Astros fail to reload in Roy Oswalt deal

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They were in a bad position all along, but the fact that the Astros had to kick in $11 million of the $23 million that Roy Oswalt is guaranteed and still didn’t get a top talent in return has to be viewed as a failure on GM Ed Wade’s part.
J.A. Happ isn’t nothing. The 27-year-old finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting after going 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 166 innings last season. He was declared off limits when the Phillies went after Roy Halladay both at the trade deadline last year and over the winter. However, the elbow injury he suffered in April changed things dramatically. It was called a strained forearm, but Happ still hasn’t fully recovered more than three months later. While he returned to the majors this week, his velocity fluctuates and his command has been off.
Happ was never a particularly good bet in the first place. He put up excellent strikeout numbers in the minors, but a good portion of those K’s came off a curveball he decided to scrap a couple of years ago. His slider and changeup are both quality pitches, but he doesn’t overwhelm with an 88-91 mph fastball and he’s always walked too many batters. He’s also a flyball pitcher, and now he’s going to another ballpark that’s particularly kind to right-handed power hitters. At best, he’s a long-term No. 3 starter. He could well be more of a No. 4 or 5, and now that he has the arm issues, he’s just not a particularly valuable property.
The prospects the Astros received back are also underwhelming. Fleet-footed center fielder Anthony Gose is just 19 (20 next month) and has plenty of room for growth, but he’s lacking when it comes to baseball intellect. He’s been thrown out 27 times in 63 steal attempts this year, and he has a 103/32 K/BB ratio in 418 at-bats. His overall .263/.325/.385 line isn’t bad at all considering that he’s one of the youngest players in a tough league for hitters, but he’s far more of an athlete than a baseball player at the moment.
Jonathan Villar, 19, is a switch-hitting shortstop hitting .272/.332/.358 with 38 steals in the Sally League. Like Gose, he struggles to control the strike zone, as he’s fanned 103 times and walked just 26 times in 371 at-bats. He’s also iffy to stay at short. If he retains his range as he fills out and shows he can make steady contact from both sides of the plate, he has a chance to make it as a regular. Still, he’ll probably be a bottom-of-the-order guy.
If the Astros had managed to flip Oswalt for this trio without kicking in a whole bunch of money, I’d be giving Wade some credit. As is, though, one could argue that Happ, Gose and Villar aren’t worth the $11 million the Astros had to kick in to get the deal done. Oswalt wasn’t going to take the Astros anywhere in the next year and a half, so there was little harm in moving him. However, if Wade had simply built a better team in the first place, he wouldn’t have needed to go this route and accept such a modest return for one of the best players in franchise history.
Update: This will help some. The Astros have sent Gose to the Blue Jays for first baseman Brett Wallace.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.