Ed Note: The following story has elements of truth. I did own the cars pictured. But the timeline and details have been changed for metaphoric merit.
Back in 2005, I needed a new car. I was driving a 1994 Ford Probe SE (the 4-cylinder, not the 6) with 250,000 miles (give or take...the odometer had broken several years prior), and I finally had to acknowledge to myself that it wouldn't magically become better on its own. Unfortunately, I had just closed on a new house, and the mortgage was through the roof - I had stretched myself financially in anticipation of future raises and promotions. My family was going to grow, and I didn't want to move again in five years. I had school loans to pay off. I had just gotten married. A kid was on the way. I was not exactly rolling in finances to acquire a new vehicle. I needed a trade-in.
The Probe was in seriously sad shape. I had repainted it twice, and not because I fancied a different hue, but to replace the worn, faded, cracked, and generally low-quality paint of a mid-90's Ford.
It had once been a good car. But it had had as many transmissions as paint jobs (three). The interior was starting to rot. The Kelley Blue Book value was less than the purchase price of the Kelley Blue Book. I had loved that car as a 17-year-old and continued to enjoy it through my 20's. But it was time.
So I took it to the dealership. They didn't want it. I took it to another. They refused it. I took it to a consignment lot. They sighed and shook their heads sadly, while complimenting the vibrant paint color (Blueberry Metallic). So I called the donation folks, who would clean it up and sell it for pennies to somebody far needier than myself. They gave me a pittance.
I took that pittance back to the used car lot. I returned home with a 1999 Ford Ranger with 80,000 miles on it. It was okay. Suspension was bad, the seat indicated that somebody three times my size had been the previous owner. The paint was bad, but I was used to that. It was a good truck; flawed, but a clear upgrade over the Probe. I loved it.
My friends asked, "How come you didn't get a four-door?" My coworkers told me, "You should have gotten a V-8 instead of that wimpy V-6." Others looked askance and said, "Dude. Buy a new car next time, that truck is crap." But they didn't get it. Of course I wanted a new, 4-door, V8 truck. Of course I would have preferred that. But I didn't have the money, and the Probe had been worth almost nothing as a trade-in.
I drove the truck for a while. I purchased a bed-liner when I scraped enough together, to hide the paint scratches. "What's the point?" I was asked, "Why not just buy a new truck?". Some said, "You should trade that truck in and get two or three better, newer trucks." I only shrugged. They weren't interested in the reality of my situation. I had to buy a new bumper. Same questions. I had to re-paint a door. "Why not repaint the whole truck another color? And get a new driver's seat while you're at it, that one is saggy."
Eventually, I sold the truck to my mechanic. Luckily for me, he appreciated the fact that its under-powered, not-special, and 15-year-old engine actually ran. I used the meager return to upgrade to a used Honda CR-V with mileage in the low 20's. The 4-cylinder model. But with leather seats and a sun roof.
"Dude," somebody said, "If you can't get a better car, at least get the V-6." I know, I know. And again, "You should have just bought something new. The warranty is better, you know." Well, not really, but let's not let facts get in the way of a good "should". At least the CR-V had good paint. Except for that one ding on the door. Still, I understood what assets I had, where I had come from. The CR-V was flawed, but it was less flawed than the truck and certainly better than the probe. Luckily, by this time, I had cleared away a bit of debt and had earned a promotion, and so I was actually able to afford the under-powered and unsexy CR-V. I liked it. It represented progress. And those leather seats are darn comfy thanks, and I'll ride my eventual-300,000 mile odometer all the way to the bank. But still, I received the criticism.
Finally, years after I had traded the Probe for a tiny tax break, the time was right. I had managed my assets carefully. I had upgraded every step of the way, taking a patient approach that would allow me to reap the benefit in the long run. My mortgage was my only remaining debt. My wife drove me to the dealership in the CR-V, which I was not trading in. The new car dealership.
I selected my vehicle. I purchased my vehicle. I drove home in my brand-new Infiniti G35 6-speed coupe, with shiny 19-inch wheels, over 300 bhp, aero package, and that new-car smell. My patience had paid off.
I pulled into work the next day, happy that I had managed my business so well that I was able to reach this level of quality in my daily transportation. I couldn't wait to show my co-workers. As they stood around and I showed them the features of my shiny new toy, a few nodded and smiled appreciatively, knowing what I had endured to reach this point. But most of them...they looked at my new car for a few minutes, talked amongst themselves, and then asked me:
"Dude. How come you didn't buy a Porsche?"
I am the GM of the Houston Astros.
My cars are my major league players.
And my coworkers are the fans and media.
The above can stand alone and the article perhaps should have ended with the preceding section. But for those who don't enjoy an esoteric metaphor, as I do, I will expound a bit.
With flawed assets, a baseball club can only acquire flawed players. We may moan about the projected strikeouts of the 2015 Astros, but the reality is that there was no way, with the Astros' assets during the latter half of the 'aughts, that they could have acquired any player that struck out at a low rate unless that player had other glaring deficiencies.
What the Astros have decided to do is the best they can. They have acquired lower-strikeout guys, such as Matt Dominguez. Dominguez hits into more double plays than almost everybody else in the majors and has no idea what pitches to swing at. They acquired high-strikeout guys like Chris Carter. Chris Carter is a perennial threat for 40 home runs with a good walk rate.
With their flawed assets, the Astros have made moves that have improved the club. Each step has been marginal, sometimes even difficult to identify, but the improvement became evident with either subsequent moves or validation of the team's faith in a player. Sometimes the moves didn't work out at all. But recognizing that they had to start from scratch, with no farm system, no money, a new owner, and in a new league, they added flawed players who each had a certain skill that managed to outweigh the deficiencies.
But it never seems good enough for some fans, does it?
With all of the moves over the last three years, the question should not be, "Is this a great player that the Astros acquired?," but rather, "Is this move another step in the right direction?"
So far, so good. Maybe someday they can work up to that Porsche.