The Astros traded one of their best players after a 100-loss season. And that's a rare thing, indeed.
The Houston Astros got worse on Monday. There were a lot of ways that could have happened -- leprosy outbreak, equipment theft, armadillo bites -- but there certainly weren't a lot of baseball ways they could get worse. The Astros were pretty bad already, yet by shipping Jed Lowrie away and giving the shortstop job to … Tyler Greene? Marwin Gonzalez? … the 2013 Astros probably aren't going to win as many games as they were going to before the trade. Which is pretty impressive, when you think about it.
But the 2014 or 2015 or 2020 Astros might have gotten better. The point of the trade was to get as many dandelion spores as possible, throw them up into the breeze, and see if any of them produced a new dandelion. Max Stassi has intriguing power for a catcher, Brad Peacock has a power arm, and Chris Carter is the player the Astros have been hoping Brett Wallace would turn into.
If you were a believer in Lowrie, though, you knew the middle infield for the Astros was just about the only reason to watch the team. To load up on prospects and raffle tickets, the Astros made the 2013 team worse. And by "worse", they moved from a 106-loss team to a 107-loss team. Let's not get goofy and pretend that Lowrie was Tulowitzki in his prime. But there was a short list of Astros whose face or name might be on a shirt at a Minute Maid Park concession stand in 2013, and Lowrie was on that list.
It seems obvious to you, the great unwashed Internet, that this is what the Astros are supposed to do. They're supposed to exchange anything of present value for something of potential value. Adding Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, and Miguel Cabrera wouldn't turn the 2013 Astros into a contender, so collecting a roster that will help in future seasons is the only way to go.
Except the scorched-earth mindset isn't a given. Hundred-loss teams will usually have no problems sending away veterans at the deadline who will be pending free agents, but rarely do they trade the younger players with a couple years of team control left. And most of the time, they bring veterans in. Over the last 10 seasons, there have been 14 teams to lose 100 games over the past year. The list:
They all had something in common: they spent the offseason making moves that were supposed to have short-term benefits. The 2003 Tigers, for some reason, traded younger players for Carlos Guillen and signed Ivan Rodriguez. Which was ludicrous … until it won them a pennant. The Diamondbacks traded a couple of veterans (Randy Johnson, Roberto Alomar) in the offseason, but the big return in the Johnson deal was Javier Vazquez, who was 28 and already established. The Mariners kept their team mostly intact, adding veterans like Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey, and they were rewarded with an 85-win season.
What you didn't see a lot of were anything-must-go sales. Each of those teams tried to stop from getting worse, whether it was by veteran additions or win-now trades. The big move for the Nationals between 2008 and 2009 wasn't to deal Cristian Guzman or Ronnie Belliard; it was to sign Adam Dunn and trade for Josh Willingham. The Cubs responded this winter by keeping Matt Garza and adding Edwin Jackson. Even the Rays spent a chunk of money to get Akinori Iwamura from Japan after their 100-loss season.
Every one of those teams tried to get better in the offseason. In some cases, it was a good move. The Mariners had an exciting run in 2009, and the moves made by the Tigers set up their renaissance. In other cases, it was hard to watch. Think of the Royals signing Mark Grudzielanek and Doug Mientkiewicz on the same cold, consonant-filled December day instead of seeing what kind of prospects they could get for Mike Sweeney. They added Reggie Sanders and Joe Mays later that offseason. It didn't help.
The Houston Astros had about four or five things right with their incumbent roster. Wilton Lopez was one of them. He was traded. Lowrie was one of them. Now he's gone, too. Over the last 10 years, at least, this is almost an unheard-of strategy for a 100-loss team. Don't take it for granted; it takes guts to make a horrible team even worse. And it doesn't happen often. Be patient, Astros fans. I'm starting to think your team isn't really playing for this year.
Edit: After this article was finished, Lowrie bruised his knee during the transfer from the Astros' 40-man roster to the A's 40-man roster.
Edit: Lowrie slipped on the ice that he was applying to the bruise on his knee, and he strained his wrist.
Edit: Lowrie hurt his elbow when I misspelled his name just now and hit the "delete" key too hard to correct it.
Wild theory: Maybe those sorts of things had something to do with the decision to trade him now.