Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. – Kahlil Gibran
Waiting on the baseball season is much akin to waiting on a freight train. From miles away, the howls of the whistles wail into the city, echoing off the sides of our bustling commerce buildings and resonating through the walls of neighborhood homes. We hear the whistle well before the traffic lights flash red. We hear the whistle well before the dishes rattle, well before the picture frames rumble. Boisterous and proud, it is a distant alarm, screaming obstreperously; issuing a warning of the freight train’s imminent existence and its uncontested power.
And we wait.
And we wait longer.
The rattling gets louder, the rumbling gets louder, and the traffic lights flash red. With a brief procession of rhythmic thumps, the freight train races through town and then it is gone. No more rattling, no more rumbling and no more whistle.
After all the build up, it’s gone – and then off in the distant, miles away, you hear another feint whistle.
It seemed as though we spent an eternity waiting for the baseball season – and, now, as we close the book on August, the baseball season is almost gone.
This time of year is particularly bittersweet in Houston. While baseball at its core is enjoyable and very much alive, Astros fans have collectively hoisted the white flag of surrender, conceding the fight for this season and subsequently investigating quicker ways to coax the remainder of this year towards the cold rope of winter’s gallows.
While watching the game on television or listening to it on the radio still outweighs our desire to do yard work, Astros fans now gaze upon their lawn mowers with a sense of security and reliance, a scrap of stability within the solid frame with cold deadly blades. Baseball is still better than getting off the couch and doing actually work… but barely.
Indeed, this summer has been a series of sequential gut-punches and follow-up slobber-knockers. And after another brutal summer, Astros fans once again find themselves flopping around like Trevor Berbick after a Mike Tyson combo. While the oft-tormented fan base is left to lick their wounds and remember the good times, still in the back of their minds, they wonder if there is an actual method to the madness or whether a capricious Jeff Luhnow has a debauched affinity for watching this tortured fan base suffer.
Look closer; there is a specific method to Luhnow’s madness. There is a plan, a strategy
There is a process.
We’ve heard this administration talk about “the process” since they took the reigns of this organization in 2011. We’ve seen coaches and players wear shirts with the “PROCESS” boldly emblazoned across the chest, we’ve read the inspirational messages plastered along the walls in the locker room and we’ve heard stories about a fabled Wheel of Astros Fortune. We keep being told there is a process.
But what exactly is the process?
A process is the defined way of doing the tasks needed in order to achieve your goals.
Obviously there are several processes that the Astros employ – they have a standard, which they demand from their players, and they have an organizational process that they’re adhering to themselves… which is the focus of this blog entry.
The Astros organizational process seems to dictate a very cumbersome, a very excruciating, and an, albeit, very delicate, teardown married to a very deliberate rebuild of the entire organization. The process requires that the organization develop the assets yielded from the teardown in order to build a championship caliber team. In other words, they’re tearing the whole thing down in order to rebuild it “the right way,” their way.
This is a complete turnaround, an about-face from the scorched Earth methodology foolishly championed by the previous regime.
Assuming the current state of the team is completely “torn down,” it would make sense that the Astros are currently knee-deep in the rebuilding phase and very close to the part of the process where they harvest the championship caliber team they’ve planted over the last few years.
Even though the team looks cold, dead and long buried, those within the organization feel quite comfortable with how their plans are unfolding. There is a quiet confidence, a cocksure aura surrounding the organization. There is a recognizable swagger, a distinguishable air of defiant insouciance in regards to the Astros pitiful record. They understand that right now things appear to be bleak, but upon further examination, everything is going according to their strategy.
…It’s all a part of the process.
As a whole, fans thought (at least hoped) the Astros would be a tad more competitive than what they were last year… at least with the dregs of Major League Baseball. I assumed that perhaps they’d out-battle the other bottom-dwellers to stay moderately buoyant, avoiding a predictable whisking away by the violent floodwaters of last place.
But – no, the rushing waters of inexperience proved to be too strong and has bowled them over and pulled them under. The now sunken Astros are head and shoulders worse than any team in the league. They’re drowning in a thunderstorm of their own creation; they’re the undisputed worst team in baseball.
…And the September forecast is calling for another series of torrential downpours with flash flood warnings.
Yes, the Astros record is utterly embarrassing. They’re flailing, and like the previous two years, they’re taking a massive nosedive towards the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Recently, their play has shown morsels of potential but overall has the same appeal of Amanda Bynes at a job interview. The Astros offense is an unfortunate coexistence of inconsistent sparks of excitement consistently snuffed out under the perverted boot of missed opportunities. Indeed, the Astros live in a world where no runner is truly ever in scoring position. The offense is a creative assortment of not-so near misses, a catalogue of exasperating double plays and strikeouts – an outrageously twisted comedy of newfound follies inducing fans to detonate f-bombs, Jägerbombs and I just want to be left alone and cry bombs.
And, yes, the bullpen is awful – where do I even start? The Astros bullpen has been called everything but competent or efficient. They are the “Trifecta of Horror,” which sounds like a riveting title for a Freddy Krueger movie. Some have playfully (yet accurately) called the bullpen the “Bermuda Triangle” on account of the team’s most mysterious and suspicious losses. Meanwhile, according to Brian Smith, Bo Porter has called the bullpen “a major concern.” In Porter’s defense, I imagine Smith took some literary liberty of amending Porter’s actual quote which was likely “our f*cking bullpen is a major f*cking concern right now, Brian.”
Yet multiple sources are reporting that Bo Porter doesn’t cuss.
Enter Josh Zeid, Chia-Jen Lo, Kevin Chapman and David Martinez.
Perhaps these minor league reinforcements will bolster this pen as the Astros shuffle through pitchers faster than Matt Garza can locate your wife’s Twitter account.
As was the case in 2011 and 2012, this year once again, the Astros are a tick below terrible.
