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Success in today's MLB: Money or Prospects (or both)

Regardless of what Drayton McLane and Ed Wade are trying desperately to sell to us, the Astros are pretty much done contending for  playoff spot. Maybe we should hold out hope of finishing at the .500 mark (which in and of itself would be pretty impressive for this bunch) but visions of a champagne soaked home clubhouse at the Juice Box will not be actualized in all likelyhood.

The reasons are many for the Astros' ineptitude, and if you've read Richard Justice's most recent blog post, then you know what I'm talking about. Poor ownership begats poor decision making, poor decision making begats poor on field performance eventually. Skimp on draft picks, fail to come to terms with a overall lack of pitching depth by signing aging veteran hitters to bloating contracts, and you find yourself cheering for an irrelevant, aging team. The truth hurts, but it can also set you free, or so I've been told. This could be the wake up call that this team has needed for about four years. There are signs that some in the front office are waking up, and guys like Bobby Heck are going to do their damndest to help figure things out on the minor league level, even if the big league team is a mess.

Even with the newly found emphasis on the draft, the Astros' probable rise in the organizational rankings doesn't guarantee them anything. For every Tampa Bay and Texas there is a Cleveland, whose high rankings in Baseball Prospectus haven't helped them avoid poor 2008 and 2009 seasons.On the whole, however, a good farm system does provide valuable resources in terms of replacement players. Young hitters and pitchers who can temporarily step in for a big leaguer, or take over once a veteran exits due to poor performance or injury.

Let's look a the top ten teams in the organizational rankings, and see where they rank in terms of both payroll and record this season.

Team Org. Ranking Payroll Rank Record
Oakland 1 26 53-67
Texas 2 22 67-52
Tampa Bay 3 25 65-54
Atlanta 4 11 63-57
Florida 5 30 64-56
San Francisco 6 13 66-55
Baltimore 7 23 48-72
Boston 8 4 68-51
St. Louis 9 17 69-53
Toronto 10 16 55-63

 

Eight out of the top ten have records of .500 or better. Toronto, though eight games under, has a +29 RS vs. RA, so by that metric they too are an above average club. Only Baltimore is actually a bad team.

So it seems that at least on a superficial level well run organizations tend to have good major league teams as well. The X begats Y begats Z reasoning I laid out earlier works here to a great extent.

What about payroll? Does the almighty $ trump even savvy drafts and above slot signing bonuses? In my estimation, no. The top payrolls in 2009, in order from greatest to 10th greatest are listed below. Their divisional rank is in the next column

Team Divisional Rank
NYY 1
NYM 4
CHC 2
BOS 2
DET 1
LAA 1
PHI 1
HOU 4
LAD 1
SEA 3

 

Spend the dough, and you have a 50% chance of being a first place club, and a 70% chance of at least coming in second. The Astros are becoming the 2005 Baltimore Orioles- no farm system, poor big league record. The Mets were picked by many to contend for the NL East crown before a wave of injuries hit them like a ton of bricks. Seattle is headed in the right direction, but is still an overachieving team.

It's no surprise to say that to compete in major league baseball in this day and age, you must either have a very good farm system, an owner willing to pony up some cash or a little of each. Teams like Kansas City (#16 organization), the Reds (#19), and the Pirates (#22) are small market teams with small payrolls to match. Their organizations may not be the weakest, but they aren't near strong enough to overcome their lighter pocketbooks.

Wherever the Astros end up ranking in 2010, it's unlikely that it will be higher than the 25-28 range. If that turns out to be the case, Drayton will have to maintain payroll in order to give this team a puncher's chance. A double digit payroll rank for the Astros could mean a loss total whose digits begins with a 8 or 9.