Some things to talk about while Jeff Luhnow gets more love from the media...
1) Trade thoughts
It's a relatively minor move, but when Jake Goebbert was traded to the Oakland A's for reliever Travis Blackley, it paid off a couple of minor threads to this season.
First off, it gave Goebbert a change of scenery. We talked about this in our minor league review of Goebbert. He seemed like a good player who just wasn't part of this management team's future. He could have a nice career in the majors as a bench outfielder, but probably wouldn't get that chance with the Astros.
So, it seemed that a trade or release was inevitable. Now, the Astros have more room in their Triple-A outfield for guys like Mark Krauss and Robbie Grossman while also strengthening their major league bullpen. If the last two Rangers games were any sort of indicator, bolstering that bullpen is a good thing.
The other thread is this idea of using pitchers differently than usual. In the minors, it's tandem starting, but in the majors, it might be using multiple long relievers for multi-inning stints after a starter has gone five or six innings. Much like Houston did with Erik Bedard on Opening Night, Houston could strengthen its bullpen by changing how relievers get used.
By giving Bo Porter a lefty and a righty long relief man in the bullpen, Luhnow essentially gives that strategy a try. Maybe it works, maybe Porter abandons it in a few weeks and sends one of them down. But, it appears Houston is trying new things (which are kind of old things returning) with its pitching staff and that's kind of exciting.
2) Rays culture better without Upton/Shields?
Richard Justice picked up on a great interview with Evan Longoria about the departure of two long-time Rays. In it, Longoria talks about why B.J. Upton and James Shields leaving might have been a good thing for the culture of the team.
"There was a lot of history with B.J. and Shields and this organization, and I think there were some things that it was tough for them to get beyond. They were really the only ones that were left in here that were here before the Rays were (renamed) in 2008, when we started to be the team that we are now. And I think some of those things kind of stuck around, and as much as you try to instill the new way, some of those things, it was tough to get some of those thoughts out of their head. And so, I think, obviously they were great players, but as far as an over-arching belief in what we try to do here, I think with the new people that we have now, it’s a completely new belief in what we’re trying to do here."
Apply that to your Houston Astros. Bo Porter has been talking about establishing the Astros Way throughout the minor leagues. That's a concept that dates back to the Orioles in the '60s and '70s, but it's one that Tampa Bay has also obviously cultivated.
With a team that has lost so many games, it's easy to think that winning cures everything. But, maybe guys who have been around longest like Bud Norris need to go before the rebuild can take off. Maybe they'll never be able to fully embrace the Astros Way.
Of course, the Rays went to a World Series with both Upton and Shields, so it's not like they were impediments to winning. More likely, we can look at the situation here and apply it to players in Houston by calling them bridge players. These are good players who could help long-term, but the future of Houston's baseball culture probably resides in the minors right now.
3) On a tangent about Roger Ebert
It's been a while since I took off on a non-baseball related tangent, but bear with me. When I was reading this piece by Alan Sepinwall about the great movie critic Roger Ebert, a concept struck me as very applicable to our coverage of the Astros:
He very clearly articulated his point of view, and always did his best to judge each movie on its own level.
Maybe Sepinwall was talking about movies, but can't we apply that to the 2013 Astros and all the concerns the national media have about the integrity of the game?
Maybe instead of jumping to conclusions about the Astros based on what other teams have done or one universally accepted way to build a team, what if we judged them on their own level. What if we judged them by what they're trying to do, not what other teams do?
It's essentially what we've been fighting for over the past few months, trying to show people that Houston has a plan. Jay Jaffe did such a great job of articulating the entire process, I'm not sure I'll write another word about it and instead, just refer to his article for the rest of the season.
But, there's another layer to judging this team on its own level. If we accept that Houston is built differently than other teams, we still have to judge them based on that level. How successful are they with their blueprint? How many of these experiments work out? Will the tandem starting thing produce results? Will Houston actually hit 170 home runs or will the strikeouts and lack of contact mean they regress in the power department as well?
We've been working so hard to articulate what makes this team different, we can't forget to hold them accountable. It's not a huge point in the scheme of things, but a eulogy to a movie critic made me see it more clearly.