This is a part of the process?
After a series of frustrating losses, I looked to the Book of Job for answers. Immediately, I decided that I couldn’t quote the Bible and use “fresh cat-turd” in the same blog entry, so I recalled Neil Simon’s play God’s Favorite – which is based loosely on the Book of Job and “loosely” is good enough for my blog or any hopes that I may have in any sort of spiritual salvation. In the comedy, a messenger from God named Sidney Lipton (an angel) visits a wealthy businessman named Joe Benjamin. Sidney tells Joe that he is “God’s favorite” and that God and Satan had made a bet whether or not he would renounce God under certain conditions. Hilarity ensues. Satan ends up screwing Joe to pieces by systematically destroying his life – but Joe stays strong, and he keeps his commitment to God, even though his life is in complete shambles.
Is this fresh cat-turd of a season a part of the process? As Astros fans, is this process testing our faith in our team? Are we Job? Are we Joe Benjamin? Are we Hector Ambriz? Are the Baseball Gods piling onto us to test our commitment to the process?
But, amid the storm, there will be an air of calmness, the lightning and thunder will eventually subside, the floodwaters stall and dry – the worst part of the process is almost over. And soon, the roles will reverse, and we’ll be the ones inflicting the pain while other fan bases flop around like beaten-up and bloodied Trevor Berbick.
In keeping with the theatrical theme, if Shakespeare were a baseball fan, he might suggest that some teams are born with the first overall pick, some teams achieve the first overall pick and some teams have the first overall pick thrust upon them.
And, sadly, the Astros are playing all three parts.
There has been a lot of speculation that the Astros are intentionally putting themselves in this situation because they want the first overall pick in 2014. The Münchausen-Rodon Syndrome, as I like to call it. However, the Astros were accused of experiencing similar symptoms in 2011 and 2012 season too. I believe that theory is drenched in naivety, a severe misdiagnosis – I firmly believe the Astros have a philosophy on how they want to conduct business, and they’re sticking to it. They’re not intentionally trying to be the worst team in baseball – they’re just refusing to cut corners or shield wounds with cheap bandages. And because they’re not going to cut corners, being the worst team in baseball has sort of thrust itself upon the Astros.
The Astros are not concerned with hindering the organization’s development or going astray from their process for the sake of immediate meaningless success. If they win 50 or win 70, that part of the process simply isn’t by design – they are where they are at the moment, and they’re not going to barter long-term success for ineffective quick fixes. They’re trying not to lose, but they’re not going to combat losing with hollow counterproductive transactions. Their definition of success is building a long-term winning operation that feeds itself rather than relying on signing aging veterans or trading valuable assets in order to appease an annoyed fan-base and an unimpressed media.
The Astros blatant refusal to acquiesce to national expectations has cast the Astros in a villainous role in the first act of this American League drama. The Astros refusal to irresponsibly spend money like “drunken sailors” is regarded as an integrity issue while ignoring the understanding that the team is holding itself accountable to its own process. While Alex Rodriguez remains embroiled in controversy and is staring down the double barrel of being 38 and an imminent full-season suspension, “experts” foolishly have pointed out how he earns more money than the entire Houston Astros organization. …as if the Astros would be better off paying A-Rod $28M to underperform in 50 games? While the process lends itself to jokes and misdirected pundit-fueled vitriol, the second act of this play will feature a juicy plot-twist as the Astros are revealed as the unlikely hero and the star of the show.
As of now, there are 14 rookies on the 25-man roster – that is 56% of their roster. They are, by far, the youngest team in Major League Baseball. Lo and Zeid, two of the more recent rookie call-ups, are actually older than the average age of the club. With Erik Bedard clearing waivers, Wade LeBlanc being designated for assignment and Philip Humber twisting in the wind, the Astros have the potential to be even younger once September arrives.
The Astros have shown that they can be both liberal and stubborn with their minor league promotions, however, they remain confidently deliberate and above extraneous outside input. They’ve promoted Max Stassi, David Martinez and Lo directly from Corpus Christi while passing on Oklahoma City’s Carlos Perez, Asher Wojciechowski and Jason Stoffel. They’ve given LeBlanc and Humber two shots at the Major League level. They’ve been stubborn with George Springer. They promoted Jarred Cosart to start against Tampa Bay, demoted him and then promoted him shortly thereafter.
Why would they promote Stassi and not Perez? Why would they continue to trot out Humber and LeBlanc while passing on Stoffel? Springer is gunning for a 40/40 season in a split AA/AAA season – what more does he need to prove at the minor league level?
It is confusing. It is frustrating.
But there is a reason – whatever that may be.
This is part of the process.
The exact particulars of this process may never be known. Perhaps one day, Jeff Luhnow will write a tell-all book and discuss, in detail, the hows and whys of his tenure as the Astros’ general manager. Maybe he’ll share the reasoning behind the mélange of curious transactions… or maybe not. His regime has an obvious amusing regard for theatrics as they employ a deliciously frustrating, but calculated, transparent/opaque philosophy of doling out “privileged” information. Jeff Luhnow will show a few cards in his hand, but he will not tip whether he has a royal flush or is bluffing.
This organization is a Bob Ross painting. This organization is a spy novel. This organization is a Christmas present from your Aunt Nancy. This organization is comedy, drama, mystery tightly rolled up in a burrito of absurdity.
…and 100 losses hurt.
It hurts. It’s agonizing and embarrassing.
But don’t lose sight; there is a process.
The freight train that carries the failures and foibles of the 2013 season is rumbling out of town (hopefully on its way to Dallas). And with it, we’re left with memories of an Astros’ season that will be decisively absent of remorse or regret. We’ll remember it as a season of frustrating growth, morsels of potential, excitement snuffed out under the perverted boot of missed opportunities. But it is all a part of the process. And we must trust the process and take some solace in knowing that some
You may have missed it.
