Jun 26, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) and center fielder George Springer (4) celebrate a victory against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Houston beat Texas 8-3. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Since Jeff Luhnow took over general manager duties for the Houston Astros in December 2011, he has had the toughest job in baseball: take a mediocre organization that is thin on talent and rebuild it into a winning franchise. To achieve this monumental task, Luhnow began dismantling the team by trading away vets and restocking the farm system with superior talent (some of which had already started under Ed Wade). Luhnow didn’t mind losing, and neither did owner Jim Crane. It was part of the plan, according to Richard Justice.
From 2011 to 2014, the Astros compiled a league-worst 232-416 record, which included three consecutive 100-loss seasons and the 1st overall pick in the MLB draft from 2012-2014. Anger, frustration, and disappointment were abundant among those who stuck around to watch the franchise, and Luhnow was derided by his critics as “LoseNow.”
However, things started to shift for 2014. Coach Brent Strom was hired to improve the young pitching staff. The Astros traded for Dexter Fowler and Jake Marisnick to improve the outfield. They took a chance on Jesse Crain, Matt Albers, and Chad Qualls to shore up the bullpen. And top prospects George Springer and Jon Singleton made their rookie debuts. The thought of losing 100 games again was no longer palatable.
As life often goes, everything did not work out as expected. While the starting pitching was much improved, Crain never suited up and Albers pitched in only 8 games. Fowler missed 46 games due to injury. Springer’s season was going mostly well (.231/.336/.468 with 20 HRs in 78 games) until he hurt his quadriceps in July and never returned to the field. Singleton’s season in Houston stunk (.168/.285/.335 with 13 HRs) after getting called up from AAA Oklahoma City, where the first baseman batted .267/.297/.544 with 14 HRs in 54 games.
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The new guys had a tough go, but so did many of the veterans. Matt Dominguez regressed at third base and shortstop Jonathan Villar was sent down to the minors to work on his overall game. Even Jason Castro struggled after being named a 2013 All-Star.
Despite the injury bug and subpar play, the Astros finished 70-92, a 19-game improvement from 2013. However, the “LoseNow” moniker would not go away.
Jeff Luhnow gets paid a lot of money to make big decisions for the franchise and part of his job is to take the heat from the fans. But it is time to get off his case.
This offseason should give momentum to the team’s upward swing. During the Winter Meetings, the GM pursued several pitchers and successfully signed two strong relievers- Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. And the Astros signed Jed Lowrie to provide instant relief at either third base or shortstop. The improvements did not go unnoticed by members of the media.
It is safe to say that the Astros have turned the corner. This franchise should be looking at .500 in 2015, and the playoffs come 2016.
The initial phase of rebuilding was ugly, but the “LoseNow” era is dead. It’s time to drop the name and give Jeff Luhnow some credit.