The best Deadline acquisition? Carlos Gomez
New Houston outfielder potentially worth two additional wins in tight AL West race
Now that the 2015 Trade Deadline has passed with a flurry of deals and big names in the week leading up to July 31, which single deal was the best fit of the week? There's no obvious right answer to this, of course. If you're a Toronto fan who doesn't care about prospect cost, then the Blue Jays getting David Price and Troy Tulowitzki for a late run was exhilarating. The Royals found their long-needed ace in Johnny Cueto; the Dodgers rebuilt a pitching staff with Alex Wood, Mat Latos, Luis Avilan, and Jim Johnson (not to mention top prospect Jose Peraza) for essentially nothing more than cash, considering they'd only signed Hector Olivera a few months ago.
Those are all fine options, and your team allegiances probably play a big part in which one you like. But what, we say, about the deal that brought the Houston Astros Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers? It's got everything you want in a Deadline deal, doesn't it? The Astros haven't been more than two games ahead of or behind the Angels since July 8, making every game vital. Both are upgrades over what they're replacing, Gomez particularly, and neither player is a rental, with Gomez signed through 2016 and Fiers through '20. It's the right kind of deal, from the most fascinating team possible -- the Astros, of course, haven't had a winning season since 2008.
By looking at the MLB.com postseason projections page, you can see how neck-and-neck the AL West race has become, and there's obvious value to winning the division rather than being stuck in the one-game coin flip of a Wild Card Game.
With one of the more talented young outfields in baseball, it wouldn't seem like Gomez would make such an impact for the Astros. But realize what's happened to that group since July 1:
- Jake Marisnick: .204/.232/.296, which is similar to an underwhelming career line of .231/.267/.329
- George Springer: Three plate appearances due to a fractured right wrist that could sideline him through most of August
- Colby Rasmus: .203/.253/.377; he's mired in a bad slump in an otherwise productive season
Rookie Preston Tucker has been impressive, but overall, the Houston outfield in July is just 22nd overall in Weighted Runs Created Plus. While you should never judge a player on a mere month of play, Springer's injury and Marisnick's career track record are real indicators that the team needed some help -- particularly since wrist injuries can hamper a hitter's power even after he's returned.
Enter Gomez, who has been one of baseball's most underrated stars for the last several seasons. After something of a breakout in 2012, he blossomed into a true two-way star in 2013-14, using elite defense, above-average power and quality basestealing skills to rank as one of the five most valuable players in baseball, per Wins Above Replacement.
2013-14 WAR Leaders
1. Mike Trout, 18.5 WAR
2. Andrew McCutchen, 15.2 WAR
3. Josh Donaldson, 14.1 WAR
4. Gomez, 13.3 WAR
5. Miguel Cabrera, 12.5 WAR
Over the remainder of the season, Gomez is projected to be worth roughly two wins more than Marisnick, though that value cascades down the line. Marisnick may not be a dangerous hitter, but he's a plus defender and a threat on the bases, making him a useful bench piece. (His Statcast™ average top speed of 17.47 mph on the bases is third in baseball, minimum 50 tracked plays.) When Springer returns, an outfield of Tucker/Gomez/Springer, with Rasmus and Marisnick in reserve, is quite the collection. Except for Rasmus, the outfield is tied to the team through at least next year, making this more than a stretch-run drive.
None of this is to shortchange Fiers, who has been quietly solid by striking out 349 in 341 2/3 big league innings, and the prospects going back to Milwaukee, particularly outfielder Brett Phillips, will be missed. But for the Astros, desperate for success after so much time in the basement, this is a move they absolutely had to make. If they win the division by only a game or two, you'll know why.