A couple of weeks ago the Astros traded their "closer" Wilton Lopez to the Colorado Rockies for starting pitcher Alex White. I put closer in quotations because closing is more of a role than a skill, and Lopez only received that role because several players ahead of him stunk up the joint. Nonetheless, Lopez has been a solid reliever for the Astros. In the last three seasons Wilton Lopez has pitched 204 innings out of the pen with a 2.64 ERA and a 5.16 K/BB ratio. That's pretty fantastic and only three pitchers (minimum 50 innings pitched) had a better K/BB ratio than Lopez last year but I will remind you that Lopez pitched out of the bullpen. Lopez does his job very well and he very well might continue to do it for the Rockies but a rebuilding team isn't going to rebuild around players like Wilton Lopez.
A rebuilding team might not do it around Alex White either, but whether or not Alex White becomes anything is almost irrelevant. Alex White is a starting pitcher, at least for now. White was drafted by the Indians with the 15th overall pick in 2009. Before the 2010 season Baseball America ranked White as the 65th best prospect and before the 2011 season they ranked him 47th. In July of 2011, White was traded by the Indians in the Ubaldo Jiminez trade and since then White's struggled in the majors. In 30 games (27 starts) and 134.1 innings pitched on the Rockies White's ERA is 6.30 with peripheral numbers that are just as ugly.
However, White has some good pedigree, a chance to be a starting pitcher and he's both younger and cheaper than Lopez. Those are all good things. Most relievers are failed starters anyway and if White can't stay in the rotation the chances are he can be a solid reliever. Like Lopez, White's arsenal allows him to kill worms at a solid rate (i.e. get ground balls) and although he's lacked control at the major league level, White has a career 2.7 BB/9 in the minors as a starter. At best White can muster it together and provide valuable cheap and cost controlled innings as a starter, at worst he could mimic Wilton Lopez' role out of the pen.
By no means is this a killer move for the Astros but it's a solid one as Wilton Lopez wasn't going to be on the next good Astros team (if/when it arrives in the AL West). Also, it has to be mentioned that Lopez missed time last season with an elbow injury. A person that has elbow problems and throws baseballs for a living isn't a great combination.
Put simply, these are the kind of moves the Astros should make.
And they continue to make them...
Today the Astros made another small but smart trade, swapping left-handed minor leaguer Rob Rasmussen for John Ely. Acquired as one of the pieces in the midseason Carlos Lee trade, Rasmussen, 23 pitched in 54.1 innings AA Corpus Christi posting a 4.80 ERA. Meanwhile, John Ely has pitched 115.1 innings with a 5.70 ERA in the majors.
So why was this a good trade? Although he has an ugly ERA in the major leagues, Ely 26, threw 168.2 innings at AAA this year, pitching to a 3.20 ERA while striking out 165 batters and walking only 36. That's pretty good and enough to be named both the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year award and the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Ely hasn't been able to fully transfer his stuff to the major league level but it's also worth nothing that his 4.15 FIP might indicate a brighter future if given ample opportunity. The Astros are in a position to afford him that opportunity and with some luck Ely could be a league average pitcher. When you consider the deals that some starters have received recently (Jeremy Guthrie 3 years/$25 million) this looks like a great trade by the Astros.
Like Alex White and waiver wire pickup Philip Humber, John Ely might not help much but he's cheap and has some upside in the rotation. The Astros are still a ways away but General Manager Jeff Luhnow has shown a knack for pickups on the scrap heap and although the process may be slow, the Astros are certainly in good hands.