Astros bring in wave of talent for Oswalt
Houston gets Happ from Philly, receives Wallace from Jays
HOUSTON -- The Astros reached new heights with Roy Oswalt, winning their first playoff series and eventually making their first World Series in 2005, while watching the unassuming right-hander from Mississippi blossom into one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball.
With the glory years of a half-decade ago a distant memory, Oswalt longed for another chance to pitch on baseball's biggest and brightest stage in October and two months ago asked the Astros to trade him to a contender -- a wish the club granted him Thursday afternoon.
The Astros sent Oswalt and $11 million in cash to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ, Minor League shortstop Jonathan Villar and Minor League outfielder Anthony Gose, who was then traded to Toronto for Minor League first baseman Brett Wallace.
This is the second blockbuster deal general manager Ed Wade, the former GM of the Phillies, has engineered with his former team. On Nov. 7, 2007, he acquired Michael Bourn and others from Philadelphia in the deal that sent Brad Lidge to the Phillies. The Astros have also signed former Phillies players Jason Michaels, Pedro Feliz and Brett Myers in Wade's time in Houston.
"We're trying to do everything we can to make this a championship-caliber club," Wade said. "We recognize the profile of a guy like Roy Oswalt and what he's meant to this team and we certainly salute that. At the end of the day, we had a pitcher who didn't want to be here and he expressed that feeling, and at the end of the day, we were able to convert that into three very good players who we think fit our direction going forward."
Oswalt, who had to approve the deal because he had a no-trade clause, got what he wanted and will be thrust into the middle of a pennant race when he starts for the Phillies on Friday night in Washington. But the Astros believe they made out like winners, too.
The club has made a commitment to building for the future through its Minor League system, and Thursday's trade enabled them to do that while shedding some payroll.
|The Phillies got their man in Roy Oswalt from the Astros. Whether Houston got enough in return remains to be seen, with the two Minor Leaguers coming back along with lefty J.A. Happ a few years away from being big-league ready. One of them, Anthony Gose, was flipped to Toronto for Brett Wallace. Here's some more information on Wallace and Jonathan Villar:|
Villar is a high-end athlete at a premium up-the-middle position. Just 19, the switch-hitter signed with the Phillies out of the Dominican Republic in May 2008. He has hit .272/.332/.358 in his first taste of full-season ball with Lakewood in the South Atlantic League. Like Gose, he's got speed, with his 38 steals good for third in the league. He's stolen 82 bases since signing with the Phillies. The bat has a ways to go, but it's projectable and some feel he'll hit in the future.
He's a little raw, but has good range at shortstop and gets high marks for his arm from shortstop. He has made 42 errors, but that's not unusual for such a young middle infielder, and some scouts feel he'll be a very good defender as he matures. The trade gives the Astros another prospect at the position in the lower levels of the Minors, with Villar one step behind 2009 first-round pick Jio Mier, currently playing with Class A Advanced Lexington.
For Brett Wallace, a 2008 first-round pick of the Cardinals, this will be his fourth organization. Coming out of Arizona State, Wallace has had the "good bat, bad body" tag placed on him. A third baseman initially, the Blue Jays had moved him over to first after getting him from the Oakland A's. He hit .301/.359/.509 for Triple-A Las Vegas in 95 games. For his career, the 2009 Futures Gamer has hit .304/.375/.487.
There's long been a concern about Wallace's body and some were worried that he'd gone in the wrong direction a little bit this year. But he's also been described as being a better athlete than his body might indicate. That being said, Wallace will have to watch his conditioning as he gets older. While his production has been fine, it hasn't been quite where some felt he'd perform as a professional. He's struggled with pitches on the inner half of the plate a little bit, but not enough for scouts to stop projecting him as an impact, middle-of-the-order bat at the big-league level.
-- Jonathan Mayo
Oswalt, 32, has about $5 million left on his current contract and is scheduled to make $16 million next year. The Phillies and Oswalt will have a mutual option for 2012 for $16 million, with a $2 million buyout.
"It's exciting, for sure," said Oswalt, who went 6-12 with a 3.42 ERA for the Astros and was one win shy of tying Joe Niekro's franchise all-time wins record of 144. "I think it works out for both of us. Houston's getting a good prospect and another pitcher, and I'm getting to go to a great team. I'm happy for both sides."
The Astros fielded numerous calls about Oswalt when, frustrated with a lack of run support and understanding the club was looking to make somewhat of a youth movement, his agent told owner Drayton McLane in May he wanted to be traded to a contender.
Even though Oswalt had to approve the deal, the Astros wanted to make sure they were content with the package they were getting in return. Happ, who went 1-0 with a 1.76 ERA in three starts for the Phillies, will be plugged into the rotation and will start Friday in Houston against Milwaukee.
"Obviously, I was a little shocked and a little surprised today, but I'm definitely looking on the positive," Happ said. "I hope to be a part of their future and help turn things around there. It's nice to go to a team that wants you. I want to go down there and pitch well and see what happens."
Happ has spent time on the disabled list this year with a flexor tendon strain, but Wade said the Astros examined his medical charts and are confident he's healthy.
Wade said Villar will be sent to high Class A Lancaster and Wallace will be the starting first baseman at Triple-A Round Rock. He said the addition of Wallace doesn't have an impact on Lance Berkman, who's in the last year of his deal and has a $16 million option for next year.
"Obviously, we want to get younger, but we want to be as good as we can possibly be," Wade said. "If we could have figured out a way to make that happen and still have Roy Oswalt at the top of our rotation, that would have been something we would have pursued, but we deal in real time and the reality is he requested a trade and that opened up the window for us explore it."
The market for Oswalt was diminished by the Astros' insistence they receive at least one Major League player in the deal, and Wade said the action began to heat up after Cliff Lee was traded to the Texas Rangers from the Seattle Mariners a few weeks ago.
The Astros approached Oswalt on Wednesday about waiving his no-trade clause to go to the Phillies, and he called former teammate Lidge to get the lay of the land in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are on the heels of the Braves in the NL East. He informed the club Thursday he would waive his no-trade clause to join the Phillies.
"We never approached Roy until we had a deal in hand," Wade said. "We understood there were some issues that had to be dealt with, but I don't think this took on a longer shelf life than we expected it once we got the elements put together. It was a case of talking to all the clubs we thought was a fit. We had a lot of in-depth conversations with a number of teams, all of which revolved around what's the right package to put together."
One of the first phone calls Oswalt made upon learning the deal had been completed was to longtime teammate Berkman, who along with pitcher Wandy Rodriguez are the only holdovers remaining from the Astros' 2005 World Series team.
"It's kind of sad, really," Berkman said. "It's not surprising, because all this has been going on for a while and I thought he would wind up getting traded. We both signed in '97 and have been playing together pretty much ever since. He's certainly a good friend of mine and we had a great run. Roy is obviously a huge part of the best years the franchise ever had, and he's definitely one of the all-time greats we've ever had in the organization."
Wade didn't pretend Happ, who went 12-4 last year and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, was going to replace Oswalt, who's won at least 19 games three times in his career. But the move made sense considering Oswalt's desire to leave Houston and the Astros' eye on the future.
"This is a deal we felt makes sense for our organization," Wade said. "What we want to do is build a team that's got long-term success and stability and have our fans begin to develop a new identity. We're very excited about the impact [catcher] Jason Castro's had on our club so far, the impact [pitcher] Bud Norris and [third baseman] Chris Johnson and [reliever] Wilton Lopez and some of these other kids have had.
"By bringing Happ in here and getting him in the rotation, we feel we're headed in the right with our club over the long term, and that will be a good thing."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.