I would have missed it, too – except I was looking for it.
There were other people who were looking for it, and they saw it.
It happened gradually. It was so gradual that it was hard to see it actually happen. It was like a giant glacier melting into the frigid sea.
No – maybe it happened quicker than that. If you were to blink, you’d miss it. Maybe it was like a gunshot, a bolt of lightning or another Jonathan Villar stolen base.
Honestly, Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’. I’m not exactly sure how or when it happened. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment. But I noticed it so I know it happened.
After another typical ninth inning kick-in-the-groin loss, the Astros dropped the series to the Red Sox two games to one. Like the second game, which the Astros also lost, they had the lead only to let it melt away into the frigid sea.
…And, as quick as a gunshot or a bolt of lightning, Bo Porter got ejected for the first time in his career.
First time? Really?
But something bigger happened.
The Houston Astros, our Houston Astros, stood up for themselves; they stood up to the Boston Red Sox.
Leading up to the series, I could smell the disaster cooking. The stench singed my nose hair. The prospects made my skin crawl. Mass emails pounded inboxes relentlessly and big bright banners across Astros.com invited fans to see the Astros take on the Red Sox at Minute Maid Park.
“DON’T MISS IT!”
I got sick.
The Red Sox, naturally a draw, would bring fans into an otherwise barren stadium. Red Sox fans would waltz in, pilgrims from the fancier neighborhoods in Katy and The Woodlands. They would sport freshly purchased Red Sox regalia still pressed and creased with pronounced folds from the boxes they were shipped in. They would spend their money on t-shirts, collectible-sized sodas and Sheriff Blaylock’s Kickin’ Nachos. They would obnoxiously cheer for “Justin Pedroia, Daniel Ortiz, whoever is playing third and Jarrod Saltaramalamadingdong.” Having never been to Boston, they’d talk about “the majesty of Fenway Park” and the “cinematic genius of Good Will Hunting.” They would gleefully sing Sweet Caroline and, if one of them is lucky enough, get picked to guess the night’s attendance.
“Wicked awesome! No doubt there’s thirty thousand Bahstan fans here! Woo! Go Sox!”
If everything went according to plan, Houston would publically humiliate itself and grovel at the feet of Red Sox fans. Houston would pat them on the back, buy them an $8 beer and just be happy that they were fortunate enough to be graced with the Red Sox Nation’s presence.
This would be 2011 all over again.
Ninth inning. David Ortiz up to bat. From the stretch, some arbitrary unrecognizable Houston pitcher glances at the tying run on first base. Jason Castro sets up inside. The pitcher meekly thrusts towards home plate and releases the ball. It’s a hanger. CRACK! David Ortiz hits it. The crowd gasps and the ball clears the rightfield fence. Blue and red confetti rains from the rooftop. The crowd goes wild. The train whistles and chugs its way across the tracks. The speakers blare “Sweet Caroline” as Ortiz fist pumps his way around the bases. Red Sox fans embrace our wives, girlfriends, mothers, grandmothers, sisters and elementary school teachers. The Red Sox fans then make satisfying love to our women while Astros fans look on with jealousy, horror and rage.
…Then I woke up feeling defeated and completely inadequate. I started to cry.
And over the three game set, that is not at all how the story played out.
We were deked. We were spared.
The Astros organization made a conscious decision not to cater to Red Sox fans. They made the decision to operate as they would with any other team. As a result, the Astros saved their fans from heartache and humiliation and, in the process, garnered a little bit of legitimacy and goodwill.
The players did their part by giving the Red Sox all they could handle. The Astros had the Red Sox on the ropes and could have easily won the series. You could make an argument that the Astros should have swept the Red Sox, but all Astros fans really wanted was to avoid getting swept themselves.
As a rule, I put little stock in moral victories. However, this wasn’t a moral victory – this was a slight cultural shift, a noticeable change in philosophy from an organization that has had a recent history of overlooking fans in their own backyard.
…And the Astros did this by simply doing nothing.
As we march towards a third year of triple digit losses, it would be easy for the Astros organization to cater to Red Sox, Yankees or Rangers fans. As the flavor of the month flies in and makes their yearly trip to Houston, the Astros could theoretically cater to the away team’s fans while collecting dynamic pricing mark-ups and laughing all the way to the bank. The Astros could easily line their pockets by choosing an existence that nestles the fatted teat of the mighty, a team of leaches, parasites, an existence that lives and dies with other teams’ successes and failures.
The Astros could have cast themselves as the Red Sox’ little brother. But they chose not to.
Sometimes simply doing nothing is still doing something.
And this was a smart business decision.
It is said that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. The Astros realize they have a significant problem, they’ve admitted it and now they’re developing a viable plan to attack it.
The Astros have a serious legitimacy problem.
The Astros are bad – they’re historically bad. So bad. So bad. They’re bad in new and creative ways. Jim Crane’s tenure as the Astros owner has been marred by a myriad of unnecessary public relations snafus and an across-the-board sense of mistrust from the fans. And to top it all off, most fans still cannot watch the Astros because no one can come to an agreement on what having Comcast Sports Network in their cable line-up is worth. Of course, Crane knew what he was up against; he knew that he was in a tough position when he purchased the Astros. He’s no dummy. However, his dreams of being the hero prancing in on a white stallion sent to save Houston from the bane of consistent mediocrity are being dashed underneath his very own feet – since he’s been here, getting back to mediocrity has become more of a far-fetched fantasy rather than the standard.
They’re the butt of the joke. They’re not taken seriously. There are arguments made suggesting they’re tanking for draft picks. Their best player didn’t even make it out of the dugout in the All Star Game.
