Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Jason Jennings to Houston

The Rockies very well may have just made the best trade in the history of their franchise. They just sent Jason Jennings to the Houston Astros for Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz and Wily Taverez.

Jennings, who will be 28 years old heading into next season was a wonderful pitcher for the Rockies last year and has 1 year remaining on his contract which is set to pay him $5.5m next season. Jennings pitched 212 innings last year and prevented 23 runs more runs than the a league average pitcher, and was very likely one of the top 20 or so starters in Major League Baseball last season. Jennings, a fly ball pitcher may struggle as the outfield defense of the Astros is likely to be especially porous and may also find life more difficult with out aid of a humidor.

Last year, was Jennings break out year and previously I would categorize him as an ok number #3 starter or very solid number #4 pitcher. A good innings eater, whose run prevention skill hovers around league average. So the question, is how much of Jennings improvement is sustainable? His Chone projection does think much of it is:

Player K+ BB+ HR+ Hits +

Jennings 86% 106% 77% 108%

He is projected as a middle rotation starter, though the upside for top of the rotation results is definitely present. Considering the current state of the Astros rotation after the defection of Andy Pettite to the Yankees and the unknown status of Roger Clemens, Jennings looks like a solid pick up. Oswalt, Jennings, Williams and Nieve are pretty strong foursome heading into the season.

Now, what did the Atros give up for Jennings? A lot. The Wily Taverez will likely take over as Colorado's starting centerfielder, though nothing special Taverez is a solid defender and a brilliant base runner both in terms of running the bases and stealing bases. With Chris Burke likely ready to man down centerfield for a year as he waits for second base to open up and Hunter Pence to finish developing. The loss of Taverez is not a concern. I also wouldn't lose sleep over including Taylor Buchholz in the deal who while a nice young pitcher is a tremendous injury risk whose stuff is far from overwhelming, even when healthy.

Now, to the potatoes. Jason Hirsh, an outstanding pitching prospect in my estimation one of the top 10 pitching prospects in baseball. A commanding mound presence, with three good pitches including a heavy 91-93 mph fastball that top outs at 96, that is coupled with a solid slider and change. The only concern with Hirsh is if one of his 3 pitches has enough life to generate swings and misses at the MLB level. The Chone projections certainly thinks so:

PlayerK+BB+HR+Hits +


Heck, that projection is significantly better than Jennings, though his downside is considerably more as he hasn't had the success that Jennings had this year.

In conclusion, I think the trade completely hinges on two things:

From the Rockies perspective: How well Hirsh's stuff translates to the majors. If it translates as well as a typical pitcher then, this is a great move for them.

From the Astros perspective: If they can lock up the 28 year old Jennings to a long term contract, at or below the market rate. As the NL central looks winnable it makes sense for the Astros to be resistant to going into the season with 3 young pitchers in the rotation. As it stands now, they look like a much better bet.

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