Greinke trade keeps Astros as team to beat |

Greinke trade keeps Astros as team to beat

The Yankees and Dodgers are snoozing

Zack Greinke is joining an already powerful Houston starting rotation. His acquisition on Wednesday makes the Astros the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series.
Frank Franklin II | Associated Press

You almost thought it was going to be a dud, and then kablooey.

Just after 2 p.m. Mountain Time on Wednesday, the official moment that all Major League Baseball must receive all trades, the Houston Astros dropped the hammer and might have won the World Series.

Of course, there is the cliche that you still have to play the games and the postseason can get wacky with three rounds, particularly the harrowing best-of-five Divisional Round.

But Houston can now roll out Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, newly acquired Zack Greinke, and Wade Miley as a playoff rotation. The Astros also added some nice spare parts in Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to an already solid bullpen.

The. Astros. Are. The Team. To. Beat.

Yes, they gave up four prospects and that can come back to bite you, like when the Red Sox acquired reliever Larry Andersen in 1990 from the Astros for some guy named Craig Biggio. (And you wonder why Boston went 86 years between titles.)

Yet as obsessed as the baseball industry is with prospects, their potential and, most importantly, their economic efficiency, there are very few can’t-miss youngsters.

For every Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, there are prospects like Jayson Nix, Chris Nelson, Chaz Roe, Greg Reynolds, Casey Weathers, Christian Friedrich, Kyle Parker, Tim Wheeler, Peter Tago, Tyler Anderson, Eddie Butler, Forrest Wall, and Mike Nikorak.

You are saying, “Who?” Those are some first-round Colorado Rockies picks from 2001-15. I’m not picking on the local nine. Troy Tulowitzki and David Dahl were outstanding first-rounders during this time, and Nolan Arenado was a bleeping steal in the second round during 2009.

Every franchise will hit and miss with prospects, but there’s a reason there are 6,500 players in the minors vying for 1,200 Major League roster spots.

If you’re the Astros, already an American League favorite along with the Yankees, you go for it. Yes, a prospect or two may blossom, but it’s about the ring.

Opportunites to win the World Series are rare unless you are the Yankees, and we’ll get to them. As Tom Verducci remarked on MLB Network, “You don’t get a ring for having a top-ranked farm system.”

Movers and shakers

The Atlanta Braves, likely the second-best team in the National League, did well for themselves in acquiring closer Shane Greene from the Detroit Tigers. The NL East leaders have struggled closing out games. Greene replaces Luke Jackson as the closer.

The Braves added some depth, I guess, by also acquiring Mark Melancon from San Francisco for the pen. (Brief Giants analysis: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Mark.)

• Perhaps the Braves were feeling some heat because the Washington Nationals added three arms to their disaster area known as a bullpen. Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias, and Hunter Strickland are all headed to D.C. (Too bad that Harper left the Nats because the Harper-Strickland reunion would be fun to see.)

Washington had to do something — that the Nats are in wild-card contention and just 6.5 games out in the NL East with their bullpen demanded it.

Oakland A’s: Yes, they are always under the radar, but Billy Beane is sneaky good. Acquiring Tanner Rourk, and previously Homer Bailey and Jake Diekman aren’t glamorous moves. But the A’s rarely do glamorous.

Rourk and Bailey aren’t marquee starters, but Oakland is designed to get 5 innings out of a starter and then the ‘pen takes over. The A’s don’t need much out of their starters.

Normally a team that deals a frontline starter like Trevor Bauer is running up the white flag. But the Cleveland Indians were done with Bauer after his temper tantrum on Sunday. (As he was being taken out of a game, he chucked the ball from just behind the mound over the center-field wall.)

In a three-way trade, the Indians acquired Yasiel Puig from the Reds and Franmil Reyes from the Padres. Since the Twins’ pitching is also melting down in the AL Central, the Tribe may have helped themselves significantly.

Neither moving nor shaking

Does anyone want to win the NL Central? The Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs, all piled in a head atop the division made minor moves, but nothing that changes the picture. It’s almost as if all three teams are giving the pennant up to the Dodgers or Braves.

Hal Steinbrenner is a refreshing change from his father, George. As the owner of the Yankees, Hal stays out of the headlines, doesn’t fire his manager annually and avoids signing every free agent known to humanity.

There, however, is going too far in being a mellow Steinbrenner. The Yankees needed starting pitching before the Astros got Greinke. The Yankees are in a deeper hole after Houston got Greinke.

The Bronx Bombers have the resources to acquire players. For what are they waiting?

The same question can be asked of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As much as this pains your orange-and-black author, the Dodgers are the clear favorite in the National League until anyone else proves otherwise. (Remember how L.A. squished the Braves last year? So does Atlanta.)

The Dodgers’ vulnerability is the bullpen, especially the way Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman micromanage a pitching staff. Kenley Jansen isn’t the closer he used to be. The depth isn’t there. The Dodgers needed more than Adam Kolarek from the Rays.

Perhaps the Dodgers got unlucky in facing the Red Sox in the 2018 World Series. No one was beating Boston last year, though it was thoroughly satisfying to see Clayton Kershaw take two losses. But the lack of a bullpen killed them in a seven-game World Series loss in 2017 to the … wait for it … Houston Astros.

In that Fall Classic, the Dodgers’ pen pitched 28 2/3 innings during seven games, and the Astros pounded whoever came out of the outfield door. The Dodgers had organizational depth to make bigger moves. They also have the uncanny ability to find players like Max Muncy and Chris Taylor and turn them into superstars, a fact that makes it seem like Los Angeles has a never-ending supply of talent.

They had the potential to make a trade. I have no idea why they didn’t. We had the Astros winning the World Series in March, and we double down on Houston after the deadline.

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