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Making Inroads Twice, Astros-style

Yes, I am piggybacking on a Brian McTaggart blog post for the second straight day. No, it is not because I am out of ideas for what to write. I have legitimate outrage that I'd like to share with you, dear readers.

My frustration comes not from Houston refusing to make an offer on Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban defector has many issues that could cause him trouble between here and the big leagues. It's probably not prudent to invest 21 million into a guy like that, when you can almost get a guy like Stephen Strasberg, with less potential roadblocks to the show, for the same price tag. It's also great to see Wade realizing that signing five international players gives him better odds of finding one who becomes good than signing one.

I'm not even frustrated by the notion that the Astros could have poured that money into the draft and signed a couple of players who had fallen because of signability reasons. Throwing money at the draft isn't quite the answer, though I would like to see them take a couple more chances by going over slot recommendations for players.

No, my indignation stems from the Houston Astros Venezuelan academy. Created sometime in the 1990's (information on it was hard to find), it produced Major League stars Magglio Ordonez, Johan Santana, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillen and Bobby Abreu. There were countless other players who made the majors and played in the minors who were also signed out of this academy, run by longtime baseball scout Andres Reiner. From what I can tell, the academy ran like a prep school. The Astros would sign a player to become part of the academy, Reiner would teach them all about baseball and then Houston could offer them a professional contract. Thus, some players signed with different teams when the Astros declined to offer them a pro deal.

The Astros were one of the first teams to put something like this together. Other teams followed suit, but Houston was out in front of this one. That's why it upsets me when I have to read this from  McTaggart:

Since Wade took over as general manager late in 2007 and hired Bobby Heck to rebuild the scouting and player development department, the Astros have made inroads in signing international players.

Wait, what? The Astros needed to make inroads into signing international players when they were the freakin' trendsetters 10 years earlier? How far has the franchise really fallen?

The Astros and owner Drayton McLane decided to close down the academy in the past few years, opting in recent time to start developing one in the Dominican Republic instead. Still, that's years away from bearing any fruit and meanwhile, Heck and Co. have to start from scratch on international players.

When we talk about reasons McLane hurts the Astros, it's stuff like this. His bottom-line thinking forced them to shut down the Venezuelan venture, I can almost guarantee. I realize things may have become more complicated when Hugo Chavez came to power, but people are still signing kids out of the country. It's not like the doors have closed there. No, instead, Drayton thought it too expensive and cut back his investment in international signings.

The Astros have done well recently, getting highly thought of players for reasonable prices. They are nowhere near the big leagues, but progress is progress. The frustrating thing to me is to see the franchise this decade take so many, many steps backwards before finally starting forward again. Things like these issues with international scouting are probably why Hunsicker left and are ultimately why Drayton's tenure as owner will be considered a disappointment.