<
>

Best deadline deal ever: Astros

Throughout July we're presenting 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade-deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East, NL East, AL Central and NL Central so far, and are now on the AL West.

THE TEAM: Houston Astros

THE YEAR: 2004 (No, not the Jeff Bagwell trade. That happened on Aug. 30, 1990, past the July 31 deadline.)

THE SITUATION: We wrote about the Randy Johnson trade with the Mariners in 1998, and while Johnson was great for the Astros -- 10-1 in 11 starts -- Houston did give up talent in that deal in Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen.

In 2004, the Astros were scuffling along in late June, a few games over .500 and five games out of first place. They had finished in first place four times in five years from 1997 to 2001 but had missed the playoffs with second-place finishes in 2002 and 2003. The Astros had traded Richard Hidalgo to the Mets on June 17, and Bagwell and Craig Biggio were starting to age, so the end of this era of Astros teams looked near. The offense needed a boost, particularly in the outfield. The Royals had Carlos Beltran available.

THE TRADE: In a three-team deal, the Astros acquired Beltran from the Royals while trading reliever Octavio Dotel to Oakland and minor league catcher John Buck to Kansas City.

THE AFTERMATH: Beltran would play well for the Astros, hitting .258 but slugging 23 home runs and knocking in 53 runs in 90 games while going 28-for-28 stealing bases. The trade didn't pay immediate dividends, however, as the Astros soon plummeted out of the race, dropping to 56-60 and 19.5 games behind the Cardinals by Aug. 14. The Astros then went on one of the great stretch runs in history, going 36-10, including a 15-1 stretch, to win the wild card by one game over the Giants.

Beltran would really make his mark in the playoffs, having one of the greatest postseasons of all time, hitting .435 with eight home runs, 21 runs, 14 RBIs and six steals while playing spectacular defense in center. Alas, as in 1998 with Johnson, the Astros fell short, losing Game 7 of the NLCS to the Cardinals. They'd reach the World Series the next year without Beltran, who signed with the Mets as a free agent.