CLEVELAND -- Perhaps the biggest upshot from the Astros’ surprising trade to land six-time All-Star pitcher Zack Greinke in a trade with the D-backs on Wednesday – one of four trades Houston made prior to the Trade Deadline – is how president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow was able to bolster this year’s club while filling a huge need in next year’s rotation.
The Astros now boast baseball’s deepest pitching rotation, with Greinke joining 2019 American League Cy Young candidates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and lefty Wade Miley, making Houston perhaps the favorite to win the World Series. Greinke is scheduled to make his Astros debut on Tuesday against the Rockies at Minute Maid Park.
By signing Verlander to a contract extension in March and adding Greinke, who’s under contract through 2021, the Astros will have both former Cy Young winners atop their rotation for at least two more years. Lance McCullers Jr. will return from Tommy John surgery next year, as well, but Cole and Miley are free agents. The Astros also added starter Aaron Sanchez and reliever Joe Biagini in a trade with the Blue Jays, and they’ll join the club Friday in Houston. Sanchez will start Saturday against Seattle.
“The primary focus was improving the team for the short term, especially this year,” Luhnow said. “Comparing options, clearly having players that would be here longer was a big plus.”
The Greinke trade was met in the Astros' clubhouse with joy and shock. Cole, a friend of Greinke’s, was downright giddy only moments after hearing the news. Verlander said Thursday he was pleased after hearing Sanchez and Biagini were coming to Houston, but he was stunned by the news that followed. Greinke was on his way to Houston, too.
“To bring in a guy of that caliber, not only for this year but for the next couple of years, I think it was a great move for the organization for now and the future,” Verlander said.
Verlander gave credit to owner Jim Crane, Luhnow and the rest of the front office for pulling off a move that increases the chances of Houston winning the World Series, even if it was at the cost of elite prospects.
“I think they did a great job of understanding where we’re at as an organization and keeping their foot on the gas and extending that window,” he said. “I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but that was a huge move, a huge boost of morale in the clubhouse. Not that we were low, but man that’s a shot in the arm, a shot of adrenaline getting guys like that.”
Verlander is also bullish on Sanchez, who’s 3-14 with a 6.07 ERA in 23 starts this year for Toronto but is three years removed from being an All-Star and winning 15 games. The Astros have built a reputation of overhauling pitchers in recent years.
“I think a lot of people are overlooking [adding Sanchez],” Verlander said. “Obviously, Greinke kind of overshadows guys. Biagini has great stuff. Sanchez is a guy who’s a couple of years removed from being in the Cy Young race. I think he’s healthy again. I’m excited to kind of talk to him and hopefully help return him to the capability that he has. Not all myself, obviously. We have a lot of input here.
“We have a lot of great minds here – [pitching coach] Brent Strom, myself, Gerrit, Wade, now Zack and the analytics staff. You put all those things in a mixing pot. People wonder why guys come to the Astros and pitch better. It’s no secret. We have some great pitching minds, and I think our analytic minds do a good job of letting guys know what they do well. You put all those things together and you can’t help but be better.”
The Astros made a total of four trades Wednesday. In addition to acquiring Greinke and cash for four Astros prospects and Sanchez, Biagini and Minor League outfielder Cal Stevenson in a trade with the Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Derek Fisher, the club reacquired catcher Martin Maldonado from the Cubs (for Tony Kemp) and sent catcher Max Stassi to Anaheim for a pair of prospects.
The Astros have no bolstered perhaps the deepest rotation and lineup in baseball and have a solid bullpen that will benefit from the addition of Biagini, who’s been tough on right-handers.
“He does have the fastball-curveball, which we like generally out of the bullpen,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We’ve only really seen Will Harris have the true curveball with his cut fastball. Biagini has a little bit more movement on his pitches. He takes the ball whenever. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a one-inning stint, a multi-inning stint, a matchup. We’ve got to talk about how we feel like he’s going to fit into our bullpen mix.”