If I would have know how prescient it would be when I wrote it, I probably wouldn't have. But I wrote it, and now we have to deal with the fact that Drayton McLane still hasn't figured it out.
How much money is spent or how good the team has been in years past, is not actually what determines the on field product. What determines the on field product is the quality of assets that are currently being invested in.
$100 million for Carlos Lee. $16.5 million of Kaz Matsui. $800,000 for Cecil Cooper in 2010. Easily $8 million over the last two years on throwaway, scrap heap, rehab projects to fill out the rotation, bullpen, and bench. Taking on two years of Miguel Tejada and Jose Valverde. These are all the investments that Drayton McLane was willing to fund, seemingly no questions asked.
From everything that I've read from everyone who has any access to the Astros front office, Ed Wade, et al. wanted Acta. Acta, by all accounts, wanted to be back with the Astros, but Acta also had his future to look out for, too.
If we were to some how discover what the exact dollar figure on the third year Acta was bargaining for, I'm sure we would collectively slam our heads against our desks/walls/keyboards with so much force that it'd probably register on the richter scale.
It's not that I am/was/will be convinced of the righteousness of Manny Acta. I don't doubt the ability of Brad Mills to be a great manager. I also don't think Phil Garner's rehiring would be the end of the world. Now, I don't think rehiring Garner would be a great thing, because I don't think that Phil Garner was a good manager. He was always an average, to below average guy in my book. I always saw his fate as the fate of something determined by his place at and timing. Were it not for Drayton scrambling for scape goats, I don't doubt that Garner might still be around. We get can into the why's of my thoughts on Garner's managerial capabilities, but it's not the point. It's not what bothers me about this.
What bothers me is this: Drayton McLane continues to show an inability to take intelligent risks, to invest wisely, and trust the people he pays to make sound decisions. We've done a lot of talking about signaling. That's probably because we have too many econ-based readers, but it's the truth none the less.
Garner is a bad signal. He's a bad signal because it shows a lack of willingness to try something new. To push forward and reinvent the team. It's some sort of half-hearted attempt to make an amend to a man who was probably wronged in his firing, but it's the wrong way to make amends. Amend, after all, means to change. Taking Phil Garner back as our manager means that the Astros are going to keep sticking it out in the same "we can win with what we've got" mentality in my mind's eye. Maybe that's incorrect, but I don't think I'm that far off the mark.
Hiring Manny Acta, on the other hand, signals the exact opposite. It signals that the Astros are willing to invest in a young, charismatic, smart, well-liked, manager who could man the helm for years to come. That would be change. Acta seemed like a guy who wasn't worried about bucking convention, and that feels like something this team desperately needs in the next few years.
Instead, yesterday, Astros fans were given a clear signal from Drayton McLane. The signal is that he still doesn't get it. My gut feeling is that he never will. I guess I can't blame him. He got to ride the gravy train of the Bagwell/Biggio years with hometown-hero discounts, cheaper to maintain farm systems, and had the added bonus of a stadium honeymoon period. There was no lesson to be learned.
Thankfully, I assume that he can only go a few more years before he starts looking for potential suitors, and maybe at that time we'll get an owner who stops resting on his laurels, which, in every quote I've ever heard/read Drayton make in the last two or three years, he does. I'll be the first person to admit it: Drayton's been a successful owner. He's given us a great franchise during most of his tenure, and has, at times, spent lavishly. But that doesn't actually make him a great owner. It just makes him an owner who was able to play the hand he was dealt well. The test of greatness, though, is the ability to adapt.
At the end of the day, I get the feeling that this wasn't about the money. Instead, I get the feeling that this was more about philosophy. Drayton McLane's philosophy will continue to dominate baseball operations and thwart the necessary innovation, creativity, and inherent risk-taking that will possibly be necessary for this ball club to be worth the cost of admission in the next few years. It seems like Drayton doesn't see it that way. And that's a real shame—for us.