Going into the 2013 Major League Baseball season, certain things were considered locks for the year. The biogenesis scandal would loom large over teams and players, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera would be really good again, and the Astros were going to lose 100 games. In their final tour of National League duty, the ‘Stros and 107 losses signed the NL record book on their way out. Obviously they were bad and an easy target for criticism from the media (doesn’t matter) and a splendid source of valuable wins for other teams (matters). It was the second year of finally making strides to rebuild the organization that last finished over .500 in 2008. But more importantly 2012 marked season one of the mass rebuilding project under new management. In an absolute top to bottom reconstruction of a franchise left to the new regime in poor condition, there were sure to be many losses along the way.
But 107 is a lot. But who cares?
Sports are about two things: money and winning. My dad telling me up-front that it was unlikely I would play second base everyday for the Rangers when I’m older was as alarming of a realization in a youngster’s life as learning the professional sports teams I root for are run by people thinking about profits and not victories. (Mom dismissing Jedi Knight is up there as well)
Of course, winning goes a long way towards making money but in most leagues only a very small fraction of the teams make the playoffs — and if you aren’t in that discussion, why fight the uphill battle of mediocrity year after year? Usually it’s because the big shots in charge really don’t give a darn as long as their pockets stay filled.
The Astros finally had that problem solved in 2011 when they were sold to Jim Crane, employed Jeff Luhnow as their new General Manager, hired baseball minds like Kevin Goldstein and later Reid Ryan among many, many others and at last had the combination that every loyal fan base deserves in the front office.
Not the will to win, but the want to win.
However, it is the route taken by the new Houston front office that has drawn a lot of attention and criticism from the national media.
As I said earlier the new operators of the Houston Astros franchise were given chopsticks and gumbo. Quickly every player of value not named Altuve was shipped off for prospects.
Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers could have fetched superior packages than what was received but it appeared in years past that ownership was content to simply let contracts head toward expiration and put a well below average product on the field rather than hand over starting positions to young players who would fight for opportunities of a lifetime.
There’s also the unwritten rule of fielding a competitive team at all costs which is one of, if not, the biggest blunder organizations make with fear of public perception and a weak on-field product. The Kansas City Royals spent years repeating this cycle and you can only bring back Yuniesky Betancourt’s and Jose Guillen’s so many times.
On top of the vicious veteran re-sign cycle, K.C. simply couldn’t afford to miss on draft picks because they weren’t developing any young talent in the meantime. Without organizational depth, things went from bad to worse and losing to more losing when top picks like Luke Hochevar (1st overall in 06) and Alex Gordon (2nd in 05) either didn’t develop, were slow to develop or were rushed in their development.
The new Astros administration immediately addressed franchise dependent components of rebuilding like acquiring prospects with high ceilings — stockpiling talented and/or hopeful depth in the minor leagues, and handing MLB jobs to much less experienced players instead of aging veterans who could be shipped elsewhere for a return.
Lee, Wandy, Myers, Chris Johnson, J.A. Happ and others like signed-and-traded (the non-traditional way) Ben Francisco and Steve Pearce all brought back assets some way somehow to the full throttle rebuilding effort that began too late but was thankfully happening. Even if it meant and means…
Really. Bad. Baseball. We’re talking missed cut-off men, botched double plays, balks that allow runs and so, so many strikeouts.
And that’s what has had and will likely have baseball executives hot for at least another season. Right now the Astros are labeled a ‘free win’ and are constantly making highlight reels of negative origin. They’re on their way to surpassing 107 losses from last season and other teams are bothered by the fact that their lack of a competitive squad is helping their opponents. That may be, but each team can build however they see fit and if the MLB decided to investigate the Astros scheme it would be very quick and very pointless.
Because at the end of the day the people that run the Houston Astros are doing what’s in the best interest of the franchise from top to bottom, from the Major Leagues to AA Playoffs, to every single draft pick all the way to concessions and merchandise, ticket sales, promotions… everything.
The on-field struggles are simply part of the process back to the top and the pessimists, complainers and naysayers everywhere aren’t going to warmly welcome the message the Astros are sending — which is that right now, whether they like it or not, they’re doing what needs to be done for the overall health, stability and most importantly the future of the franchise.