Everyone tosses the term "rebuilding" around as if it's commonly understood, but for the average baseball fan, the minor leagues are a place of mystery. I was thinking about just this thing the other day while sitting on my back deck, enjoying the rare Houston day where sitting outside is a lovely thing.
As I stared out at my growing vegetable gardens I realized exactly why the minors are referred to as the farm system. You see, about six weeks ago three raised beds were built in my backyard for me to play in the dirt and grow fresh produce - my own farm of sorts. I love nothing more than a meal made with fresh and perfect produce, but it's not always available when you want or need it. The process of building, planting and nurturing the tomatoes, beans, zucchini, etc in my backyard are a great analogy for baseball and specifically what is happening with the Houston Astros.
To start the process of vegetable gardening, I had to first build the structure for my beds. Of course, in the Astros system that structure was in place long before this season. A host of minor league teams at various levels serve as the club's structure. Once the beds were built and filled with dirt, there were many possibilities of what I could plant, but until I did, there was really nothing to look forward to harvesting.
Such was the state of the Astros farm system 2 years ago. The vegetables had all been harvested, but no one had ever really bothered to replant and when they did, it wasn't planted properly with the right seeds or transplants. The teams across the club were essentially bare vegetable gardens with no hope of tomatoes or squash ever being ready to eat or player being fit for the big league club's use.
Enter Jeff Luhnow and a new front office determined to "rebuild" the Astros in a way that would feed the major league ball club for years to come. Over the past two years, the Houston Astros have traded their ripe and tasty squash, tomatoes and beans for seeds. Seeds came in the form of players from trades, draft picks with bright shiny futures and talent acquired from Latin America.
Right now as I watch my vegetable garden grow and bloom, I see the hope of produce. I see the possibilities of good produce, but there is nothing ready to harvest and put to use in my kitchen. The blooms on the plants tell me that I'm doing something right, giving the plants enough nutrients, water and nurturing that they are growing, developing into just the things that I had longed for.
Not every plant and not ever seed will produce something edible in the long run, just as not every prospect and not every new player will ever reach the majors. But now there is hope.
When a fan favorite player is traded away to another team, it sometimes feels as if the Astros have thrown away their best hope. That's not the case at all, they've simply realized that to build a club that can compete season after season and be the team fans remember of yesteryear, they must continually acquire more seeds and more transplants to fill the farm. If the minor league system is robbed of its chance to restock and rebuild, the Astros will forever be doomed to repeat seasons of heartache and loss - something no fan wants to see.
As of right now there are a lot of blooms and plants thriving in the minor league system. The Houston Astros managed to take a barren farm and replant, providing the water and nutrients needed for growth. We see the blooms happening right before our eyes as prospect like Mike Foltynewicz, Delino Deshields and Carlos Correa garner experience, attention and success at their respective levels. They're not alone, in fact they are surrounded by thriving plants... I mean, players on each team.
And so on nights when the team on the field at Minute Maid Park is making silly mistakes and struggling to shut down an opponent, I am reminded that this is not the Houston Astros of the future. The team I'll cheer for in years to come is still down on the farm, growing and developing into tasty tomatoes, squash and beans. Patience is hard to come by in a sports fan, but it is the trait that Houston Astros fans need in spades right now. Because there are blooms on the plants and the best produce is yet to come.