Houston Astros fans are thoroughly familiar with the term ‘rebuilding’, a word guaranteed to cause any sports fan’s blood to run cold. It began for us in the terrible summer of 2011, when we said goodbye to Astros stalwarts Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, and others.
Astros fans likely still shudder at the memory of the purge, however, we should realize rebuilding is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that too many teams go about it the wrong way.
Rebuilding should never be like an atomic blast, devastating everyone and everything for hundreds of miles in all directions. Rebuilding should be a constant process, characterized by a few strategic, yet sometimes major, moves each season.
Such a method avoids the incredibly painful gutting of a team, and the resulting depression suffered by fans.
How often have you seen a team reach a competitive point, like the Texas Rangers when they won 90+ games each year from 2010-2013, and basically stood pat? Yes, the Rangers made a few minor moves during that time, but what happened is the team that went to the World Series two straight years got old over night. Players that were the heart of the team, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, and Vlad Guerrero, were suddenly well past their prime, and either retired or moved on.
More from Climbing Tal's Hill
- Just how much better is the Houston Astros playoff rotation than the rest?
- Houston Astros: A Lineup Change to Spark Offense
- Astros prospect Hunter Brown throws 6 shutout innings in debut
- Always faithful Astros World Series champion Josh Reddick defends the title
- Michael Conforto declines Astros’ 2-year, $30 million offer
If a team waits until key players are on the downswing of their careers, they blow a perfect opportunity to get maximum value for them. No, you don’t want to trade an exceptional player in the prime of his career, but you have to be willing to gamble on when that player will begin to move past that point. You want to move a player when his value is still high, yet no longer helping your team the way he once did.
Look at the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that only a few years ago was a fearsome collection of massively talented players. Their 2012 starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Vance Worley, had the potential to be one of the best of all time. The every day lineup was stocked with exceptionally talented players (Utley, Rollins, Howard, and more); a team that on paper, looked like a World Series Champion.
Unfortunately, for the Phillies and their fans, over the next two years, it fell apart, and the Phillies became a team of old men. The Rangers and Phillies did make some roster moves, however, it obviously wasn’t enough for them to maintain winning ways.
The cure is simple: don’t wait for the years to catch up. A team must constantly strive to update talent. Look ahead and anticipate what may happen a few years ahead. How much longer will that speedy centerfielder be fast enough to score from first on a double? When that fireball pitcher and his blazing fastball turn 35 in a couple of years, how much will his production drop off?
Yes, it sometimes happens that fast.
As mentioned, the atomic blast method of rebuilding is too extreme. GM’s would be better served by working the process constantly; steadily improving and updating a team before the players lose significant value. Such a method can keep a team winning over a long period, rather than a few great seasons, followed by complete devastation for the next five or so years.
Astros fans have now suffered through six straight losing seasons, and we hope the long, cold nuclear winter will soon be over. We further hope that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow (armed with his recent contract extension) will adopt the far less painful constant rebuild attitude. Otherwise, in 6-8 years, Astros fans will almost certainly see another mushroom cloud centered on Minute Maid Park.