Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thoughts on the Keppinger Trade

The Astros dealt fan-favorite Jeff Keppinger last week for a pair of minor league pitchers creating a bit of an uproar on the message boards. I've got to say, I was a bit troubled by this. First of all, I never like seeing any of our guys traded. I've never been one to give up on players or the team, always believing that our guys are going to turn it around, even in the worst of slumps. See Chris Burke, Jason Lane, Morgan Ensberg, Adam Everett, Richard Hidalgo, Jose Lima, etc. But Astros fan need to face reality: Houston is a bad, BAD team right now. Entering play tonight with a record of 33-70 they are on pace for the worst season in franchise history (prior to this season, they'd never lost more than 97 games in a season; just to match that at this point they'd need to finish 32-27). And due to the way the franchise has been handled in recent years, the farm system isn't exactly overflowing with prospects at the AA and AAA levels. The AAA team, the Oklahoma City Redhawks, are 46-58 and in last place in their division as well. Their roster is filled with names like Anderson Hernandez, Robinson Cancel and Nelson Figueroa. Only one player has more than ten home runs, Cancel is the only regular who is hitting better than .300, and their starting rotation boasts players with ERAs of 5.55 (Figueroa), 6.23 (ex-Mariner Ryan Rowland-Smith - now on the DL) and 8.84 (Giants castoff Brad Hennessey). Bottom line, the outlook is bleak. Which brings us back to the Keppinger deal. Kepp was one of the few bright spots for the Astros this year, batting .307 in 43 games after starting the year on the disabled list. This on the heels of a solid 2010 season that saw Kepp hit .288 with 34 doubles. So yeah, it sucks to lose a guy who was by all accounts, solid in the clubhouse and consistent on the field. He was one of those lunchpail guys who came to work every day and did his job. But here's what people are overlooking. Keppinger is a 31 year old utility infielder who crushes lefties, but he doesn't hit for power (30 career home runs in 1875 at bats), he isn't a great baserunner (11 for 18 career stealing bases), and while he doesn't strike out hardly ever, he doesn't walk a lot either (4 times in 163 at bats with the Astros this season). Keppinger is not a cornerstone of a winning franchise, at best he's a great piece to have on a winning team. When people got upset because we traded Jeff Keppinger, aka 'our best player', that speaks volumes about the state of the franchise right now. If Jeff Keppinger is your best player, you're in SERIOUS trouble as an organization. So when you can move a guy like Kepp at the deadline, sending him to a contender and actually getting a couple of prospects in return, this is the right move to make. Sure they weren't can't-miss guys, but what'd you think you were going to get for a utility infielder on the wrong side of 30? The Astros just need to add young talent right now and start building for the future. And the future I'm talking about isn't 2012. It's probably more like 2014. The two pitchers Houston got for Kepp are 22 year old Jason Stoffel and 25 year old Henry Sosa. Both are hard throwers and have a chance to someday crack a big league roster. Stoffel has struggled with control but has amassed 14 saves this season at the AA level with better than a strikeout an inning. Sosa meanwhile was once a top prospect in the Giants organization but has struggled with injuries. Still, he's not completely washed up as we've seen in two starts since joining the Astros AA team. Post trade he's thrown 14 innings without allowing an earned run and struck out a batter an inning while letting opposing hitters bat just .140. Will these guys pan out? Who knows? But these are the types of moves Houston HAS to make right now in order to save the future of the franchise. We can't keep picking up the Pedro Feliz's and Billy Hall's each winter and hoping we'll be contenders with a roster full of aging stars and short on top flight talent. Keppinger was performing, but his performance gave him VALUE. We were able to trade him BECAUSE he was doing well. Same goes for Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Wandy, Brett Myers, Clint Barmes. Their names are coming up because they are producing (some more than others). Nobody's talking about Chris Johnson and his 84:13 strikeout to walk ratio to go along with a .246 average and 6 home runs because he ISN'T producing. It's the whole buy low, sell high thing. Anyhow, it's time to blow up the Astros and rebuild from the ground up. It's not what I want to do, but I do want to see the Astros return to glory, and we're not going to do that without shaking things up a bit. It's time the rest of the fan base realize that as well.

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