ago

Hey, don’t put words in my mouth. I said they should of kept Happ.

chief00
Member
chief00
4 years 2 months ago

Both teams addressed significant organizational needs in this deal. Luhnow’s doing what AA did a couple of years ago (re-stock an empty farm); AA’s re-stocking an injury-riddled ML pitching staff.

Given the huge influx of prospects into TOR’s farm since his tenure began, AA used what he had in abundance to acquire some arms. Luhnow has LITTLE BUT 25-man roster pieces to deal; AA has LITTLE BUT minor leaguers to deal. TOR helped Luhnow re-stock his farm; HOU helped AA with pitching depth.

Both teams moved pieces before they lost their trade value: B-/C+ prospects for B-/C+ major leaguers. It’s a depth move on both parts, and that’s likely why it’s so “boring” to some. Calling this a ‘ninja’ move is exaggerating, somewhat akin to referring to a Hyundai as a ‘street rod’. It seems like an attempt to infuse excitement where there really is none.

Also, I don’t think either GM is finished yet. Luhnow has Wandy, Myers, etc., to deal. AA has added some interesting pieces (i.e. a versatile lefty and a decent-to-good ‘pen arm) to potentially flip along with prospects. Whether the pieces exchanged in this deal stick around is one consideration. And it may not even be the most important one.

Mark
Guest
Mark
4 years 2 months ago

So a 19 year old with injury problems, a 23 year old repeating A ball, a 22 year old in A ball who is looking like a LOOGY and a 21 year old C repeating A ball.

It’s not like Lyon or Happ are studs or anything, but those prospects don’t sound nearly as promising as you make them out to be.

Mike
Guest
Mike
4 years 2 months ago

A little surprised David Carpenter hasn’t generated more discussion. He could have the best stuff of any of the players named and it seems like a mistake for Luhnow to have traded him for stalled and fringe A ball lottery tickets.

Kev
Guest
Kev
4 years 2 months ago

I think every Houston fan would be shocked if he became anything more than BP for a good lineup. He is an absolute mess right now, with nearly zero command.

He’s just a guy at this point. Probably the fifth or sixth best reliever in a Houston bullpen that is regularly thrashed.

What else should Luhnow be doing with 27-year-old reliever who might not even be in the majors by the time Houston is good again? You give him away with other pieces for lottery tickets. They just need one to cash in for this trade to work.

Rick
Guest
Rick
4 years 2 months ago

While his work is appreciated, Mark Hulet is often way too dramatic (and inaccurate) with his prospect analysis,

The odds are that none of these guys will amount to a hill of beans, so just give us the facts without the fluff.

Fluff : “have done an amazing job of infusing talent into the system.”
“Although Luhnow did not acquire an A-level prospect in the deal, he acquired three B-level prospects and a sleeper. ”

Please, these aren’t B-prospects. That is absurd. These are fringe C/D guys with huge question marks that every organization in baseball has a 2 or 3 dozen of and are easily replaced every draft..

Rick
Guest
Rick
4 years 2 months ago

Here’s my favorite:

“He should be assigned to high-A ball with the Astros organization and could produce some very nice offensive numbers playing for Lancaster in the California League.”

Oh yeah? He’s gonna produce some nice offensive numbers in the California League? That and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee at Minute Maid Park.

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