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Cubs, Astros linked by more than Kris Bryant

HOUSTON -- It’s not just Kris Bryant for whom the Chicago Cubs can thank the Houston Astros.

If you recall, Bryant was taken second overall in 2013 after the Astros took pitcher Mark Appel at No. 1. When it’s all said and done, that could be quite the historical footnote depending on just how good a career Bryant has. He’s off to a fantastic start.

A lesser discussed interaction between the Cubs and Astros occurred about 19 months later when infielder Luis Valbuena was shipped to Houston for current Cubs leadoff man and all-around "glue guy" Dexter Fowler.

“We had talked about that deal for a month or so, maybe even two months before we did it,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said before Friday’s game between the two teams. “We saw getting a couple years of control from Valbuena at a position that we needed, at a profile we needed. And they needed Fowler in the outfield, and it worked out.”

The Cubs were desperate for on-base percentage, while at the same time, their crop of infielders was getting ready to make the jump to the majors -- including the aforementioned Bryant. When the Cubs agreed to send pitcher Dan Straily, along with Valbuena, Luhnow agreed to the trade.

“It was a pretty straightforward deal,” Luhnow explained. “It was need-based, and once we agreed on that second player, who turned out to be Straily, we went forward with it.”

Valbuena hit 25 home runs last season but with just a .310 on-base percentage. This year he had 13 home runs before getting hurt. No matter his value to the Astros, it would be hard to imagine it’s close to what Fowler has meant for the Cubs. He was the engine in the second half last year (.389 OBP) and picked up where he left off at the beginning of this season.

“The first half (.398 OBP) that Dexter had pretty much kept us afloat and well,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I was always a fan when he was in Colorado. I saw him when he was really young.”

Luhnow has no regrets, knowing Fowler was set to be a free agent and the Astros had a need in the infield just as the Cubs did in the outfield. And 25 home runs isn’t too bad, so the deal worked out for both sides.

“He’s a high energy guy,” Luhnow said of Fowler. “He has experience and would fit in, in any clubhouse. He certainly did here.”

And he has in the Cubs' clubhouse, where players, coaches and the manager feel he’s the glue that holds the team together. Or at least one of the guys who does. The Astros might not have Bryant, or Fowler, but they have a good, young team. So do the Cubs. Maybe the trade was simply best for both sides.

“They’re going to be good for a long time, and so are we,” Luhnow said.