So, now, the Astros have found themselves in quite a predicament. They’re finding themselves playing second fiddle in their own home. As ESPN inundates our televisions screens with every Rangers Yankees Red Sox game, the Astros are having a tough time remaining relevant (contingent on whether or not you believe they have any relevance left). The Astros aren’t just last in the standings; they’re last in popularity. Kids around Houston are buying up the popular teams’ merchandise, and the only recourse the Astros have is to up the prices when the popular teams come into town.
Catering to these teams seems counterproductive.
The Astros’ plan isn’t to welcome the popular teams – it is to become one of the popular teams.
This is where Reid Ryan is valuable. And, in my opinion, hiring Reid Ryan was the most impactful transaction for the franchise since Jim Crane took over. Ryan is giving the organization a top to bottom facelift; he’s transforming the culture, he’s changing the attitude and he’s giving fans the opportunity to come back. He’s changing the way the Astros have done business in the past, and he’s ushering in an era of legitimacy. He’s authored an unwritten pact, a promise that he’ll return the Astros to an organization that we can be proud of, a team that plays second fiddle to no one – and sure as hell not in their own stadium.
He’s reminding us that this is Houston’s baseball team.
The Astros cannot afford to rely on other teams to bring in attendance. So Ryan and company have a distinct plan in place that will make the Astros the feature attraction at Minute Maid Park while casting our guests as supporting actors. Ryan is here to remind Boston that no one ever referred to Fenway Park as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Ryan is here to remind Boston that the “cinematic genius of Good Will Hunting” didn’t produce an Oscar for Best Picture in 1997. Ryan is here to remind Boston that “Sweet Caroline” isn’t nearly as catchy as “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!
Reid Ryan is here to remind Boston that Houston doesn’t play second fiddle – not to Boston, not to New York, not to Dallas, not to anyone.
The Astros are building a competitive team from the ground up and, for the first time in a long time, they’re being loyal to their fans. If the Astros stick to their guns, they can rebuild a fan base that will spend money to see the Astros without bothering to see the other team on the ticket.
There is still time to reclaim this fan base.
The Astros just have to play it cool and not set fire to the remaining goodwill that they miraculously still have. They have to quit humiliating themselves. They have to quit selling out. They have to quit being the butt of jokes.
They have to defend themselves.
…and over the last few days, that’s what they did.
I was told that you don’t get rich by being a dummy. And Jim Crane is not a dummy. He’s made some difficult decisions, decisions I might not necessarily agree with, but hiring Jeff Luhnow and Reid Ryan were slam dunks: game changers.
To his credit, it appears that Jim Crane and the Astros are thumbing their nose at that old world, old regime logic.
For all that is bad, I believe Jim Crane is building a winner in Houston. I believe he hired Jeff Luhnow to accomplish that.
For all that is bad, I believe Jim Crane is building a winning culture in Houston. I believe he hired Reid Ryan to accomplish that.
Reid Ryan offers something that the Astros haven’t had since Crane took over – legitimacy. And Ryan’s work was showcased during the Red Sox series. And, his work really wasn’t about what he did, but rather what he didn’t do. The Red Sox invaded our town, the Astros still got paid and the organization refused to humiliate itself.
Maybe I’m setting the bar too low for the franchise?
I spent a week on Twitter preemptively roasting the Astros for being the Red Sox’s little brother, for selling out for a quick buck. If I’m going to spend a week pointing out how they acted in 2011, I’ll gladly spend a week pointing out how they’ve changed since then.
I’m proud of the Astros.
Our team has been devoid of any sort of legitimacy for a while… and they’re fixing it. I think we owe it to the Astros to point out when they do things the right way.
I’m proud of this team: our team.
A common misconception about the song “I Will Always Love You” is that it is a break-up song starring two tragic lovers who still carry romantic feelings towards one another. Until I was told otherwise, that’s what I thought it was about too. And, quite honestly, the lyrics would suggest that it is just that – a love song. Instead, “I Will Always Love You” is actually about two co-workers, two collaborating artists parting and going their separate ways. Dolly Parton wrote the song in 1973 in midst of a “professional break-up” with Porter Wagoner.
Although it may seem like she was, Dolly wasn’t born into country music stardom. There was a time when she was merely an up-and-coming artist, a relative unknown, a nobody. However, Dolly got her big break in 1966 when she replaced Norma Jean on The Porter Wagoner Show. Shortly after her arrival, Dolly was launched into instant stardom. She was an overnight sensation. She was famous. And, after a few years, Dolly grew out of The Porter Wagoner Show shadow and penned one of the biggest hit songs ever written.
Granted, the song has been covered by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, LeAnn Rimes, Beyoncé, Chris Cornell and John Tesh - the song reached new heights in popularity when Whitney Houston rereleased it in 1992 for the movie The Bodyguard.
But, in my opinion, no one has done it as well as Dolly Parton.
Dolly Parton went on to do great things and, at 67, shows no signs of slowing down. She’s written over 3,000 songs, 18 number ones and even has her own theme park – Dollywood.
But whatever happened to Porter Wagoner?
Wagoner’s show went on for another seven years without Dolly. Seven years is a long time for any television show to be on the air. Wagoner was dubbed Mr. Grand Ole Opry and hosted a number of country music themed shows after The Porter Wagoner Show ended. He was regarded as an innovator in his industry and was ultimately elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002 – Dolly Parton provided his introduction. He enjoyed success and was by all accounts satisfied with how his life had turned out. He died in 2007.
Sometimes we’re just not good for each other anymore. Sometimes, as Dolly Parton would say, “we both know I’m not what you need.”
Break-ups, romantic, professional or otherwise, can be awful and they can hurt, but sometimes they’re just needed. And both participants can go their separate ways and have productive lives, careers and relationships.
How does this relate to a Houston sports blog?
Since the Astros’ only World Series appearance, we’ve been breaking up with franchise-icons and fan favorites one right after the other, almost every single year.
We’re numb to it.
