The Astros’ lone move this past Monday was the acquisition of Francisco Liriano from the Blue Jays, but multiple reports indicate a significant reason for their lack of activity is due to the fact that an agreed-upon deal for Zach Britton fell through at the eleventh hour. Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (here and here), MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal, and FanRag’s Jon Heyman each reported key aspects of the story. You’ll certainly want to read those links in full for all the interesting details, but we’ll cover some highlights here.
Astros owner Jim Crane said in a radio interview with ESPN 97.5 in Houston that his team had multiple trades that were “agreed to in principle” before medical issues led to those deals getting “vetoed at the top.” The Orioles are known to have the most stringent medical standards of any team in the league, though it’s also interesting that Rosenthal reports that Houston also had a deal lined up for an unidentified “high-end” reliever that would have “surprised the industry” upon being traded.
Per Kubatko and Rosenthal, the Britton deal broke down when the Orioles raised medical concerns over two of the players in the deal — believing one to have a “legitimate medical problem” and deeming another to be somewhat questionable. The identity of the prospects in question isn’t known, though Kubatko says the pair were both pitchers and Rosenthal hears that as many as six to seven Astros prospects were deemed off-limits in trade talks for Britton. Ultimately, the Orioles “went dark” on both the Astros and the Dodgers, who were also in the mix for Britton, for several hours before simply telling L.A. that Britton was off the table about an hour prior to the deadline, Rosenthal continues. Baltimore made a last-minute offer to Houston, but the Astros deemed it too steep.
Heyman writes that while many will place the blame on Baltimore owner Peter Angelos, Orioles officials insisted to him that the medical reports on the players the O’s would have received of great enough concern that no deal was ever even presented to Angelos. Heyman spoke to multiple execs from other teams that suggested Houston is too stingy when it comes to surrendering its top prospects in a deal, and that penchant for hanging onto prized young talent ultimately led to a quiet deadline for GM Jeff Luhnow and his staff.
Of course, the Astros had plenty of reason to be cautious when it comes to Britton. The once-elite reliever has missed most of the 2017 season due to a pair of DL stints tied to a forearm injury and at the time of the deadline had only worked back-to-back days once since being activated off the DL (and once during a minor league rehab stint). He posted an 8-to-4 K/BB ratio in 10 July innings before the non-waiver deadline, though it’s perhaps worth noting that he did work on a third consecutive evening the night of the deadline.
Houston did, of course, have other irons in the fire — including the intriguing mystery reliever noted by Rosenthal as well as Yu Darvish. Indeed, it seems the former only fell through at the ownership level from the other team. And Houston’s front office felt it made a stronger offer for Darvish than did the Dodgers, says Rosenthal, who notes the Rangers simply didn’t see it that way (the front office had authority to deal the righty within the state).
Brad Hand of the Padres, though, seemingly represented the most obvious alternative to Britton — at least, after the Cubs grabbed Justin Wilson, in part owing to a wariness of dealing with the O’s on deadline day. But Houston and San Diego just never saw eye to eye on the southpaw’s value, per Rosenthal and Heyman.
Sources from the Pads indicate the club ultimately backed away from seeking top-100-type talent, though not all rival executives seem to have viewed it that way. It seems that San Diego did at least check down from the top-tier prospects it initially sought, though obviously there was still a gap that was never bridged. Details remain scant, though Rosenthal notes the Astros held the same six prospects off-limits for Hand that they did for Britton; per Heyman, the Nationals were no more willing to discuss Carter Kieboom than their top outfielder prospects and the Dodgers preferred cheaper options even though the Padres would’ve taken a package of multiple prospects outside of the Dodgers’ five best.
Ultimately, the fact that both Britton and Hand stayed with their respective organizations leaves some potentially un-done work for all involved. The Astros obviously had intended to do more at the deadline, and could look to find alternatives this August. There’s also an impact on their plans for 2018 and beyond. That’s all the more true for the Orioles and Padres, who’ll likely shop their lefties this winter.