Astros' bold moves show future is now
HOUSTON -- The day ended for the Houston Astros with one of those electrifying moments that makes the whole incredible ride feel magical. If things work out a certain way for this team, players and coaches might look back on Thursday and see it as another sign that something special is happening.
Catcher Jason Castro's three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning delivered a 3-0 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Angels. With the sweep, the Astros -- a team that averaged 104 losses the past four seasons -- are 58-45 and leading the American League West over the Angels by two games.
It had already been a good day for the Astros by the time Castro homered. Shortly before game time, general manager Jeff Luhnow acquired center fielder Carlos Gomez from the Brewers as part of a six-player trade.
Along with Luhnow's earlier acquisition of left-hander Scott Kazmir, the GM has nicely positioned his team for a stretch run. Luhnow is still shopping for a starting pitcher and could land Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner from the Padres before Friday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Houston may have gotten better sooner than most expected, but now the Astros see 2015 as a window of opportunity to get to the postseason for the first time in 10 years. If Luhnow has to give up some of his prized prospects to get there, so be it.
Luhnow wanted Gomez, and badly. He began discussing him with Brewers general manager Doug Melvin three weeks ago and had remained in touch. Luhnow sees Gomez as a guy who'll bring production and fire to the Astros, someone capable of making an impact in center field, on the bases, etc.
In the three seasons before this one, Gomez averaged 22 home runs, 27 doubles and 37 stolen bases. He's also a very good defensive player. And there's that passion. Gomez plays the game hard. He plays it fast. And sometimes, he rubs opponents the wrong way.
Luhnow is fine with that part of Gomez's game. He believes teams can feed off the energy of someone like that. Houston has so many young players, so many guys in their first pennant race, that Luhnow wanted to add some experience.
"Carlos Gomez is such a special player," Luhnow said. "He's in his prime -- the whole package, the defense, the baserunning, the offense, the power, that's complementary to any team."
Gomez and Kazmir have both been to the postseason. Speaking of Kazmir, he pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings in his second start for his new team on Thursday, and when he was done, his 2.10 ERA was the best among AL starting pitchers.
Luhnow's day began with the news that a trade that would have sent Gomez to the Mets had fallen apart. Luhnow was on the phone to Melvin immediately.
Gomez's numbers are down this season, in part, because of some injuries early in the season. Now, though, he's healthy and likely to be rejuvenated by a pennant race.
To get Gomez, Luhnow had to surrender four young players, including 21-year-old Double-A outfielder Brett Phillips.
Memo to Brewers fans: Your team just acquired a future star.
Until recently, Phillips was a player the Astros couldn't imagine trading. Inside the organization, he's seen as a cornerstone-type player, a guy who might someday hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the Major Leagues.
When Houston's reconstruction began almost four years ago, the goal was to acquire a whole bunch of players like Phillips. And so what happened on Thursday was an indication of how much things have changed for this franchise in the past four months.
Luhnow surrendered Phillips because he has constructed one of baseball's best farm systems and because the future (suddenly) is now.
"We're committed to winning, [Astros owner] Jim Crane is committed to winning, our front office is committed to winning, our players and coaching staff are," Luhnow said. "To be able to bring a player like Carlos Gomez into our organization in the prime of his career to complement a lot of great players we have out there right now means we're serious about doing some damage this year, and in the years to come. It's going to be a fun next few years for the Astros, and hopefully it starts a long string of postseason appearances this year."