Whether old players retire, free agents pack up for greener pastures or rebuilding rears its bittersweet head, we’re constantly saying good-bye to those we’ve grown to appreciate, those who’ve proudly represented us over the years.
Saying good-bye is tough for the both of us… even though these are just professional break-ups.
Growing up in the shadows of the Astrodome, I have a great deal of pride for my city. There are very few things in my life that I am a prouder of than being from Houston. Our city’s great history is only rivaled by its bright future – I believe that.
And our professional sports teams play a huge role in our civic pride. We’re a baseball town. We’re a football town, and we’re a basketball town. Houston is a sports town.
In my geographic-centric egotistical mind, there is nothing greater in sports than getting the opportunity to wear “HOUSTON” across your chest. It is a privilege solely bestowed upon the most fortunate. And, when someone leaves, I imagine it stings for the both of us.
And like last year and the year before that and so on, we’ve had to say good-bye and “we know that I’m not what you need” to players who’ve represented our city and have made us proud.
Over the last two weeks, we’ve said good-bye to Carlos Pena, Ronny Cedeno, Jose Veras, Justin Maxwell and Bud Norris.
Pena and Cedeno were released due to ineffectiveness and to make way for a younger generation of players.
Veras, Maxwell and Norris were traded in order to keep the Astros minor league system stocked with fresh arms, legs, gloves and bats.
I imagine it isn’t fun for the management team to break the news. As a matter of fact, I would imagine it is downright dreadful. “Carlos (or Ronny or Rick or whomever), we appreciate all that you’ve done for us, but ‘we both know we’re not what you need.’ We’re letting you go.” There isn’t an easy way to break this kind of news to a person – whether this person is a baseball player or a burger flipper, telling an employee that they no longer have a job is an unenviable task. A good manager cares deeply about his employees and, contrary to what Moneyball tells us, there is no possible way to disassociate yourself from the situation – breaking bad news is a requirement, it is necessary evil for a functional business, but it is still hard to do; those conversations are so hard to have. These are peoples’ careers, their lives – this is heavy stuff that requires a certain degree of compassion and delicacy. In a way, I feel bad for Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter for having to end someone’s career or inform someone they’ll be moving to a different city – but that’s a part of their job.
Each player we said good-bye to will have an everlasting impact on the future of the Houston Astros. Whether that impact comes in the form of impressions they’ve made on the young team they’ve left behind, the players they yielded in trades or the memories they’ve furnished us – each player, each moment is a building block towards a brighter future. As minuscule and inconsequential as their time seems, they’ve played an immeasurable role in the imminent success of this franchise.
Whether it is Justin Maxwell rocketing hanging curveballs into the stratosphere or Jose Veras resurrecting his career by taking charge of a floundering bullpen, these guys will most certainly be underrated footnotes in the Astros’ history book. Whether it is Carlos Pena graciously mentoring a new era of leaders or Ronny Cedeno providing a stopgap for Jonathan Villar, their time here will be memorable, and we’ll look back on this era with fondness and relief. With each break-up, there is a newness born and a better day upon the horizon – we owe it to them and ourselves not to forget their contributions.
No one was more tenured than Bud Norris when he was traded to Baltimore shortly before the trade deadline.
There was a lot of debate about whether or not Bud would be traded. The Astros had him under club control for a few more years, and the Astros weren’t necessarily looking to give him away – so the Astros certainly felt like it was beneficial for the organization to trade him along with international signing bonus money for L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader and next year’s competitive balance draft pick (#33).
The writing was on the wall when a couple of days before his final scheduled start for the Astros, he was abruptly scratched. I assumed a trade had already been agreed to in principle, while the Astros and the mystery team were haggling with minor details… maybe international signing bonus slots and such.
The whole process leading up to Bud being traded left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. I felt many in the media intentionally tried to paint Bud as being unhappy in Houston or went as far as suggesting that he had become the same kind of cancer Roy Oswalt was. There was talk about his attitude, and then there were quotes sliced and diced that supported these make-believe points. It all seemed very manufactured and forced. I have yet to see a shred of evidence – none, zero. To my knowledge, Bud always seemed very honest with how he felt. I believe he enjoyed being a Major League Baseball player, and he enjoyed being a player for the Houston Astros.
Obviously, he was happy to be traded to a contender, but there isn’t any evidence of him requesting a trade or even implying that he wanted to leave Houston – at least, none that I’ve seen. If he had to be traded, I’m sure he’d rather go to the Orioles, Indians or Diamondbacks and not the White Sox or Brewers – that’s not breaking news to anyone or even noteworthy, why was that question even asked? Was there ever any inclination that Bud wouldn’t want to be traded to a contender in the event that he was traded? Were there reporters who assumed that Bud Norris wanted to take his talents to South Beach or Seattle?
Six weeks before the trade deadline, Jon Paul Morosi asked Bud if he wanted to play for the Giants. Norris, who grew up on the opposite side of the San Francisco Bay, a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge said, “it would be a dream come true.” Mind you, at the time, the Giants were 37-34 and 1½ games out of first place. Bud, who stood in the crosshairs of several months worth of trade rumors, also went on to say “Whatever happens, I’ll be excited wherever I go to help that team or - if I stay here - to keep helping the Astros. But San Francisco is a lovely place, and I still call it home.”
Since then, the Giants went into complete freefall mode, plummeting to the NL West basement to the tune of 47-59. In the last few weeks, it became evident that San Francisco wouldn’t be a viable option as a Norris destination.
Still the media reported that Bud Norris “certainly would like to get traded” citing some quotes he’s made.
No, I haven’t seen the quotes.
Bud Norris isn’t a villain. He didn’t turn his back on Houston. He wasn’t being a clubhouse cancer or pain in the ass. Bud Norris handled himself professionally. There was no smoke and no fire, and Bud didn’t talk his way out of Houston. This was business conducted by businessmen in a business-like manner.
This was a “professional break-up.”
