Counterintuitive? Yes. Beneficial? Perhaps.
The Mets have Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez, and Fernando Martinez relatively close to the bigs in the outfield and Mike Pelfrey, Phil Humber, and Kevin Mulvey closet to the bigs on the mound with Maine and Oliver Perez already in the fold. The Mets have the depth to make a deal, but you could make the argument that trading any of those guys for the marginal upgrades available on the market would be a mistake (you would be 100% right), but what about a huge upgrade?
The Astros are not exactly in what I would call an enviable position. They had a minor league system ranked in the bottom third of all big league teams before Hunter Pence broke onto the scene. Next year, they could easily be be one of the three worst systems when you consider Matt Albers should be with the big club to stay and he is not even that impressive of a prospect. They are currently sitting at 13.5 games out and 1.5 games back from being tied for the worst record in the National League and three games back from having the worst record in the Major Leagues.
If you were the Astros, what would you do? We have seen the mistakes that teams make when trying to win while a certain player is around. The San Francisco Giants have made a series of horrible choices solely based around trying to win while the had Barry Bonds on the team with some other usable parts. The Astros, while in horrible shape, do have some positives going for them in Dan Wheeler, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, and Brad Lidge with another player in Mark Loretta who could add value by fetching a B- prospect in a trade.
Wheeler is under control through '08, Pence through '12, Lee through '12, Oswalt through '11, Berkman through '10, and Lidge through '08. There is a core there, but not much else. On the farm there are some decent arms that are mid to back end guys at best and the fact they did not have a draft pick until the 111st pick in the third round of this year's draft certainly does not help things. They certainly do not have the ability to buy what they need and do have enough talent to not give up. By trading Oswalt, you free up money to buy some players and get three or four players who could bring a lot to the ballclub for under $2 million.
What to do? Would you trade Oswalt if you were the Astros for two or three top 100 talents and a guy like Aaron Heilman? I'm not even sure if I would do a Milledge, Humber, and Pelfrey much less a Milledge, Heilman, Humber, and Pelfrey deal and I do not know if either team could even come to an agreement for what they would be giving up. Would three players even be enough considering the perennial Cy Young contender is inked for another four seasons after '07 at an affordable price? The Astros are far away from competing and are in dire need of getting some young impact players in their organization. If they could bring in three guys who could contribute on the big league level and at least two with possible All-Star talent, would they be better off?
Of course I do not think the Astros would do something like this, but why not? Why not a blockbuster like that? While it would certainly not be popular, it would be hard to argue that it would not be in the best interest of the team. I understand guys like Oswalt do not grow on trees and it would be impossible for the Astros to replace a pitcher like that for those dollars figures, but sometimes you have to trade your most valuable commodity to maximize your return.
On the Mets side of things, losing two or three promising prospects is softened by the fact Oswalt and Maine are under control through 2011 and they can still bring back Perez giving them three young and talented starters to form the base of their rotation. There are quite a few teams that could help themselves out with deals like this, but they never do for fear that no one would turn up the park (i.e. Bay in Pittsburgh). With the rising cost of free agents, teams are less willing to part with big time prospects for even a year and a half of a top tier player. They want young people that are under control for a long time. The landscape the game has changed quite a bit and so should the way teams look to improve their long term outlook.
Also within the article it seems that there is a possibility of Duaner Sanchez returning late next month. I'm not sure what can reasonably be expected of him, but it is worth nothing.
Reliever Heath Bell, who posted a 5.11 ERA for the Mets last year and was dealt to the Padres in the Ben Johnson offseason deal, has been terrific for San Diego (2.26 ERA going into last night). Said Bell, "I felt like if I just got the chance to pitch in a good role on the [Mets] that I could do what I'm doing now."
Bell got a lot of support from a lot of us and I'm guessing the Mets would like a mulligan on that deal.