A couple of days ago Jeff Luhnow sent a letter to Astros season ticket holders asking them to stay the course as he continues to dig the team out of the cavernous abyss created by the previous regime. The letter was almost immediately posted on the Astros website for the whole world to see. Obviously that was the plan all along. The Astros knew the contents of the letter would quickly find their way to the internet one way or another. Sending the season ticket holders an advanced copy before posting on-line was a stroke of genius. First, the season ticket holders feel special because they are getting a personal communique from Jeff Luhnow. Secondly, the rest of us feel special because we got to see the contents of said letter on the Astros official website instead of reading it on someone’s blog. Brilliant!
A powerful piece of propaganda like this was never meant to be limited to a small group of season ticket holders. Those people are probably some of the team’s most loyal followers to begin with. Why would they decide to abandon ship now? This letter was a timely and calculated effort to appease a dwindling fan base. July was the worst month in franchise history and, so far, August hasn’t been much better. Something needed to be done quickly to stop the bleeding and Jeff Luhnow was just the guy to get it done.
You see, Luhnow is unlike any other General Manager in Astros history. He’s young, smart, good-looking, and most of all personable. People like Jeff Luhnow. People believe in him. We’re all buying what he’s selling. The vast majority of the die-hard fans that remain (myself included) have already anointed Luhnow as the savior of the franchise.
Luhnow is not afraid to put himself front-and-center. Like a good field manager, Jeff is willing to take responsibility – he’s accountable. All of that being said, now let me take a moment to play devil’s advocate and translate Luhnow’s lovely letter in a firejoemorgan.com fashion.
Dear Houston Astros Season Ticket Holder,
I speak not only for myself, but for the players and all of my colleagues at the Astros, when I thank you for your continued support. Through this letter, we would like to share with you some key elements of our plan going forward as well as describe the progress we have made during 2012. It is our hope that you will share the excitement about our future and continue to participate as a Season Ticket Holder and that your loyalty as an Astros fan will be rewarded in 2013 and beyond.
Translation: Dear everyone,
I speak for the entire organization because I’m a really smart dude. The casual observer may find it difficult to see that I have a plan but trust me, I do. Even though the current player payroll is almost invisible, we still need your money. Don’t give up on us now.
We share your frustration with the results on the field so far this year. After a successful Spring Training, we played good baseball for the first two months of the year. On May 25, we beat the Dodgers in Los Angeles and we were one game under .500 and just four games out of first place. That turned out to be our high-water mark for the season, but it demonstrated that our players were capable of competing with the best teams in the league. Since that time we have underperformed everyone’s expectations, including our own. We ran into a combination of bad luck, injuries and a lack of depth that led to our deteriorating record through the midsummer months.
Thankfully, we got off to a lucky start or you may have bailed on us a long time ago. Unfortunately it didn’t last and our sucky-ness is really showing through now.
We want the Houston Astros to be a winning franchise that can compete for division titles year in and year out and ultimately bring multiple championships to the city of Houston and to Astros fans across the globe. Our promise to you as a fan is to work as hard and as smart as we possibly can to achieve this goal quickly. We have made significant progress towards this objective in 2012 and that progress will accelerate in 2013.
We don’t like being terrible. You deserve a better product and we’re making an effort to bring it to you. Next year we’re going to try even harder.
In order to compete consistently, the Astros must develop and maintain a world class scouting operation and farm system. Through the scouting and player development function, we will be able to produce and keep winning players. Teams that excel in these areas tend to win championships in baseball.
I’ve already told Bobby Heck to get the hell out of here. Bobby’s a nice enough guy, but he’s no Mike Elias. Jedi Warrior Elias will perform some freaky voodoo shit that will make us good again. You’ll see.