I wish Norris well. I hope he gets to the World Series and wins a Cy Young or two – I won’t be watching. He’s 28 years old and, God willing, he’ll have a long career ahead of him. I’m happy that he’s getting the opportunity to compete on a contending team, and I am thrilled that the Astros were able to get such a nice return for him. Hoes and Hader could develop into very nice players down the road, and I wouldn’t dare underestimate Jeff Luhnow’s ability to pick a stud up with next year’s 33rd pick in the draft.
Saying good-bye is hard.
Bud was 2013’s Opening Day starter. Before a national audience, Bud kept impending doom at bay by holding the Rangers to two runs and picking up our first American League victory. “The American League isn’t so tough,” I proudly declared. At 1-0, it is safe to say, it would be the only time that the Astros would be over .500 for the year. After a tumultuous off-season and an unpopular realignment shift to the American League, it felt good – no, great – to get that first win… and, on ESPN, right after they told the nation how terrible the Astros would be. For a brief moment, we were in first place, we were victorious – heads held high, the king of the mountain once again. That was good night, a great night, an outstanding night, a night that I’ll never forget – boy, was that fun! And, we all have Bud to thank.
Whether it was his ownership of the St. Louis Cardinals or his penchant for dropping curse words on 1560, Bud left us with a lot of good memories in his time here. We had good times with Bud.
It was fun.
Players come and go, but Bud Norris will always be remembered for being one of the few bright lights during the darkest era in Astros baseball. I’ll always hold him in high regard, and I’ll always be proud that he represented my team and my city.
But we both know that we’re not what you need.
Thanks for the memories.
(Editor’s Note: As the MLB trade deadline approaches, I thought it would only be appropriate to add a post about the Houston Texans. So here’s the latest edition of Nar-Raids. Enjoy! - A)
What could possibly be more impressive than the historically dominant season J.J. Watt delivered in 2012? How about the unabashed love affair the entire city of Houston has entered into with the superhero-esque defensive end? I’ve lived in Houston pretty much my entire life. I saw Nolan, Bagwell, Moon, Biggio, and even the championship era Olajuwon (I was a little young for Earl Campbell)…..I can’t remember ANYBODY receiving the overwhelming love from my city that one Justin James Watt inspires. How has a young man from Wisconsin who hasn’t even played in a championship game yet so completely won over the entire Houston sports scene?
The first reason is pretty obvious. J.J. Watt plays football. No matter what your personal favorite sport is, I think we can all agree that football is to Texas sport as BBQ is to Texas food. The only other football player in Houston to garner a similar totalitarian support was Earl Campbell. Now Earl was amazing, a football legend even, and while I don’t remember much of his career live…..like any good Houstonian I have seen tons of his film. Earl was one of the most amazing RB to ever put the pads on. However, I believe one football factor that separates Watt from Campbell is their positions. Even though it was home to Campbell and the run and shoot Moon teams, the Astrodome was referred to as The House of Pain. Why? Houstonians have always loved defensive football. We revel in tough, hardnosed, in your face defense. The Texans for much of their recent existence have had some comically bad defenses, but let one good year on that side of the ball happen…..Bulls on Parade is born. So to have the very best defensive player in football for Houston trumps the Campbells, Moons, and Johnsons of the past and creates a new level of self-identification between city and team.
But Hakeem brought the only two championships to Houston? True. I love Hakeem as much or more than any Houstonian, but my remembrance of those championship years (I was in prime, early teenage hero worship stage too) doesn’t recall Hakeem receiving the same love that Watt already commands. Why? Well, several of the reasons can explain why J.J. Watt solicits so much attention:
1. Media While the Rockets were definitely all over Houston TV sets, social media had not even been thought of yet. J.J. Watt is an athlete who not only embraces Twitter/Instagram, but dominates it like a slow, overweight offensive tackle. Watt could post a picture of a post protein shake poop and it would garner 5000 likes on Instagram. He never posts spur of the moment comments about controversial topics (other athletes could take note), but instead creates a persona on social media that is part football superhero, part dashing humanitarian. Just read the comments on one of his Instagram posts when you get bored one day. They usually range somewhere between, “JJ you are the man I want my son to become” and “I would gladly leave my husband to become Mrs. Watt and cater to your every need for the rest of my life”. Mother Theresa probably has a lower approval rating. Hakeem wasn’t nearly as accessible, his religious affiliation made him difficult for some Texans to understand, and he was far too humble and private to open himself up on social media so publicly.
2. Sex Symbol I don’t pretend to understand women, but I do know one thing…..they love them some J.J. Watt. He turns them into female Don Drapers, swooning over his essence in full view of their husbands, who don’t even object because…..well it is J.J. Watt. Bagwell had some female fans (especially ones whose husbands were hand surgeons), Biggio was fairly popular with the opposite sex, and one Chandler Parsons is turning into the heartthrob of the NBA, but NOBODY illicits the unadulterated man worship from females like #99. If J.J. Watt, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney walked into a Houston club……well let’s just say Pitt and Clooney would hopefully bring their own dates.
3. Charity All the other Houston sports heroes mentioned in this article were terrific members of the community. In fact, Houston might be short on championships, but we’ve been blessed with a long line of charitable athletes. However, no athlete has gone out of their way as much as Watt has to adopt the entire city of Houston. Others have grown up here, but Watt makes it a point to show that his Wisconsin roots haven’t prevented him from becoming the first son of H town. He’s had his much publicized relationship with the Berry kids (even his self-promoting sack dance is a nod to somebody else), he makes hospital visits seemingly daily, and he is always finding new ways to include fans in his personal life. At this point, no story of heroic acts by J.J. would surprise anyone. If Mark Berman reported that Watt lifted a car to rescue a family of four and then ran 5 miles carrying all of them to Memorial Hospital…….I’d barely blink.
