"The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer."
It's been a while since I last put out my last blog. Let's see what was relevant in Pop Culture. Snooki was still voluptuous and very much Jersey, Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries were still in "I'm going to get paid" reality TV love, and my sweet cherry ride of a car hadn't been traded in for a soccer-mom SUV.
Since my last blog, Jim Crane has taken over the Astros, brought in George Postolos, fired Ed Wade and Tal Smith, hired new General Manager Jeff Luhnow, and interviewed ESPN analyst Keith Law for a position within the Astros front office.
Times are definitely changing for the Houston Astros and the Astros appear to be finally heading in the right direction under Jim Crane. I mean come on. Did you ever think that at any time the Astros would create a position called "Director or Decision Sciences" that oversees statistical analysis data for the organization? If we had a time machine and we went back in time to say September and threw a MySQL book on the desk of 501 Crawford Street and asked the old front office to build a SQL database in order store various statistical data. The first response would have been, "Can we get that in Beta-Max or VHS?"
Jim Crane and company have the difficult task of reconstructing a roster that has been stripped down and finished with a combined record of 292-355 since 2008 and finished with a record of 56-106 in 2011. Needless to say, even the Bad News Bears and the Washington Generals think that the Astros are horrible.
Time for a little Crawfish Jeopardy...
native_astro: "Alex, big fan here. Love the mustache. I've got to ask how you keep it so Magnum P.I?
Alex: "Just pick a category moron."
native_astro: "I'll take "How Not to Run a Baseball Team for $500"."
"In 2009, the Rickets family took over this Windy City team and made the big mistake of thinking that they could simply throw money at the organization in order to gain success."
native_astro: "What are the Chicago Cubs?"
Jim Crane and George Postolos could have done the easy thing and simply thrown money at this problem in attempt to make this team competitive for 2012, but instead Crane and Postolos saw the bigger picture. When you've hit rock bottom, your problems are rarely fixed with band-aids and short term fixes but instead fixed by addressing the root cause of the problems. For the Astros everything starts with the farm system and producing players annually that will contribute and help the major league club.
Since 2008, scouting director Bobby Heck has overseen four drafts that have produce players such as MLB players such as Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles, J.D Martinez, and JB Shuck(2008 Draftees). Some could argue that the Astros drafted more towards the MLB recommended "slot type player" rather than the best available.
As much as I would like to put this on Bobby Heck, I simply cannot while Drayton McLane was in charge. This would be like blaming someone's child whose parent committed a crime. With that said, the Astros haven't simply drafted that blue chip-Evan Longoria-Troy Tulowitzki-type stud prospect that this organization can build around. George Springer might be that guy, but it's way too early to appoint him the next Jeff Bagwell of the organization. The Astros have done a really good job of going through the motions of the draft and bringing in talent to add organizational depth.
For the Astros it became very apparent that they were simply just going through the motions and pre-defined conditions set forth by Major League Baseball and their "recommended slot bonuses." If you look at who was available, the recommended slot bonus, and who the Astros drafted compared to who was available it becomes very clear how the old Astros approached the draft. The draft was driven by money and not by talent. The Astros main objective was to add as many players to the draft system and not spend very much money in the process. So rather than take the best available player and pay that player, they choose to go with the player that would be most likely to sign for the recommended slot bonus at the current draft position.
If you're going to make concessions in your organization, the farm system and player development isn't something that you should cut back on. If you're going to try to save money you could cut back on the nice toilet paper, hair dryers for Tal Smith, or Drayton McLane's Werther's original museum.
Jeff Luhnow has the difficult task of trying to get this club back to credibility before the Astros move to the soon to be power house division of the AL West. This isn't going to be a short road back to recovery and you can't cheat to expedite the process. The Astros finally appear committed to rebuilding the farm system and player development the correct way. Take it from my man Axl and give the Astros front office a little patience.
What Realistic for 2012?
Even the most optimistic Houston Astros fan is going to tell you that the Astros are going to struggle in 2012. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the 2012 Astros could be worse than the 2011 product and might even be a 110 loss team. So what should we consider realistic expectations for this team for 2012? I hate to say it, but expectations should be thrown out the window for this team and this team should only be concerned about developing prospects such as Jordan Lyles, Jimmy Paredes, J.D Martinez, and Jose Altuve. Jeff Luhnow, Jim Crane, and George Postolos are invested in this organization for the long term and I wouldn't be surprised to see them send prospects down to the minors for more service time regardless of public outcry. We've already seen Crane and Postolos buck the system and fire their GM and Vice President within a week of the GM meetings. It's becoming very clear that the new Astros front office is invested in the future and willing to take their time with every roster and organization decision. If you're going to take thirteen hours out of your day to interview single GM candidates, something tells me that that they're willing to do their due diligence and make the right decision.