The Astros invested heavily in the future throughout 2012 and will continue to do so in 2013 and beyond. There were three primary investment areas:
1. The Draft. The Astros were in the top 10 percent of teams in resources allocated to signing players in 2012. We drafted and signed three of the top high school amateur players available in Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz. In addition to these young budding stars, the Astros also signed a number of college players who have the potential to reach the Major Leagues in a few short years, headlined by Nolan Fontana and Brady Rodgers. The infusion of high quality amateur talent into the farm system is one of the primary reasons for the winning records at the short season clubs.
Unlike the previous regime, we’re not cutting corners when it comes to the drafting and signing of talented youngsters. We had a nice draft and these guys are already helping us win at the lower levels. Whether or not they ever become successful in the big leagues remains to be seen.
2. International. The Houston Astros were among the most active clubs at the beginning of the international signing season on July 2 and have continued to sign players from Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and other parts of the world. While these players are all 16 or 17 years old and therefore several years away from having an impact at the Major League level, this pipeline of talent is critical to sustaining success of the scouting and development system.
We’re trying hard to find desperate teenagers in third world countries that know how to play baseball. They don’t ask for a lot of money up front and if we’re lucky maybe one or two of them will be good in a few years.
3. Trades. Several trades were made during the offseason, Spring Training, and during the season that substantially strengthened the talent base of the system. In many of these trades, veteran Major League players who were not likely to be part of the Astros’ future were sent to teams with immediate needs in exchange for younger players who will be able to help the Astros for many years to come. These investments will bear fruit in the coming years, as the players acquired move through the system, reach the Major Leagues and contribute to a winning team effort.
We knew the team would stink with or without guys like Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, so we got rid of them and that loser J.A. Happ. Some of the guys we received in these trades could help us out down the road. Francisco Cordero is not one of those guys.
While much of the work we are doing is proprietary and confidential, we can share with you that we are building capabilities across several areas of baseball operations that will enable us to make the best possible decisions in player evaluation, acquisition, development and retention. We are building a front office team with analytical capabilities that not only are among the best in baseball but would rival the best in sports and other industries. We are complementing these analytical capabilities with experienced industry veterans who can challenge the new thinking and in doing so further accelerate the sophistication and impact of our decision-making.
Like McDonald’s “special sauce” and Colonel Sanders’ eleven herbs and spices our recipe for success is a well-guarded secret. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Let’s just say that guys like Sig Mejdal and Mike Fast are smarter than your average “industry veteran.”
The final piece we want to share with you is about our winning mindset. This is something that is easy to talk about but difficult to institutionalize, because it takes time and the growth is organic and can’t be forced. Our focus in 2012 was on creating and fostering a winning mindset throughout the Minor Leagues that will eventually flow up into our big league team. In this regard, we have been very successful. We are experiencing one of the most dramatic turnarounds in recent history with respect to our minor League winning percentage. After being last or close to last across all organizations for a few years, our affiliates have been in the top three for most of the summer. We have several teams vying for a playoff spot and expect multiple Minor League teams to be in the postseason. This is not only good news for our Minor League players and coaches and a strong indication of a winning mindset taking root, but a very good sign that the future of the Houston Astros is bright as these winning players make their way through the Minor Leagues and reach the Majors.
At least our minor league teams don’t suck as bad as they did last year. In order to keep our players from wanting to kill themselves, we’ve been playing guys a level below where they should be playing. The results have been outstanding as many of our farm teams are competing for a playoff spot. But our AAA team has fallen on it’s face recently after we brought up Brett Wallace and sent down a bunch of guys that were already used to losing. But that’s not my fault. You people kept hounding me to promote Wallace. So leave me alone and let me help these kids get used to winning.
We appreciate your support and look forward to seeing you at Minute Maid Park next year as we take on several new opponents and play some old foes. We know that as Astros employees, we are stewards of your team and we share your desire to bring a World Series championship to Houston. The future is bright.
Thanks for sticking with us. We will almost certainly stink again next season but it will be different because we will be in the American League. Hopefully you’re not a senior citizen because this could take a while. Maybe your grandkids can celebrate a championship with us.