Randy Johnson of the Houston Astros during the game against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 7, 1998 at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

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Astros Trade for Randy Johnson 20 Years Ago Shows Impact of Rental Players

The Athletic looks back at blockbuster trade for dominant pitcher in 1998.

The Houston Astros swung for the fences on July 31, 1998, snagging ace pitcher Randy Johnson in a blockbuster deal before the trade deadline. And twenty years later The Athletic has taken a look at whether or not that hefty price of prospects sent to the Seattle Mariners was ultimately worth it.

By snagging the Big Unit to add to a rotation that already included Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds and José Lima, and boasted young closer Billy Wagner, the Astros seemed prime to make a run at the franchise’s first World Series title. After all, the team boasted a lineup of bats that included Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Moises Alou, and Carl Everett and would rival the New York Yankees if it came to a 7-game series matchup.

On the stat sheet, the 6-foot-10 Johnson paid dividends: In his 11 regular-season starts with the team, he notched  10-1 with a 1.28 ERA, the best two month span of his career.

“The ‘98 Astros, whose 102 regular season wins still stand as a franchise record, lost only three times in games Johnson started,” writes The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan. “Unfortunately for them, two came in their Division Series against the (San Diego) Padres. Ultimately, the trade — which cost them two of their best prospects, future All-Stars in right-hander Freddy García and shortstop Carlos Guillén — failed to propel them any deeper than if they had stood pat.”

The Padres went to the World Series; The Astros would have to wait 19 years for that elusive first title. Johnson ultimately signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he would wait considerably less time — until 2001 — for his championship ring.

García had a 3.89 ERA in his six seasons with the Mariners, and finished third in AL Cy Young voting in 2001. Guillén would prove a more dominant player after he was traded to the Tigers in 2004. Lefthander John Halama was solid, not spectacular as the player to be named later in the trade.

“I’ve been asked that a thousand times, and I don’t hesitate in the answer,” then Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker told The Athletic when asked if he regretted the trade in hindsight. “If you don’t make that trade, then you should never make a trade.

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