For the past few years Houston Astros fans have been told to look to the future. Fans have had to deal with watching anything but Major League talent take the field at Minute Maid Park, but the “die-hards” have suffered through it knowing that this was a necessary evil. We die-hards are willing to go along with the idea that money being spent on the draft and player development, instead of on expensive free agents, is the right way to go about rebuilding a ballclub. What if though, all of that is hog-wash and the Astros spend the next decade rebuilding?
Let me start off by saying that there is no bigger fan of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow than I. I would trust that guy with my life, so I would definitely have a hard time not trusting him with my favorite baseball team. He has proven that he can scout and evaluate prospects in his successful years in St. Louis, as well has his seemingly successful drafts and trades in Houston. While former GM Ed Wade got the rebuilding started, Jeff Luhnow’s drafts and trades have provided the depth that the farm system had lacked for many prior years.
My concern now is, what happens when the stockpiling of the farm is complete? By most accounts, the Astros now have a top-5 ranked system. There is a nice combination of high-ceiling prospects and depth, but much of the top talent is in the lower levels of the minors and still a few years away from being MLB ready. Until the Astros’ top prospects become major leaguers, there will be major holes to fill through free agency. So far, Luhnow’s track record in Houston has not been near as strong in that area.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsSome of the unsuccessful MLB players that have been brought in via free agency, trade or waiver claim in the past couple years are: Ronny Cenedo, Carlos Pena, Philip Humber, Rick Ankiel, Armando Galarraga, Chris Snyder, Travis Buck, Jack Cust, Kyle Weiland, Alex White and John Ely. White and Ely have since had injury issues, Weiland has joined the Lollipop Guild, Chris Snyder was able to stay on the roster for all of last season (while doing very little to prove his worth), and the rest were “good clubhouse guys” that were either past their prime or never any good to begin with and ended up being DFA’d or released. I’m not even going to include the disaster known as Francisco Cordero, because he was just a throw-in guy in the J.A. Happ trade. While there have been a few MLB acquisitions that have been somewhat successful (Chris Carter, Erik Bedard, Matt Dominguez and Jose Veras), the success rate must improve if the Astros are going to compete anytime soon on their tight budget.
Now what if only 25% of the Astros’ top prospects pan out to be good major leaguers? What if a majority of these prospects end up being nothing more than 4-A players and utility guys? What if in five years we still only have a handful of MLB caliber players on the field and we’re still looking ahead at that next stud prospect that will help the Astros right the ship? What if the Astros have become the new Pittsburgh Pirates? What if I just worry too much? Yeah, that’s probably it…I’m sure it will all work out and the Astros will be playing for a World Series by 2016. Right?