HOUSTON Unjust as it was, J.A. Happ became the embodiment of the previous regime, his acquisition a referendum of its inability to accurately appraise talent and secure proper value through trades.
Request of ardent Astros fans their assessment of former general manager Ed Wade and, aside from the misappropriation of funds though questionable free-agent signings, the first criticism oftentimes includes Happ, acquired from the Phillies with infielder Jonathan Villar and outfielder Anthony Gose (who was flipped for infielder Brett Wallace) in exchange for star right-hander Roy Oswalt at the 2010 trading deadline.
Astros fans won't have Happ to denigrate anymore. Interestingly, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow might one day face judgment on what he wrangled in return by trading Happ to the Blue Jays late Thursday night.
As part of a 10-player trade that reaped five minor leaguers, Happ and right-handed relievers Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter were shipped to Toronto. The Astros landed right-hander Francisco Cordero and reserve outfielder Ben Francisco, both of whom will join the club in Phoenix, but the most valuable assets were the prospects included.
"I'm very excited about the prospects that we're getting back and I felt like this was a deal we needed to do to further our mission in Houston, which is to develop the best young talent in baseball," Luhnow said. "Toronto has done an outstanding job of drafting and developing prospects over the past 10 years, especially the last five years. And we felt like their system was deep, had a lot of players, and we were able to work through and get to a point where we knew we were giving up major-league value, but we figured that we could invest in the future here by getting five minor-league prospects that we really liked."
With Cordero and Francisco playing out one-year contracts totaling 6.04 million, they are little more than roster fodder for the rebuilding Astros. Right-handers Asher Wojciechowski and Joe Musgrove plus catcher Carlos Perez are the headliners in the deal. The Astros also received left-hander David Rollins and a player to be named later.
Wojciechowski, 23, a consensus top-10 prospect in the Blue Jays' system, was the 41st overall selection in the 2010 first-year player draft. Though he has struggled with mechanics his stuff his unquestioned, particularly his plus fastball. Given his frame (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and outstanding control (5.8 walk rate over 93 13 innings at High-A Dunedin), Wojciechowski projects as a starter or high-leverage reliever.
Musgrove, 19, was the 46th overall pick of the 2011 draft and was ranked 11th in the Blue Jays' system by MLB.com. Musgrove (6-5, 230) has logged just 32 23 professional innings but features another power arm that the Astros can add to a system in dire need of them.
Wojciechowski will report to Double-A Corpus Christi while Musgrove joins Greeneville of the Rookie League. The 22-year-old Rollins (6-1, 2.78 ERA in 18 stars and 77 23 innings) will be assigned to Lexington.
"We need arms," Luhnow said. "It's one of the things that we were desperately trying to address, and by getting Wojciechowski, Musgrove and Rollins we really added to our depth.
"To be able to add three arms of that caliber in one trade is a key reason why we did it."
In securing Perez, 21, the Astros also addressed their shortcomings at catcher. The Blue Jays were flush with talent at that position with J.P. Arencibia catching in Toronto, Travis d'Arnaud atop their prospects list, and Perez (ranked eighth among Toronto prospects by MLB.com) part of a mix that included A.J. Jimenez and Santiago Nessy. Perez (6-0, 195), a free-agent signee out of Venezuela, is batting .275.358.447 with five home runs and 40 RBIs in 71 games and will report to High-A Lancaster.
"We feel like catching is one of the areas where we really needed to get some more depth, some major-league prospects," Luhnow said. "Perez is a guy we believe fits the profile we're looking for, a guy that can produce offensively. He's an on-base type of player and he's defensively able to do the things that you need to do to maintain that position.
"I'm pretty confident in the bat, and our scouts report that the defensive skills are good enough to make it to the big leagues and potentially be a regular, everyday catcher. That's a valuable resource for us."
Luhnow sold high on Lyon and Happ, 29, whose inconsistencies were consistently maddening. While Happ finished his Astros career 18-28 with a 4.84 ERA over 59 starts and 332 23 innings, his strikeout (21.4) and walk rates (8.5) were marked improvements over last season when he was demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City for a spell.
Considering the direction of their rebuilding, the Astros couldn't afford to wait on Happ to find his rhythm. According to baseball reference, Happ produced a wins-above-replacement total of -0.7 in Houston. Southpaw Dallas Keuchel is the safe bet to replace Happ in the rotation.
"It's hard to give up Happ especially coming off an outstanding outing on Monday against San Diego," Luhnow said. "He's shown at times this year why he was a great pitcher in Philadelphia and he's been at times a great pitcher with us. And he's still young and he's still under (team) control and there's a lot of value there.
"But we're talking about picking up five minor-league players that we like. Obviously we've got to give some value to get some value, and in this case Happ has a lot of value and we felt like that was the piece that was necessary in order to get what we got."
Lyon (0-2, 3.25 ERA) was in the final season of a three-year, 15 million contract that was the source of disdain for Astros fans. But coming off an injury-shortened 2011, Lyon has posted a 22.7 strikeout rate. Carpenter (0-2, 6.07 ERA) has a power arm but had control issues (9.8 walk rate, 1.92 WHIP). He was acquired from St. Louis in exchange for Pedro Feliz, another bemoaned free-agent signing, on Aug. 19, 2010.
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