Patience is not usually a word that fans of any professional team like to hear. It usually means that their team is not experiencing success, and likely will not be for a while. Yet, this is exactly what the fans of the Houston Astros are being asked to show for the upcoming season (and probably more). Patience, as difficult as it sounds, is exactly what is needed. Our patience with this young club, I believe, will pay huge dividends in the upcoming years for our Astros.
Too often, we as baseball fans fall into this trap of looking at building a baseball team as if it is similar to building a football team. This is a dangerous practice because of the false expectations it perpetuates throughout the fan base. Comparing these two processes is like the proverbial comparison of apples and oranges, they just are not alike. It has been proven to be quite possible for a team to go from being very bad to very good in as little as one season in the NFL. Just take a look at this year’s example, the Indianapolis Colts. They transformed from a 2-win team, and the owner of the first overall draft pick, to a 9-win team and making the playoffs the very next year.
In the NFL, you can change coaches, get a few draft picks, bring in a few quality free agents, play a last place schedule, and “presto!” you’re a playoff team. It simply doesn’t work that way in baseball. It just takes longer to put all of the different moving parts in place; prospects, coaches, front office, development, scouts, free agents; and the list goes on. There is a huge difference between the timing of the impact an Andrew Luck can have on an organization and that of a Carlos Correa. There are no shortcuts in building a winning and deep baseball organization.
I often hear Astros fans point to the team in north Texas as the “way it should be done.” Specifically their willingness to spend money on free agents. The reality is the Rangers are at a different point in their schedule than the Astros are. A lot of fans forget, maybe because people in Houston did not pay attention to American League baseball (we’re not going to go talk about that right now), that just a few short years ago the Rangers were terrible. During a time period spanning the seasons from 2000 through 2008, the Texas Rangers posted eight losing seasons, finishing 43 games behind the first place Seattle Mariners in 2001. The lone year during that time where they had a winning record was 2004. After the 2005 season, the Rangers hired Jon Daniels to be their General Manager. He enacted a plan to build the farm system from one of the worst to one of the best to create a perpetual winner at the big league level. Sound familiar? They traded all of their good veterans to contenders for prospects – Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, David Murphy – and even traded some of their highly rated young prospects for other potential high impact players – Edinson Volquez for Josh Hamilton. They were careful not to spend money on free agents that would block their younger players from playing time, and usually only signed veterans they could flip at the trade deadline for more prospects – Eric Gagné, Kenny Lofton. They scouted Latin America well, and put an emphasis on drafting the right players – Derek Holland, Leonys Martin, Ian Kinsler. Once they figured out who the players were that they were comfortable building around, and not until then, they started spending money on free agents – Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Yu Darvish. There was a plan in place, but the plan took time! Because they were true to their plan, they are now in position to compete for the foreseeable future.
It required patience, but now Rangers fans are reaping the benefits of that patience. It seems that Jeff Luhnow and the Astros have a plan, and they are following that plan every step of the way. Have they made every right move so far? No, that is impossible. But as Astros fans, we have to be patient with the process and trust that Luhnow and his team are utilizing all of the available information and resources to make the best next decision for this baseball club. Astros fans could be in line for the same payoff that those in Dallas are currently experiencing, if we are only willing to be patient for a few more years.