The Fit: Houston Astros

There’s no doubt that the Houston Astros have the talent to defend their World Series title, leading all of baseball in team ERA and ranking third in runs scored. Their starting rotation is indisputably the strongest in the game, yet their bullpen has cost them some close games throughout the season. Losses like these have allowed the Mariners and Angels to contend  in what many predicted to be an easy division-win for the defending champs.

While Chris Devenski, Hector Rondon and Brad Peacock have been reliable late inning options, closer Ken Giles has continued to struggle with a 5.40 ERA and only 10 saves. The right-hander has had a tumultuous run in Houston after being acquired from the Phillies prior to the 2016 season, a deal that cost the Astros five pitching prospects. He put up a strong 2017 regular season campaign after a poor first season with the club, yet failed to carry this success into the postseason. The Astros need a reliable ninth-inning option if they want to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees come October, which should make the top closer on the market in Kelvin Herrera their primary trade target in July.

Herrera became Kansas City’s full time closer last year, after spending the previous three seasons as a dominant setup man. A career worst 4.25 ERA last season put his job security into question, yet his 2018 performance has buried all of these concerns. He currently leads all American League relievers with a microscopic 0.73 ERA while going 14/15 in save opportunities. According to Fangraphs, his weighted fastball value (wFB) is the third highest among relievers in the American League, trailing only New York’s Chad Green and Boston’s Joe Kelly. Averaging at 96.6 mph, he mixes this dominant fastball with a changeup and devastating slider. Herrera has also shown remarkable control, as he has yet to walk a batter this season.

The Royals have found themselves completely out of contention with the second worst record in the American League, which makes a Herrera trade imminent in his contract year. It is unlikely that he’ll garner an Aroldis Chapman-like return that sent Gleyber Torres to the Yankees, yet the Royals will still demand at least one top 100 prospect packaged with other highly regarded youngsters. There will be an abundance of interest in Herrera, as teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians are almost certain show interest in the dominant right-hander. Houston is the most logical fit in this group, with the Yankees more focused on acquiring a starter and the Red Sox lacking premier prospects. Cleveland and their atrocious bullpen could make a heavy push for Herrera, yet may be reluctant to meet the Royals’ demands after paying a heavy price for Andrew Miller just two seasons ago.

The Trade

Astros get RHP Kelvin Herrera

Royals get OF/1B Yordan Alvarez, 3B J.D. Davis, RHP Corbin Martin, RHP Jandel Gustave

Analysis

This is by no means a Chapman-esque package, yet nonetheless a great return for Kansas City and their weak farm system. 20-year-old Yordan Alvarez is the centerpiece of the deal, who projects as an outfielder but has also spent time at first base. Alvarez has flew threw the minor leagues since being signed out of Cuba in 2016, starting the 2018 season in Double-A where he has an impressive .299/.374/.524 line in 27 games. Infielder J.D. Davis has been blocked from any significant playing time in that talented Houston infield, making his major league debut last season and spending most of this time in a utility role. Davis made the opening day roster after a dominant spring, yet has since been optioned twice while hitting .200 in just 45 at bats. His current .414 Triple-A batting average leaves little doubt that he’s capable of being an everyday player, as the Royals could plug him right into their starting lineup at first base or better-yet third base, his primary position, if they trade Mike Moustakas.

The two pitchers in the deal will also be ready to contribute at the major league level in the near future, with 22-year-old Corbin Martin earning a promotion to Double-A earlier this year. The 2017 second round pick projects as a mid-rotation starter, which could make him the top pitching prospect in a Kansas City organization that is especially lacking in starting pitching. Jandel Gustave made his major league debut in Houston’s bullpen in 2016, yet would miss most of the 2017 season after receiving Tommy John surgery in June. It has been a long recovery for the 25-year-old right hander, who has yet to make his season debut and is not expected to do so until late-July or August. Gustave’s fastball had hit triple digits before surgery, giving him the potential to become a valuable asset at the back of Kansas City’s bullpen if he can recover this velocity.

In return for this package of four, Houston gets a dominant closer who has spent the entirety of his career in the American League. While this package would be a heavy price to pay, they avoid giving up either of their elite prospects in Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker. The Astros are clearly in their “peak-years,” which makes trades like this one necessary, especially when many of these prospects may end up blocked by major league talent in the near future. Everybody already knows how talented Houston’s lineup and starting rotation are, which complemented by a closer as talented as Herrera will have Astros fans feeling a lot more confident when facing powerhouse teams like Boston and New York come October.

 

 

-Featured Image from Sports Illustrated