So, has the J.J. Watt love affair reached its peak? Hardly, as @zepp1978 pointed out here , despite the common assertion that Watt can’t get better than he was last year…..that’s just the media unable to fathom the awesomeness of #99. He played all last season hurt. He is getting back his most intimidating defensive teammate in Brian Cushing, and the work ethic that Watt has (another huge reason for Houston’s appreciation) can’t be underestimated. For the sake of this blog let’s just assume J.J. garners 22 sacks, 15 batted balls, and dominates the run game again while Houston makes its first Super Bowl appearance or GASP wins a championship (side note: I fainted 3 times typing that sentence): Well, I’m reminded of a classic Pee Wee Herman episode where his love for fruit salad was tested ……so he officially married it. If J.J. leads the Texans to a Super Bowl expect the ENTIRE city of Houston to show up downtown while Joel Osteen delivers the vows for the first ever official marriage of an athlete to an ENTIRE city. He might as well make an honest city out of us.
The month of June came and went with only a single post to my blog and until now, I’m 0-fer in July. I am becoming the Brett Wallace of blogging – but, like Wallace, I’m back (and maybe better than ever).
After a brief visit to Houston, a “aren’t I too old for this?” wisdom tooth extraction, a job and a couple of special top-secret projects, my blog has taken an unwelcome (but necessary) hit. Although, I cordially apologize to each and every one of you for “leaving you hanging,” duty calls and you know your role. But I recognize that my blog posts are always prefaced with the very thematic introduction of “I’m sorry, I haven’t had time to blog,” which I understand is becoming more of a cliché by the day. But, still, do take me seriously.
What can I say?
I’m sorry – I just haven’t had time to blog.
What have I missed?
After rummaging through my last post, I read something about how I believed Jeff Luhnow would select Clint Frazier with the first overall pick in the draft. Obviously, that didn’t go as planned, as Mark Appel’s name got called, and Frazier slid to the Indians. After licking my wounds and picking on small children to boost my crestfallen self-image, I’ve discovered that I’m happy with the selection of Appel. After all, Jeff Luhnow knows best. Appel is a very polished pitcher and his selection signifies that the Astros are interested in winning sooner rather than later – and that’s good! Of course, the Astros could have selected someone with a higher upside… but that shit might take entirely too long, and the Astros have pennants to win.
In the blink of an eye, Mark Appel will be playing a major role on a very strong Astros team – so that’s exciting.
I went to Houston. I was there shortly after the draft and stayed there for about a week. My trip was schedule months before the draft, but I still had to assure my mother that I wasn’t coming with intentions of getting into a cuss fight with Jeff Luhnow over him not selecting my player. If anyone knows about cuss fights – it’s my mother, she cussed out a few of my baseball coaches growing up… and maybe a teacher or two.
As a rule, I try to schedule my Houston trips around Astros home stands so I got to see the Astros take on the White Sox and the Brewers. It was weird seeing American League baseball… but it was nice to see the Brewers, as it proved to gently wean me from the National League teat. I won’t go into graphic, detailed accounts, but I will say Erik Bedard impressed in outings against the White Sox and Brewers. Hector Ambriz, like a true horse’s ass, gave up a series of bombs against the Brewers that eventually gave the game to the Beernuts.
I got a brief “behind the scenes” tour of the Minute Maid Park, and I had the opportunity to hang out with Jeff Luhnow and his posse.
I was sitting in the club seats next the GM box, and I got a message from Jeff Luhnow. He asked me if I wanted to meet “some of the gang.” Since it was after the draft, I was thinking I was going to meet some of the new signees. So, I got there, and I saw a stout corner infielder type in front of a computer. “You must be our new third baseman,” I said. “Nope, I’m Mike Fast.”
Needless to say, everyone was very nice. I met Enos Cabell, David Stearnes and Stephanie Wilka.
Luhnow then had me take pictures of Stearnes and Wilka so that I might put them in a creepy photoshop… stay tuned! I refused to take a picture of Enos Cabell because he is about 6’5,” beefy and could likely still outrun me.
I was really impressed by Mike Fast. I think if I were as smart as him, I’d probably wave my junk in everyone’s face. But he was a real down to earth guy.
“I figured you would look like Prince,” he said.
I thought I did look like Prince.
Needless to say, by hanging out with this group, there is not a doubt in my mind that they are genuine fans of the Astros, but they’re also pretty fun to be around. Who wants to work for or with someone they don’t like? It was a very laidback atmosphere, and I probably would have commented on it, but I get a little goofy around celebrities, and I start acting like Gomer Pyle. Thank God Alyson Footer wasn’t there… Shazam!
I also met Mike Acosta. If you ever get a chance – you’ve really got to meet this guy. He’s the most knowledgeable Astros fan I’ve ever met. The way this guy rails off Astros history… it is so effortless. He’s like a gold glove shortstop. Mike was very kind and very gracious – I’ll talk more about him in a later post.
Brett Wallace got called-up…again. Lucas Harrell got demoted, got angry and got confrontational. Jarred Cosart almost pitched a no-hitter in his major league debut. Jason Castro got selected to his first All Star team (even though you wouldn’t know because Jim Leyland is an asshole). And Jose Altuve got an extension.
I missed a lot!
And am I the only person that giggles like a schoolgirl when someone mentions “Altuve” and “extension” in the same sentence? Now if only Altuve’s agent could work out a deal with Six Flags to allow him on the rides, he’ll be set!
So, what’s next?
The trade deadline is upon us. So, once again, we’re breaking up the band. However, this band is a little different than the bands from previous years. Basically, it’s just Bud Norris and a couple of other quality dudes. If this were a real band – he’d be Steve Perry or Dee Snider. Yes, the rest of the band is pretty good, but we’re really here to see the Bud Norris.
(Full disclosure: I was advised by my better half to use Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits… to which I countered with Axle Bundy.)