When your 2011 roster was almost halfway compiled of rookies, some could say that your 2012 is going to go through a dose of growing pains. I give you the "Sophomore Jinx."
For the majority, second year players will go through a sophomore jinx compared to their rookie season. Generally in year two, teams are able to get an in-depth scouting report on last years rookies making the second year players make adjustments. Just ask Chris Johnson who in 2010 hit .308/.337/.481, but in 2011 hit .251/.291/.378.
The Astros fielded twelve rookies in 2011 including 20 year old Jose Altuve, 21 year old Jordan Lyles, and 22 year old Jimmy Paredes. Some would argue that these three were simply brought up out of necessity rather than the prospects actually being ready, but these three along with J.D Martinez and David Carpenter held their own after their promotions from AA and AAA. Regardless of whether these prospects should or shouldn't have been promoted is a moot point now, and only time will tell how these players will progress or regress in 2012.
What will hurt the Astros in 2012 will be a lack of depth at the minor league levels for positional players. Let's say for argument sake that J.D Martinez, Jimmy Paredes, Jordan Schafer, JB Shuck, and Jose Altuve struggle to start the year and need more service time in the minors. The Astros would likely have to start either Chris Johnson or Matt Downs at 3B, Angel Sanchez at 2B, Carlos Lee back in LF, Jason Bourgeois in LF-CF-RF, and so on. Get the picture?
Continue to Grow
The Astros need to continue to unload anything on the roster that has any trade value if it helps us in the future. Jeff Luhnow wasted no time in unloaded the clubs young closer in Mark Melancon in order to obtain shortstop Jed Lowrie and starter Kyle Weiland from the Boston Red Sox.
Having a starter on this team is like having a taser gun taped to the side of the USS Iowa. Yeah it works, but do you really need it?
I have no doubt that Jeff Luhnow will continue to make trades that will make this organization better for the future and not just the short term. This likely means that Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and even Bud Norris could be unloaded at some time in the future for prospects, young MLB players, or for financial relief. We can get into this discussion later, but I have no doubt that Jeff Luhnow would at least entertain offers for Bud Norris seeing where the trade market is for young starters is this offseason. Did anyone think that Trevor Cahill would be traded for a package surrounding Jarrod Parker or Gio Gonzalez being traded for four prospects? I sure didn't, but if it makes your organization better for the future it has to be considered. The more likely scenario is that Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers get moved prior to spring training and Carlos Lee gets traded by the trade deadline.
You should see a Wandy Rodriguez market start to develop very quickly with Wilson, Darvish, Gonzalez, and Danks off the board. A market for Wandy could develop quickly with these players off the board and the asking price for Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson being sky high. If the Cubs are asking for a package of Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances for Matt Garza and Scott Boras is asking for 15-17 million a year for 5 years for Edwin Jackson then teams are likely to look at other alternatives including Wandy Rodriguez. I wouldn't be shocked to see Jeff Luhnow trade Wandy Rodriguez for a mixture of prospects and "out of favor" young MLB players. Jeff Luhnow is said to favor bats over pitching and if I'm him I give Alex Anthopoulos of the Blue Jays a call and try to pry away OF Travis Snider, SP Henderson Alvarez, and SP Deck McGuire. Snider and Alvarez would provide the Astros will value for now and McGuire could be ready by next spring. In this scenario, I would move Brian Bogusevic over to CF and Snider to RF. Yes, nobody will cover CF in Minute Maid park like the great Michael Bourn, but where the Astros are at now it's time to start thinking outside the box.
Making Lemonade out of Lemons?
I'm not going to lie; the next 3-4 years are going to be extremely rough for the Houston Astros and their fan base. With an impending move to the AL, a roster that lacks a bona-fide superstar, and is compiled of young complementary players things aren't going to be pretty site to see at Minute Maid park. Think of it as baseball live adaptation of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
With that said, this organization is headed in the right direction and I feel that the Astros have the right people in place in order to get us back to respectability.
There's a little bit of hope for the Houston Astros when it comes to rebuilding our farm system in that bad teams usually get the top pick in the MLB draft. Take the Tampa Bay Rays who were awful from 2002-2007 drafted within the top 5 selecting players such as BJ Upton, Delmon Young, David Price, and Evan Longoria.
This year is going to be brutal for Astros fans. Some will jump ship and jump on the bandwagon headed to Arlington, some will refuse to go the games simply because of the product on the field, and some will simply lose patience and not understand that you cannot simply throw money at this problem in order to make the losing go away. That's fine. Every fan base goes through times like these, but it will only make the climb back to credibility that much more enjoyable for the die-hards that stick through the tough times.
Follow native_astro on twitter @native_astro