What the Astros and White Sox Got in the Kendall Graveman-Korey Lee Trade

Kendall Graveman of the Houston Astros

The Astros were expected to be active during the 2023 Trade Deadline — that has turned out to be somewhat true. Houston acquired former Astros reliever Kendall Graveman from the White Sox, in exchange for former first-round pick Korey Lee. Here’s a look at the return for the two teams.

Related: What the Marlins and Mets Got in the David Robertson Trade

The Astros’ Return

This isn’t the first time that Kendall Graveman will pitch for the Astros. Just two years ago, the Mariners surprisingly traded Graveman to the Astros alongside Rafael Montero in exchange for Joe Smith and Abraham Toro.

Graveman slotted in well with Houston in 2021, when struck out 27 over 23 innings in the regular season with the Astros. He followed that up with an impressive postseason, when he gave up just two earned runs over 11 2021 MLB Playoff innings.

This season, Graveman was used as a primary late-inning option for the White Sox. The 32-year-old averaged almost a strikeout per inning, although his BB/9 rate spiked to 4.1 and he gave up six home runs in 44 innings — the latter of which is the most he’s given up in a full season since he moved to the bullpen full-time.

Even though Graveman’s GB% rate is well-below his career average, the right-hander has made a living pounding the zone and getting ground balls with a hard sinker. He’ll also work hitters up with a riding four-seamer that’s been very effective for him in 2023 – hitters have a .074 average off it and a Whiff% rate of 50%.

Between his sinker, four-seamer, slider, and changeup, Graveman can give hitters a bunch of different looks and has proven to get both left and right-handers out. He does have an abnormally low .241 BABIP this season, but he’s proven to be a very effective righty.

The White Sox’s Return

  • C Korey Lee (.160/.192/.240/ slash line, no home runs and two extra base hits in 26 PA (MLB), .283/.328/.406 slash line with five home runs and 24 extra base hits in 302 PA (AAA))

The University of California was the place to be in 2019 for MLB scouts, thanks to the presence of Andrew Vaughn. But another player that caught the attention of teams — specifically, the Astros — from California that season was catcher Korey Lee.

Lee exploded in his junior year at California, when he hit primarily behind Vaughn. The Astros promptly took him in the first-round in 2019, and while he flashed good tools, he hasn’t been able to find consistent success in the upper Minors and the Majors yet.

A career .264 hitter in the Minors, Lee’s desirables were his raw power and ability to get on base. However, his strikeouts numbers have risen since the Astros drafted him. Two years ago, Lee sported a K% rate of 18.7%. In 2023 against more advanced competition, it’s 24.8%. His walk rate, meanwhile, dropped by three percent.

On top of that, Lee hasn’t shown much pop. The Astros changed the 25-year-old’s approach at the plate when he was drafted to take advantage of his raw power, by shortening up. The approach yielded mixed results over his first few pro seasons.

This year with Sugar Land (AAA), Lee has just five home runs and 24 extra base hits in what is a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

The Verdict

With Yainer Diaz and Martin Maldonado the two primary catching options — the former of whom has impressed in his rookie campaign — the Astros had some flexibility here. Houston turned Lee into a reliever in Graveman that’s had success with the Astros in the past, and one that can provide some stability. 

The Astros bullpen, aside from early hiccups from Ryan Pressly, has been fine. Bryan Abreu and Hector Neris have been strong, while Phil Maton continues to impress. The aforementioned Montero, Ryne Stanek, and Seth Martinez, though, have struggled this season. Now, the Astros have another arm that can work either in the middle or later innings, depending on the situation.

As for the White Sox, Chicago adds another catching prospect. While Lee doesn’t have the same stock as Edgar Quero — who was acquired just a few days earlier — he will get a chance at a fresh start with a new organization.