Houston Astros fans should now slide into a deeper depression, as if the one that had already consumed them was not deep enough.

Ed Wade had until Saturday’s trade deadline to send the franchise’s best player and near leader in career pitching wins elsewhere. Well, according to The Houston Chronicle and Associated Press , he did it Thursday afternoon. Oswalt will head to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for J.A. Happ and two prospects.

The wait and speculation surrounding the presumed end of Roy-O’s Houston tenure is over. A new period of wait and speculation begins.

The grandest prospects often ferment in the minor leagues for several years before they make successful jumps to the big league level. Not all of them succeed. 

I know little about Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar, the two teenage players Philly’s front office shipped out along with Happ. I can tell you this for sure: do not expect anything grand.

The Astros needed to trade Oswalt to accelerate the rebuilding process. I said so in a column earlier this year, months before the ace requested that Drayton McLane and Wade move him to a contender.

McLane, weeks after that sobering nudge from Oswalt, pulled off one bulldozer of a deal. Guess who got fleeced, plowed, and run over?

Uncle Drayton should plan on an even emptier Minute Maid Park next season. He should prepare for some lean years, ones that will accompany his suddenly tight wallet.

In the latest episode of Rescue Me , Tommy Gavin, Denis Leary’s character, drinks a bottle of expensive whiskey his brother and uncle secretly laced with bleach. A wreckless night on the town leads to the disappearance of his daughter and the temporary alienation of his wife and fellow firefighters.

Franco Rivera, the fire house’s Puerto Rican ladies man, balks when Gavin will not down an extra beer that might help him loosen up and ascertain the whereabouts of his daughter.

“Jesus Christ, Tommy. All of these years you’ve been drinking for no damn good reason, now you have the chance to do something good with it, and you suddenly can’t stomach alcohol?”

Gavin sighs and drinks the beer. As the episode continues, memories of the previous night begin to flood his mind. He finds his poisoned daughter, alive.

Stay with me folks. This TV analogy serves a purpose.

McLane has been spending big for years. He opened his wallet and showered Carlos Lee with $100 million. That overweight blob of a power hitter, who couldn’t run the bases even if cops were chasing him, is untradable.

Wade gambled on Kaz Matsui with McLane’s permission. Big mistake. How about Miguel Tejada? Boy, that pennant race he helped the ‘Stros enter and conquer was one heck of a thrill ride.

McLane’s payrolls topped the $100 million mark for most of the previous decade. The Astros ranked in the top eight in payroll for most of those seasons.

Why, then, did McLane refuse to shell out the additional money that could help this franchise get back on track after a disastrous fall? Gavin chugged one beer that helped him, in a small way, find his daughter.

As Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal first reported, the Astros did not want to pay a “significant” chunk of the $23 million remaining on Oswalt’s deal. That limited Wade’s options, given that a number of teams hesitated to spend that kind of money on a 32-year-old. Uncle Drayton could have spent his way back to respectability, or waited until that $11 million sum netted more value.

A side question: why did the Phillies send Cliff Lee packing in 2009 only to trade for another expensive pitcher this summer? Can anyone help me make sense of that?

I cannot rationalize what McLane and Wade just did to the Astros. They torpedoed the organization’s already gloomy future by dealing the best player and most valuable trade chip to a team with an almost as horiffic farm system. The Phillies jettisoned most of their prime prospects to put the finishing touches on their NL-contending rosters in the past three years.

You didn’t think Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr. landed Roy Halladay for a mere fruit basket, did you? Phillies fans should send one of those to Wade, who just giftwrapped for them one of the best starting rotations in the league.

McLane, according to reports, forked up $11 million, which sounds like a lot to a guy who doesn’t own a sports team. Could even more dough have convinced a team like Tampa Bay, with the best farm system in the league, to enter the sweepstakes? Maybe not, but it was worth a shot.

Color me ignorant if you must. I do know what these pathetic Astros need.

They suck. They will lose more than 100 games. They need elite talent and lots of it.

The Phillies did not surrender projected elite talent. I know that Sporting News named Happ its rookie of the year in 2009. He finished second in the official NL balloting. He went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA.

Those numbers dwarf Oswalt’s this year. The Houston ace has stumbled to his dubious 6-12 record, though, because the run support is a joke and the defense qualifies as stand-up comedy.

Can Happ front a contending rotation the way Oswalt has for most of his career? Happ’s forearm has bothered him, and his form has taken a dangerous u-turn.

I hope the 26-year-old left hander and two prospects make me look like a buffoon. I hope they help this organization win again in the next three to five years. I wouldn’t make that bet, however, in any Vegas casino.

Oswalt might have been as attractive next summer at 33 with a lot less money remaining on his deal. A trade partner might have surrendered better pieces.

McLane and Wade could not wait until then. They appeased their franchise star’s request when their job was to make the Astros better.

I am not convinced they did that.

It might sound ludicrous to suggest that one team needs to turn one player into a successful rebuild. Crazy sounds about right for the Astros. If no one wants Lance Berkman now, who the heck else can Wade dangle aside from the few legitimate youngsters worth building around?

Oswalt waived his no-trade clause and agreed to play for a squad with World Series aspirations. Remember when the Phillies won it all in 2008?

Funny, but I don’t have that same recent memory of the Astros. The one time the franchise did reach baseball’s pinnacle in 2005, Oswalt, along with Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, led the charge.

Prospects are as hard to predict as Lady Gaga’s next outfit. This deal, however, already sounds like a failure. Wade needs to work on his p-p-p-poker face.

Happ on the hapless Astros makes for a bad romance.

Astros fans should once again embrace pessimism, until these players prove me wrong. That will take years.

How many years rested in Uncle Drayton’s hands? Instead of reaching for $11 million to complete a questionable trade, they should have found the snooze button and waited until next summer.

Now, Astros fans can only hope to sleep through the rest of this lousy campaign.

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