The 2015 Astros were, by all accounts, a rousing success. Seen by many as ahead of schedule, the Astros saw major strides made by many of their players, including Dallas Keuchel. These great performances by existing players and key offseason additions from both free agency and trades put the Astros at the top of the American League West quickly. This success led them to be aggressive. They promoted top pitching prospects in Lance McCullers and Vince Velasquez; then, promoted one of the top prospects in baseball in Carlos Correa, who went on to win AL Rookie of the Year. And just before the trade deadline, they acquired Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. Seemingly putting a cap on a budding roster with two controllable, quality pieces.
Yesterday, a bit over a year later, Carlos Gomez was designated for assignment.
Gomez entered 2015 hoping to continue on his success in the previous two seasons. He posted 7.4- and 5.7-fWAR seasons in each of those respective years, amounting to a 6.4 fWAR/600. Gomez had himself positioned as one of the better center fielders in the league. His 2015 did not go quite as well. Gomez, through 74 games with the Brewers, was a 1.6 fWAR and 3.1 WAR/600 player. That’s a fine player, but not the kind of player that had entered 2015. The decrease in value came from his bat, which dropped off considerably. Compared to his 2014 season, his wRC+ dropped 28 points, from 132 to 104, and his wOBA 40 points, from .368 to .328. However, Gomez, who was only 29 at the time, had another year on his deal taking him through 2016. So, there was hope that even if he didn’t bounce back in the second half of 2015, that the Astros would be able to reap the rewards of an improved 2016.
After being acquired by the Astros, Gomez fell even further. Gomez’s bat, again, was the cause of his downfall. In 41 games, he posted a wRC+ of 81 and a wOBA of .290. That made him not nearly the offensive player he was in his All-Star seasons, and even a far cry from the one who spent his first half in Milwaukee. However, his defensive prowess and baserunning ability propped him to being a .9 fWAR player through his first campaign with the Astros.
His 2016 is an even worse story. His two saving graces haven’t showed up. Gomez is currently a -0.4-fWAR player over 85 games; this is largely because his bat has gone from bad to nonexistent. Gomez is currently boasting a wOBA of .260 and a wRC+ of 58. To contextualize this, it would place him as the second-worst wRC+ among qualified hitters, which he isn’t, and only seventh among pitchers with more than twenty plate appearances. So, essentially, Carlos Gomez has become a player who can’t hit, can’t get on base enough to use his speed, and can barely play center field, if that. I don’t think it’s any mystery why the Astros DFA’d him as they hope to continue to turn their season around.
The Astros did get some value out of this deal in Mike Fiers. As a controllable arm who won’t hit free agency until 2020, he’s largely been a mid to back end of the rotation starter for his career. Since he came to the Astros, the results have been somewhat mixed. The end of his 2015 was just what the Astros needed. He notched a 3.32 ERA and slid into their rotation as a reliable arm. His FIP, however, jumped dramatically from what it was in Milwaukee from 3.89 to 4.39. This was largely due to a spike in his home run rate per 9. Over the course of the season, his DRA settled in at 3.78, which is good for a 2.7 WARP season.
This season, Fiers’ home run woes have continued, as they have throughout the league this year. Along with that, Fiers was struggled to strike batters out, putting only 17.3 percent of them away on strikes. His struggles have produced win totals that leave a bit to be desired, with him currently at 1.1 fWAR and 0.6 WARP. That said, Fiers represents a valuable commodity still. Today’s epidemic of Tommy John Surgery have put a premium on healthy, cheap reliable arms. Fiers is exactly that and will likely continue to be that for the Astros until 2020.
Josh Hader is one of the main pieces that Gomez and Fiers returned. The 22-year-old left-hander is currently in AAA for the Brewers. Hader has risen to be one of the top, left-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball. Baseball America’s Midseason Top 100 placed him in their top 25 at number 22, whereas Baseball Prospectus’ Midseason Top 50 had him at number 45. In a report done at 2080 Baseball, Hader was graded out with two plus future pitches in a 70-grade fastball and a 60-grade curveball. Those were accompanied by an average changeup.
Statistically, Hader blew through AA this season with relative ease. In 57.1 innings, Hader posted a .95 ERA with a 2.12 FIP and striking out 32.7% of the batters he faced. After being called up to AAA, Hader has struggled a bit results-wise with a 5.40 ERA, which can be related back to a near 4 percent increase in his walk rate and a 40 point increase in his HR/9, which was a miniscule 0.16 in AA. Despite all that, Hader is still striking out 28.8 percent of the batters he faces and has a FIP of 3.75. Many relate Hader’s command issues to problems with his mechanics, as the 2080 report did. The BP Top 50 noted that "his mechanics scare the heck out of many." That said, no one doubts that Hader has a bright future ahead of him if it all comes together.
Brett Phillips, the other main piece in this deal, is of similar pedigree to Hader. The 22-year-old outfielder also made appearances on both midseason lists sitting at 49 with BP and 58 with BA. To go along with that, Baseball America notes that he has sacrificed a bit of contact this year for improved power. Phillips currently has 13 home runs, but the sacrifice in contact has also caused his strikeout rate to sky rocket to over 30 percent. Obviously, that’s a worry, but because of how well Phillips plays center field, it becomes more stomachable. Phillips is touted as having one of the better arms in center field in the minors and has a very good defensive profile. On top of that, he’s got solid speed with ten stolen bases on the year, and he has posted a walk rate over 10 percent this season. So, he doesn’t necessarily need to light the world on fire with this bat to be a good, regular player. Plus, his laugh is clear 80 grade.
The other two pieces, Adrian Houser and Domingo Santana, represent more marginal value for the Brewers. Santana is a pretty volatile power bat who couldn’t sniff a hit in his first stint in the major leagues. This year, before his elbow injury, He played quite a bit for the Brewers in the outfield. However, he profiles more as a fourth outfielder type. Houser, on the other hand, has a total of two major league innings and recently underwent Tommy John surgery. He looks like more of a depth arm. Regardless, getting two quality prospects out of the deal already makes it a win for Milwaukee; Houser and Santana, if they pan out, would just be icing on the Hader/Phillips cake.
Gomez’s downfall puts the final nail in the coffin for this trade on the Astros' end. Despite any value they get out of Fiers, they weren’t paying for him to be the key piece coming back in this deal. On the other hand, the Brewers can now boast one of the best minor league systems in baseball; that trend was certainly helped along by this deal. It will be exciting to see how this trade unfolds on Milwaukee's end.
Anthony Rescan is a Contributing Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.