Well, one thing’s clear — new Stros General Manager Ed Wade is not risk averse!
The six player deal that is bringing star shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Stros has already been thoroughly analyzed around the blogosphere, so there really is not much to add. From what I’ve seen, most folks think the Stros gave up too much for Tejada. I’m not sure about that, but I’m not sure that this trade helps the Stros all that much, either.
As regular readers of this blog know, the Stros’ decline over the past two seasons since their World Series team of 2005 has been for different reasons. The 2006 Stros fell short in the mediocre National League Central because their strong pitching finally could not overcome the club’s chronically anemic hitting. Then, after Stros management took steps to improve the club’s hitting for the 2007 season, the Stros pitching staff fell apart as the club’s subpar defense contributed to the staff’s struggles.
Thus, new GM Wade has been trying to shore up the Stros pitching staff and defense, and his initial deals have addressed those areas. However, frontline Major League-quality pitching is hard to come by on either the trade or free agent markets these days, so Wade has not been able to swing a deal to bolster the Stros starting pitching rotation, which was one of the worst in Major League Baseball last season.
The Tejada deal does nothing to address the Stros pitching and defensive problems and may well make them worse. On a threshold basis, my sense is that the Stros win the trade because they got one of the best shortstops in MLB in return for five players, none of whom is a top prospect. Troy Patton is a promising pitcher, but his peak will probably be a mid-rotation starter. The Stros uncharacteristically pushed him through their system quickly as he made his MLB debut last season before he turned 22. However, his strikeout and ground ball rates decreased dramatically as he moved up the minor league chain. Moreover, Patton came up with a sore shoulder last season after throwing around 150 innings, so given his relatively small physical stature, the Stros probably figure that the injury risk with him is high.
The rest of what the Stros gave up is not top shelf. Luke Scott has been an above-average MLB hitter for the past two seasons, but he is likely best-suited for a fourth outfielder/platoon-type role. Back-end starter-type Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate (who might turn into a reliever) and minor-leaguer Michael Costanzo do not figure to be even Major League-average players unless there is a substantial uptick in their performance levels. Thus, beyond saving some money and adding depth, the Orioles didn’t extract much from the Stros in return for one of their most valuable trading chips.
However, I don’t see how the deal improves the Stros all that much in the long run, either. When I heard about the deal, I figured the Stros would put Tejada at third base in place of the eminently mediore Ty Wigginton and simply endure Adam Everettís poor hitting in return for his stellar fielding at short. But then I learned that the Stros had non-tendered Everett, which means that they are going with the poor-fielding Wigginton at third and Tejada, who at shortstop is a rather substantial defensive downgrade from Everett. Add in the immobile Carlos Lee in leftfield and you have one of the worst left-side-of-the-field defenses in all of MLB. That’s not what you want behind an already well below-average starting pitching rotation.
Now, maybe Stros management figures that Everett’s broken leg from last year is going to diminish his defensive range. And even before his injury last season, Everett did not play as well in the field as he had in the three previous seasons. So, maybe that reasoning justifies the Stros’ decision. But when he is at his best, Everett would save a team probably 25-30 more runs than Tejada with his defense.
Thus, by choosing Wigginton over Everett, my sense is that the Stros did not maximize this trade. With Tejada at 3B and Everett at SS, they could have had an excellent left side of the infield to go along with their improved outfield defense and an above-average offense. Now, it looks as if they will have another bad defensive team with a slightly better offense. Frankly, that doesn’t do much to help the Stros’ overwhelmed pitching staff, which is where Stros management better concentrate between now and Spring Training if the Stros are going to have any meaningful chance of returning to contention in the NL Central.