Are the 2014 Houston Astros similar to the 2003 Detroit Tigers?


In late June, Sports Illustrated released a magazine cover declaring the Houston Astros will win the 2017 World Series because of the smart, patient way general manager Jeff Luhnow had built the team. (Remember?)

Since then, many people have started to cool on the Astros organization as a whole. The biggest criticisms coming from their failed attempt to sign this year’s number one overall pick Brady Aiken and the lack of potential being shown by last year’s number one overall pick Mark Appel.

Today, Grantland’s Jonah Keri wrote an interesting post about the surprise pitching efforts that have fueled some MLB teams this year. In the article, he wonders if the Astros, a team built on the idea of developing premium pitching prospects, can ever hope to replicate a more aggressive strategy that involves spending money on proven, veteran players. 

"“Even amid the emergence of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the Aiken and Appel situations might force the Astros to rethink their rebuilding philosophy,” Keri wrote. “The team has a glaring need for high-level talent, which means that a more aggressive approach might make better sense. The 2003 Tigers are the blueprint.”"

The Astros aren’t nearly as bad as the Tigers were in 2003 when Detroit lost 119 games. However, Keri points out Detroit was able to make a run to the World Series just three years after that embarrassing season because general manager Dave Dombrowski spent some money on quality veterans (like Ivan Rodriguez and Rondell White) and superstars (like Kenny Rogers and Magglio Ordonez).

"“Houston will have an opportunity to chart a similar course this offseason,” Keri wrote. “The list of free-agent pitchers this winter will include 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and fellow aces James Shields and Jon Lester, as well as some intriguing next-tier talent in McCarthy, Francisco Liriano, Josh Beckett, Jorge De La Rosa, and Justin Masterson. Plus, various veteran starting pitchers who are approaching free agency could make for attractive trade candidates, especially if they’d be willing to sign extensions to stay in Houston.”"

For the most part, I agree with Keri and think the Astros are ready to take that next step. I have really appreciated the fact the organization decided to stop recklessly spending money on veterans, like they used to under former owner Drayton McLane, because that’s simply not the way to build a baseball team. In the MLB, teams are only marginally effected by adding one or two talented players, so there was no reason for the Astros to try to fill holes the last couple of years. To me, winning a few more games wasn’t as valuable as owning the number one overall pick, so I wanted to feel comfortable with the Astros young players on the roster before the organization started to shell out money again.

However, right now, I think the Astros are pretty close to turning the corner. They just need one or two more prospects to come up and make an impact for them. Keri mentions Mike Foltynewicz, Josh HaderVincent VelasquezNick TropeanoLance McCullers Jr., and Michael Feliz as a few of the young arms with huge potential. Additionally, there are position players like Carlos Correa, Domingo Santana, and Colin Moran who are expected to make huge impacts at the major league level.

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When a couple of those guys are ready, the Astros will feel much better about their talent and depth, so they will be much more willing to take a chance. The additions of guys like Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman are prime examples of adding quality veterans, so Jeff Luhnow and company should be able to find similar types of low-risk investments on the free agent market. It will still take a year or two for the plan to come to fruition and the Astros to start really competing again, but I think it’s finally time to move on to the next phase of rebuilding.

Do you agree or disagree?