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 prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

65 Responses to “Houston Out-Ninjas the Ninja: Acquires Intriguing Prospects from Toronto”

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  1. Ira says:

    Amazing what a difference a competent GM can make…

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  2. Toronto fan says:

    panic panic panic panic panic panic jump
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    splat

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  3. Matty Brown says:

    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.

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  4. gobears says:

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

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      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.

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    • Kyle says:

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

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      • Choo says:

        “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.

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  5. Alex says:

    I think Musgrove is injured… deserves a mention…

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

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

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      • Kyle says:

        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.

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  6. MLB Rainmaker says:

    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.

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  7. Nick says:

    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.

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  8. Frito Bandito says:

    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.

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  9. Danny says:

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

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  10. Ed says:

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

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  11. jerkstore says:

    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.

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  12. Jon says:

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

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      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.

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  13. Mungo McGillicuddy says:

    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.

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  14. Kyle says:

    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.

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  15. Marc Hulet says:

    Yeah, the point is that Houston got some prospects with higher ceilings (and who were ranked higher in the past) that are down in value right now.

    But 3 of the guys are Top 15 prospects in Houston… and have the potential to be big leaguers. The return to Toronto is basically Happ, a fourth starter. Houston got a lot for nothing.

    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…

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    • Nick says:

      “The return to Toronto is basically Happ, a fourth starter. Houston got a lot for nothing.”

      How is a big league #4 starter “nothing”? Stupid comment.

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      • Marc says:

        Happ has barely been a #4 starter in Houston. He’s just going to get worse in the AL East. A LOT worse.

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      • Nick says:

        “Worse”

        This is always irritating.

        His superficial results are going to be different but the underlying pitcher is the same. To say that he’s going to get worse is a different thing.

        Also, if you have him as a back end starter only in the NL Central, then perhaps you should clarify that. When I read #4 starter, why am I not to believe that you think he’s a #4 starter for the team that just acquired him?

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      • Mac says:

        Totally agree Nick. One of the worst misconceptions about baseball transactions. As an A’s fan, I hear all the time that free agent hitters will play “worse” at the Coliseum. The numbers will go down, but they go down for everybody. You don’t just get worse in a new stadium or new league. Raw numbers may change. Also, some parks may be more suited to a given player’s talent set.

        But just straight up “worse”? That’s ignorant analysis.

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    • Stanley's Cup says:

      What about Lyon and Carpenter?

      Really Marc? This is your insight?

      You state that Happ is nothing… How so? He was the key piece in the Oswalt trade. He is still probably the 3rd starter in Houston, wouldn’t call that nothing. You could argue Houston won’t compete in Happ’s tenure with them, but you could make the same argument that the players dealt won’t do anything for the Jays considering they aren’t even top 10 guys in the system.

      I get you have an opinion but as a reader I was looking for an analysis of the trade, you could have concluded that the Astro’s got the better of the deal but I would have liked a trade analysis, not someone gushing about a bunch of single A prospects.

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      • Kev says:

        Happ is not the 3rd starter in Houston. He’s barely better than the 5th starter there. In a contender’s rotation, he’s a meh #4 or a good #5.

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    • chuckb says:

      I would expect Lyon to be clipped to a contender, as he seems to have little value to the Jays. So there will be more than Happ, who does suck, coming to Toronto.

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  16. Marc G says:

    “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.

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  17. MDR says:

    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.

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    • Big Jgke says:

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

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  18. Impossibles says:

    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.

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    • hk says:

      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.

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      • TBJFAN says:

        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.

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  19. Calvin says:

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

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  20. Roster Management says:

    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

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  21. Matt says:

    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.

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  22. Kev says:

    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.

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    • TBJFAN says:

      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.

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  23. Stanley's Cup says:

    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.

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  24. Anon21 says:

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

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  25. chief00 says:

    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.

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  26. Mark says:

    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.

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  27. Mike says:

    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.

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    • Kev says:

      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.

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  28. Rick says:

    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..

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  29. Rick says:

    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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