Outside of the postseason, the most frenetic time of the MLB season is often the trade deadline. Each year the contenders push their chips all-in while the also-rans punt on the season in order to stockpile prospects for the future.
Over the course of franchise history, the Astros have landed superstars like Randy Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke at the deadline.
On August 1, 2016, the Astros acquired a then relatively unknown Cuban “IF/OF” by the name of Yordan Alvarez from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Josh Fields. It was a minor deadline deal they made in 2016 that has since had franchise-altering ramifications.
The trade was rather unheralded at the time. The Dodgers needed help with their bullpen and asked about Fields, a reliever who was putting up good numbers in AAA, but had struggled with the big league club, posting a 6.89 ERA in 15 appearances. Then president of baseball operations, Jeff Luhnow, asked for “Y. Alvarez” in return.
LA initially shot down the deal, believing Houston was asking for Yadier Alvarez, a pitcher they had just signed out of Cuba for $16 million. Luhnow instead wanted the little known first basemen who had just signed out of Cuba for $2 million a month prior.
Oz Ocampo and Charlie Gonzalez had discovered Alvarez a few months prior and wanted him badly, but Houston didn’t have the $2 million in international money to allocate. After just a little patience, the Astros had their man. Little did they know what they were getting.
Fields threw 22 games for the Dodgers in 2016, recording a 2.79 ERA and 2.1 innings of shutout baseball in the postseason. This trade took quite a turn in 2017, when the Astros and Dodgers of course met in the World Series. Alvvarez was still a minor leaguer at the time, but Fields was very much a key piece of LA’s bullpen, appearing in 57 games that season.
Fields got the ball in the 10th inning of Game 2 and faced the heart of Houston’s order. Needless to say, advantage Houston.
Fields faced three batters and recorded zero outs, giving up three hits and two home runs. The Astros won Game 2 and went on to win the series in seven. Fields never appeared in another playoff game and was out of the MLB after the 2018 season.
Yordan Alvarez made his debut on Father’s Day 2019, going yard in his second at-bat, and hasn’t looked back since.
Yordan has played 368 games since coming to Houston, roughly equivalent to 2 1/4 seasons. In that time, the slugger has slashed .296/.384/.590 for a career .973 OPS and 163 OPS+. He’s bashed 98 home runs and driven in 283 runs.
The leap Yordan took this season was incredible, batting .306 with a 1.019 OPS and 37 home runs. Had he not been plagued by a hand injury that led to a woeful August (.638 OPS and 1 home run), he would have pushed an 1,100 OPS and easily cleared 40 big flies.
His expected stats are drool-worthy, having finished 2022 in the 100th percentile in average exit velocity, max exit velocity, hard hit rate, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, and barrel percentage. Where Yordan has grown immensely since coming up is his plate discipline.
Unlike the typical slugger, Yordan doesn’t have a ton of chase or swing and miss in his game. As a rookie in 2019, he was 46th percentile in whiff rate and 48th in chase rate. This year he finished 57th in whiff rate and 74th in chase. His strikeout rate has improved dramatically, going from 25th percentile in his debut season to 63rd percentile in 2022.
His regular season success has already made this trade a win for the Astros, as Alvarez has bashed his way to a Silver Slugger, All-Star Game and top-3 MVP vote. His playoff success turns this trade from a clear Astros’ win to highway robbery.
The 2021 ALCS MVP is a menace in October, carrying an .809 OPS backed by six home runs and 26 RBI. He carried Houston through the ALCS and into the World Series in 2021, finishing the series with an obscene .522 batting average and 1,408 OPS with three doubles, a triple and one home run.
His mammoth walk-off blast won the Astros Game 1 of the 2022 ALDS and catapulted the team to sweeping their way through the American League. He again hit the game winning bomb the next day.
Alvarez struggled from Game 3 of the ALDS to Game 6 of the World Series, but he woke up in his biggest moment.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth, the big man hit one of the silliest home runs in MLB history, going 450 atop the batter’s eye to straightaway center to give Houston the lead and the World Series title.
Yordan finished the 2022 postseason with seven hits and three home runs, but all three were monstrous. They don’t win the title, and as crazy as it is to say for a team that was undefeated through the ALDS and ALCS, they may not make it out of round one without him.
The Astros have won three pennants since Alvarez came up, and were a game away from a fourth in the COVID-shortened season. Alvarez of course missed that season after undergoing knee surgery. The slugger has yet to play a big-league season that didn’t end with a pennant.
Moon-shot home runs and guaranteed deep runs into October make for quite a combination. Alvarez brings both in bunches. The Astros benched Yordan Alvarez from LA. Here’s to even more continued success in the future.