Why on Earth Would the Astros Trade Framber Valdez?

This is the Astros we're talking about, not the Rays. What would they stand to gain from trading a cost-controlled star like Framber Valdez?

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 05: Cristian Javier #53 and Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros celebrate in the clubhouse after the Astros defeated the Phillies, 4-1, in Game 6 of the 2022 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, November 5, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Last week, a rumor emerged that the Houstons Astros were listening to trade offers for Framber Valdez. This wasn’t just baseless speculation, either. It came from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, who heard from multiple sources that “teams are monitoring the possibility” of the Astros dealing Valdez.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today later added his own report to the mix, suggesting that the Astros aren’t necessarily planning to flip the left-hander this winter, but evidently, they’re open to the possibility.

Excuse my language for a moment, but – if these rumors are accurate – what the groundballing #@$! are the Astros thinking?

Framber Valdez, in case you’re unaware, is an excellent pitcher. He’s probably the best pitcher on his team, depending on your expectations for a 41-year-old Justin Verlander. In 31 starts last season, Valdez ranked third among AL starters in innings and seventh in ERA. His groundball rate was down compared to previous years, but it was still the highest in the league by a wide margin.

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In his age-29 campaign, Valdez surpassed 4.0 fWAR for the second consecutive season, and the Steamer projections at FanGraphs expect him to do the same in 2024. He is one of only four AL starters projected to reach that mark.

The Astros, in case you’re unaware, are something of a modern baseball dynasty. They have won the AL West in six of the past seven years and played in seven consecutive AL Championship Series. They were the 2022 World Series champions, and they came within one game of returning to the World Series this past October.

Suffice it to say, this isn’t a team that should be trading away any big league contributors, let alone one of the best pitchers in baseball. 

At the very least, the Alex Bregman trade speculation from earlier this offseason made a modicum of sense. The All-Star third baseman is only one year away from free agency, and as talented as he is, his $30.5 million salary for 2024 is hardly a bargain.

Yet even that rumor was shot down by general manager Dana Brown. Indeed, the Astros GM didn’t mince words at the Winter Meetings. “We’re not entertaining trading Bregman at all,” the executive explained.

HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 20: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros hits a three-run home run against the New York Yankees during the third inning in game two of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 20, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

As Brown continued to quiet any speculation about trading Bregman, one part of his answer stuck with me: “We’re trying to win here.”

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If, indeed, the Astros are trying to win – and why shouldn’t they be? – there is simply nothing to gain from trading Framber Valdez.

An All-Star in each of the last two seasons, Valdez has also finished top-ten in AL Cy Young voting the past two years. That’s not the kind of player you can easily replace. There is almost no way the Astros could give up Valdez and still field a stronger team in 2024.

That’s not to say there wouldn’t be any benefits to a trade. The Astros could certainly use some new prospects to bulk up a depleted farm system, and Dana Brown could use some wiggle room below the first luxury tax threshold. Still, if the Astros are “trying to win here,” trading Valdez isn’t the move to make.

Sure, the southpaw could bring back a haul in prospects. But what good is that for a team that’s ready to win now? What good are a handful of prospects who won’t be legitimate contributors until Bregman is potentially gone, Verlander has retired, and Jose Altuve is past his prime – if they’re ever legitimate contributors at all?

Moreover, if the Astros are strapped for cash, trading Valdez isn’t going to help. He should earn approximately $12.1 million in his second year of arbitration, per MLB Trade Rumors. If you’ve seen what the top arms are signing for on the free agent market, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that $12.1 million is an incredible bargain for a pitcher of his talents.

Trading Valdez would give the Astros an extra few million to spend this winter, but they won’t be able to replace his production at such a low price. Dealing Valdez could free up enough payroll for the team to make a run at Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, but neither of those aces is necessarily any better than the ace Houston already has at home.

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So, what’s really going on here? Are the Astros truly this desperate? Because we know they’re not this stupid.

It’s possible the Astros have some secret concerns about Valdez. After all, the best time to trade a player is when you think his value is at its peak, and perhaps Houston has reason to suspect Valdez’s best days are behind him.

That’s hard to believe, considering his age (he only just turned 30) and his excellent recent performance (3.13 ERA, 10.5 fWAR over the last three years). Still, it’s not impossible, and I’m willing to admit the Astros organization knows a lot more about evaluating pitchers than I do. I’m not sold on this explanation, but it’s worth mentioning.

Far more likely, however, is that the Astros are merely doing their due diligence by taking offers for Valdez. If another team calls with a trade proposal, it can’t hurt to listen. Besides, it can be helpful to know how much the rest of the league values one of your players. 

Then, once word gets out that the Astros are taking calls about Valdez, perhaps more offers start to pour in. Brown has no reason not to pick up his phone, and the speculation spirals from there.

LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 19: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros pitches during the 92nd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Framber Valdez is a highly talented pitcher. The Houston Astros are a highly competitive team. Simply put, a trade like this makes absolutely no earthly sense.

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The Astros might play in Space City, but they don’t have their head in the clouds. So, for anyone thinking about a Valdez trade, it’s time to come back down to earth.