It’s been over a year since longtime Astros owner Drayton McLane sold the team to a group of investors led by Houston businessman Jim Crane. A seemingly countless number of changes have been made since Crane took over. Many of those changes were necessary, while some others may not have been. Let’s take a look at some of the decisions that have been made over the last year and see how they stack up.
Jim Crane (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
When the painstakingly long process of approving the Crane group’s purchase of the team was finally completed it came with a caveat; move to the American League or no deal. Many fans were outraged and believed that Crane had sold out their 50 years of National League history for the chance to become a big league owner. After all, he did get a significant discount on the original purchase price by “agreeing” to the move. But is Crane really to blame? Some would say Bud Selig and the MLB owners forced their will upon the would-be owner, giving him a take it or leave it ultimatum.
I’ll go ahead and give Jim the benefit of the doubt on the American League thing, but let’s take a look at some other decisions that can definitely be attributed to Crane.
Shortly after the sale was approved, Jim Crane rolled out a number of new “fan friendly initiatives.” These initiatives included a reduction in ticket prices and allowed fans to bring their own food and water into Minute Maid Park for the first time ever. These are the type of moves that Astros fans would like to get used to, but unfortunately the trend hasn’t continued.
Crane was ready to make big changes, starting at the top and working his way down. He already had George Postolos in tow as his President and CEO, meaning Tal Smith had to go. Crane made it a dual firing, giving Smith the axe along with General Manager Ed Wade. I had always been more supportive of Wade than most fans were, but I had no problem with Crane’s decision to cut him loose.
The subsequent hiring of Jeff Luhnow was applauded by experts throughout the industry and, over a year later, still looks like a good decision. Luhnow quickly began to implement his plan to rebuild the team into a winner. Although the wins have yet to come, the farm system has been upgraded from worse than terrible to more than respectable.
The organization has experienced a complete turnaround at the minor league level. After compiling the league’s lowest cumulative minor league winning percentage in 2011 the Astros system tallied more wins than any other in 2012. Luhnow has added depth by pulling the trigger on a number of trades, but his dedication to improving the way the organization scouts and drafts players appears to have had an immediate impact. He has retooled the scouting and player development departments and recently upgraded the big league coaching staff, including the hiring of manager Bo Porter.
No one would argue that Crane inherited a mess. He’s on the right track in some areas, but in others… not so much.
The Astros and Rockets already had a deal in place with Comcast to launch their new RSN before Crane ever came into the picture. Comcast SportsNet Houston went live on November 1st and has gotten rave reviews from subscribers. The problem is – the network is only available to a limited number of households. While thousands of Rockets fans are waiting not so patiently to see their team on TV, Jim Crane has done little or nothing to ensure Astros fans don’t suffer the same fate. There’s still time to remedy this potentially huge problem, but negotiations with satellite and cable providers have been moving at a snail’s pace.
Crane fired radio commentators Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond shortly after the season ended. That wasn’t a big deal to all Astros fans but letting Jim Deshaies get away was a tremendously unpopular move. Deshaies, a fan favorite who spent the last 16 years providing color commentary on the Astros TV broadcasts, recently signed a four year contract to do the same for the Chicago Cubs.
Deshaies isn’t the only beloved member of the Astros family to seek greener pastures during Crane’s regime. Social Media Director Alyson Footer took a job with MLB.com during the season. Deshaies’ broadcast partner Bill Brown is also waiting to have his contract renewed and that seems unlikely to happen. The departure of so many friendly faces is sure to take a toll on the Astros fan base.
Crane has continued to sell off any and all experienced players and it appears as though no one is safe. The team payroll mirrors the Astros win totals – lowest in the league. The product on the field will get worse before it gets better because Crane is unwilling to spend a few dollars to bring in a couple of veteran players. It’s an all-out fire sale, and though the team may be able to contend in two or three years the 2013 edition of the Astros could set a franchise record for losses for the third straight season.
What’s worse than losing at a record pace? How about a name change? Just when Crane had won some of us over with the with the “fan friendly initiatives” he sticks his foot in his mouth by proposing a name change. That went over like a lead balloon.
But Crane didn’t stop there. He felt obligated to erect gigantic billboards in left-center field at Minute Maid Park, destroying the view and selling us out in one fail swoop. Crane stated early on in his tenure that establishing relationships in the corporate community would facilitate an increase in team payroll. I guess it must take a while for that advertising revenue to turn into a profit. Those enormous signs must be expensive.
These are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of Jim Crane’s first year as majority owner of the Astros. I’m sure there are other items I may be overlooking that could be considered big deals. Let us know what you think. Leave a comment and answer our poll question.