The Astros are, or at least attempting to, build something special.
Or that is how fans, like us, want to view it. After all, it appears that Carlos Correa is that once-in-a-generation talent that the Astros have been missing since the glory days of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Jose Altuve represents the hustle that the city of Houston enjoys and prides itself on. George Springer is arguably the heart and emotional leader of the team. Dallas Keuchel and the mastering his craft is a process that the fans idolize. There is special talent on this team.
Even the minor leagues, which has took a hit in recent trades, seem to still be filled with quality players left and right. A.J. Reed is the heir apparent at first base and Alex Bregman is off to a torrid start with the Corpus Christi Hooks. The promising youngsters of Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron could one day be manning the two-thirds of the outfield for the Astros. Francis Martes and Joseph Musgrove lead the minor league pitching corps. The Astros have been successful thus far in reestablishing quality baseball being played in Houston.
But acquiring that talent took a long time and plenty of losses. To acquire Correa the Astros had to use the first overall pick in 2012, which required the worst record in baseball that year. There also had to be a less-than-spectacular record to draft George Springer in the 2011 first round. Altuve required taking a chance on a diminutive second baseman from Venezuela, who was constantly doubted in his baseball journey. And Keuchel at one point wasn’t viewed as anything more than a fringe major league pitcher on a rebuilding ball club. Most of the Astros current 40-man roster wasn’t acquired in one offseason or amateur draft. It took many years of just plain bad baseball and unlikely good fortune.
And this is where the Astros rebuild becomes interesting and perhaps one day remembered as truly special. The current regime inherited a mess of an organization. Even though previous general manager Ed Wade and scouting director Bobby Heck began to repair the foundation, current general manager Jeff Luhnow still had to plenty of the heavy lifting. At the heart of Luhnow’s rebuild has been reestablishing the minor league system. Years of neglect under previous ownership allowed the Astros to fall from the upper echelon of the baseball hierarchy to the laughable level similar of the 2003 Detroit Tigers. That is how bad the Astros as a franchise was, and how far they must go into the pit before they could rise once again.
There was also plenty of criticism, and oh my, was it wild and rampant. Neglect of the major league roster was the primary go-to for most folks while the TV deal was a close second. The lack of the human element in the front office analysis was another. And the failed Brady Aiken negotiations back in the summer of 2014 left a black eye on the organization that has been less magnified due to last year’s success. Then there was the issue of having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball despite the team being based in the fourth largest city in terms of populace. The Astros weren’t just simply bad; they were historically bad. And that goes up and down all areas of the organization. Public relations were once a near nightmare before Reid Ryan, the legendary Nolan Ryan’s son, stepped in as the Astros president. The ugly signs that once blocked the skyline view outside of Minute Maid Park was a poorly executed advertising ploy. And the criticism, for the most part, was justifiable.
All of these factors will make for an interesting case study on the Astros rebuild in the not yet near, but not so far off, future. In fact, you could come to a conclusion of the Astros becoming an “expansion” team without actually being one. From the baseball side of the organization to the business side, the Astros were basically rebuilt from the ground up. The strides the team has made in the past calendar year is definitely noteworthy. It is truly fascinating when you ponder on what took place.
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With that said there is still the opportunity for pitfalls that could strip some luster off of the Astros ongoing process. The lack of spending and missing on draft picks/international signings remain the primary concern. Even the best prospects can flop, which proves why evaluating prospects is an inexact science. And if you allow your best talent to leave due to salary issues then that just puts more stress on the farm system.
Then there is the issue of trades. For example, most people can agree that Carlos Gomez has been a disappointment since coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers. Mike Fiers, for the most part, has been the most consistent player. The Scott Kazmir trade didn’t work out much better. Then parting ways with a plethora of young talent for essentially “future” closer in Ken Giles and a shortstop project over the offseason is still met with a fair amount of skepticism. Besides the fire sale and the Jarred Cosart trade from two seasons ago, Luhnow’s trade skills have been lackluster thus far. In fact, the 2016 trade deadline could prove how Luhnow will be viewed going forward as a complete front office executive.
All of that said, warts and all, the Astros have become one of the franchises of envy in baseball. There is a plethora of young talent scattered all over the organization, and the Astros seem to have a plan in place that could sustain long-term contention. However, even the best-laid plans can erode and change for the worse. But the journey for the most part has been successful. Don’t forget though that baseball is a cruel mistress.
There is no doubt that the Astros are attempting to build something special. But it is not a completed product as of yet. The next three to five years and the Astros actions will determine that outcome. However, the early returns have been quite encouraging.