By Ray Kuhn
This was a trade that ultimately ended up being all about thievery.
Myles Straw is fast. Stealing bases and tracking down fly balls in center field were never a problem for the speedy outfielder. In fact, that still rings true. The problem Straw is encountering though, is that in order to steal second base, you have to be on first base.
It sounds obvious, and in fact has been a problem that players have dealt with forever. I mean if that wasn’t the case, the top of major league batting orders would be filled with track stars.
Through 98 games in 2021, Straw stole 17 bases for the Astros while actually batting a solid .261. While Straw doesn’t strike out a ton and he can draw a walk, he also hasn’t proven to be an exceptional stolen base threat. At the time of the trade, Cleveland was drawn in by Straw’s speed and the Astros were in need of bullpen health.
That led to the solid Phil Maton being traded to Houston. Maton continues to be a valuable part of the Astros’ bullpen, and you could argue that the performances between the two players makes it even trade. However, there is more to the story than that.
At the time of the trade, the Astros received some criticism as, at that point, stolen bases were incredibly valuable and in short supply. Houston ultimately was not incredibly confident in Straw’s on base skills and they also had depth in center field with Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers.
In each of the last two years, Straw has stolen an unremarkable 21 and 18 bases while hitting .221 and .233. On the other hand, McCormick played a vital role in Houston’s championship last season. This year, things are going even better for the center fielder. With three games remaining in the season, he is hitting .279 with 22 home runs and 19 stolen bases.
What did we say earlier about Straw’s speed and stolen base ability? Despite the criticism surrounding the trade of Straw, McCormick is stealing bases at the same clip, can potentially be a perennial 20/20 player, plays strong defense and also hits for a better average.
We have buried the lead though as we have yet to discuss the best player in the trade.
Versatile Yainer Diaz is often overlooked as a power source.
Moving forward, we will be talking about Yainer Diaz as an All-Star on an annual basis and he is being overlooked this season.
Part of the reason is the presence of Martin Maldonado behind the plate as he continues to be a large piece of the Astros’ culture. Diaz’s defense isn’t so bad either, but his bat and plate skills require real attention.
Despite inconsistent playing time, at least early in the season, and bouncing between catcher, first base and DH, Diaz has had a great season. The majority of his time, 58 games, has been spent behind the plate, and that is not an easy position to play as a young player Another adjustment factor is needed for DH, and that is where Diaz has spent 39 of his games.
Overall, Diaz is hitting .282 with 21 home runs and 60 RBI in just 396 plate appearances. Even with his limited playing time, Diaz’s production lines up nicely at the position and among young catchers, but if project him to 500-600 plate appearances, things look even better.
Houston has a strong lineup, and it is easy for Diaz to get lost at times. With a 12.2% average barrel-rate, Diaz continues to make strong contact. While we are focusing on the offensive side of things, Diaz is far from a liability defensively. By some metrics, Diaz is coming in better defensively per some metrics than Maldonado despite his reputation.
What is clear, is that the trade of Straw had just as much to do with Diaz as it did Maton. While the latter was the target, there was a clear reason as to why Houston was willing to part with Straw.
Ultimately, this trade will go down as the Yainer Diaz deal and another caper by Houston. It is also important to give James Click credit here for overseeing this trade. At the time of the trade, Diaz had not moved higher than A-ball and he had not established himself as a prospect.
This is a trade that speaks to importance of low-level minor-league scouting and projection of skills into production.
Ray Kuhn can be found writing on Fantrax and Fantasy Alarm after previously covering the Houston Astros as part of the FanSided network at Climbing Tal’s Hill. Reach him at @ray_kuhn_28 or firstname.lastname@example.org as he is always interested in talking or writing about our great game.