All Major League Baseball front offices – not just those belonging to rebuilding clubs – should take note, because the Houston Astros are giving a clinic.
By now the resurgence of Houston’s farm system is old news. After finding themselves among the worst – if not worst – in all of baseball just a few short seasons ago, they now rank firmly among the game’s top five. And that was before securing the services of right-handers Mark Appel and Andrew Thurman.
But the Astros, to the detriment of the Tigers, just pulled off the ideal trade, sending hard-throwing reliever Jose Veras to Motown for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later. It really is a thing of transactional beauty.
The book on Veras, who signed a one year, $3,250,000 deal (plus a team option for the same amount in 2014), is quite simple by now: low- to mid-90s fastball, big strikeout numbers (9.37 K/9 in 357.1 career innings), and not a clue on where to find the strike zone prior to this year.
He was, essentially, the ideal closer candidate for the Astros.
Houston wasn’t going to contend – clearly. So they signed a veteran, high-upside arm with problematic control and hoped he had a career year all the while giving him opportunities to rack up some saves (and some additional value). And he has.
Veras has posted a career best in walk rate (2.93 BB/9) as well as in ERA (2.93). However, his FIP (3.39), xFIP (3.54) and SIERA (3.02) are all relatively close to the numbers he’s posted the last two or three seasond. And a lot of the differences can be explained by the vagaries of BABIP.
Again, he’s a power arm and Tiger GM Dave Dombrowski loves power arms. And, yes, Veras improves a poor Detroit bullpen, but would he be that much of a difference over, say, Bruce Rondon, who’s posted a 1.52 ERA and averaged 12.13 K/9 and 3.94 BB/9 in Triple-A? Of course not.
The cost for another 20 or so innings from Veras: Class A outfielder Danry Vasquez and a PTBNL
Prior to the year I was fairly high on Vasquez, ranking him as the Tigers’ sixth best prospect.
At that time, I wrote: “At 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, Vasquez’s power should start to develop in the coming years, perhaps peaking in the 15- to 20-homerun range. Overall, though, he certainly looks the part of a potential big league regular thus far. On the positive side, despite the struggles in A-ball, Vasquez’s plate discipline was relatively solid (6.3% BB-rate), albeit in a smallish sample size. He will need to improve against lefties as well (.217/.253/.304).
As a 19-year-old back in A-ball, Vasquez is showing improvement across the board: .281/.333/.390 with career bests in walk and strike rates (7.4 BB% and 13.3 K%), and power (.110 ISO). Plus, he’s hitting fewer groundballs, though he still needs work against southpaws (.232/.267/.256 against them this season). According to Weighted Runs Created Plus, his total offensive production has essentially on par with the Midwest League average.
Admittedly, I might have been a bit overzealous when it came to his ceiling back in December. But 19-year-old, league average bats in A-ball have a shot to develop into something.
When it comes down to it, the Astros played the front office game the way it’s supposed to be played. They took a relatively low risk gamble in Veras, put him in the best possible situation to maximize his value, and with a little luck he did just that. Then they flipped him for at least one intriguing prospect. Sometimes intriguing prospects develop into something worthwhile, and the Astros now have one more to add to their slew.
Photo of Jose Veras Courtesy of USATSI via CBSSports.com