The Astros are going to be better next year – but likely not great… but, the year after that, they’ll likely be ready to compete for a division title or at least a wild card berth. And, in a weird way, we all have Roy Oswalt to thank.
July 29th, 2010 is a big day in Astros history.
The Astros were a bad team in 2010. They had a few legitimate stars left on their team, but underperformance, unrealized potential and general mismanagement caused things to go south quickly. And, at the center of this train wreck was a very bitter Roy Oswalt.
As the Astros slid further and further down the standings and into the depths of irrelevancy, Roy’s objections, complaints and “get off my yard” bellyaching became louder and more obnoxious. The Astros struggled and couldn’t stay within ten games below breakeven and Roy saw the writing on the wall – he wanted out. He wanted off the sinking ship. However, Roy wanted to have his cake or whatever as he leveraged his no-trade clause and dictated a trade to the Phillies.
The Phillies weren’t the only team Oswalt was willing to go to – he was willing to go to the Cardinals, which made Astros fans cringe at the thought. But, as the Astros weren’t fully ready to cash in their chips and rebuild, they ultimately proved to be uninterested in trading an ace directly to their rivals.
Ed Wade was in a difficult position. Obviously, the Phillies were not interested in giving up Dom Brown and Jon Singleton because they knew the they had the Astros in a very difficult position. From all angles, the Phillies and Oswalt had a firm grip on Ed Wade’s short and curlies. Defiant, Wade made it clear that Oswalt could demand a trade until he was blue in the face, but it didn’t mean that he had to approve that request. In reality, this was Wade’s only leverage because Oswalt wasn’t willing to accept any deals outside of ones involving St. Louis or Philadelphia.
Oswalt’s demands coupled with his bitterness caused Wade to consider his options and set something, anything, into motion – Wade could have kept Oswalt and allowed Oswalt to continue to contaminate the clubhouse or he could just trade Oswalt and receive an inadequate return because of Oswalt contaminating the market. (Even though we have to give thanks to Oswalt, we still don’t have to like him.)
On July 29th, 2010, the Astros were 42-59 and they traded Roy Oswalt to the Philadelphia Phillies for JA Happ, Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose (who would be flipped for Brett Wallace later in the day).
Two days later, addressing Berkman’s desire to win again, they traded him to the Yankees for Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes.
And, a day after that, they gave Brett Myers a contract extension and a few months later gave Wandy Rodriguez one, too.
Drayton McLane was never interested in rebuilding the franchise – and, re-upping Myers and Rodriguez is proof of that. Had Oswalt remained a good soldier, McLane would have never signed off on trading him or Berkman, but instead, Oswalt forced the issue and threw the Astros, kicking and screaming albeit, into full rebuild mode.
The Astros would have spent 2010 and 2011 flirting with mediocrity while keeping their aging veterans… and things would have gotten worse then, and things would be a lot worse now.
The Luhnow administration would have likely been two years behind schedule.
Roy Oswalt got the ball rolling and, in an indirect way, helped the franchise by being a pain in the ass.
Now it is 2013, and Jeff Luhnow is running out of substantial trade pieces. This means the worst is over, and we can start reaping the rewards of sticking with the Astros during the “no hope era.” As a matter of fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the cupboard has gotten so devoid of trade pieces that Jeff Luhnow signed a few free agents for the sole purpose of catching lightning in a bottle and parlaying these free agents into prospects.
Jose Veras is one of those guys. Veras signed for a little under $2M and has an option for $3.25M. After a few shaky outings and after inciting a few obscenity-laden tirades, Veras has put together a pretty decent season – record wise, he’s on the worst team in the league and had registered 18 saves at the All Star break. While I doubt he’ll be able to hold down a closer’s job on a contender, he’d be an excellent option for a team looking to solidify the backend of their bullpen. The Tigers, Dodgers or Orioles could be options here. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Cardinals make a run either.
I think Carlos Pena’s days are numbered too. It is hard to gauge his actual value, but he’d be an outstanding option off the bench and can hold down first base with some pretty sturdy defense. I have serious doubts whether he’ll start anywhere else or whether or not he’ll bring anything shiny in return – but, Carter and Wallace look like they’re here to stay, and Marc Krauss looks as though he can outplay Pena… with Singleton likely to get a September call-up, I can’t imagine there’s a place for Pena in Houston any longer. I think Pena is dealt to the NL East… perhaps the Yankees or Red Sox.
Erik Bedard had almost zero value at the beginning of the season. Like Rick Ankiel and Philip Humber, Bedard was looking to resurrect his career, and the Astros were looking for older warmish bodies to professionalize the clubhouse with hopes to eventually flip for something down the road. As Ankiel and Humber floundered, Bedard has put together a decent season considering what was expected. (By “decent,” I mean he’s been good enough to remain on the roster.) I think the consensus was that he’d probably be given the Nelson Figueroa treatment, but here it is at the deadline, and Bedard has been one of the more consistent pitchers on the roster. Granted, I’m completely flummoxed as to what kind of value Bedard could possibly have – but, perhaps a contender might need a guy to eat some innings down the stretch. My uneducated guess thinks he’s claimed on waivers sometimes in August and gets dealt then – I just can’t see him finishing the year in Houston – not with Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock and Asher Wehadababyitsaboy nipping at his heels.
But, what are we here to talk about? Bud Norris, right?
Bud Norris is the crown jewel of the Astros trade pieces. And, as I mention every year, Jeff Luhnow (or whomever is the Astros general manager at the time) doesn’t have to make a deal to trade players who are under club control. Bud may or may not be here after the deadline, but it isn’t in the best interest for the Astros to pretend like they have to trade him when they actually don’t. It is important for Jeff Luhnow to analyze the trade market for Norris and determine whether or not he could get the most value now or later… or, and this might come as a surprise, at all.
When the Astros drafted Mark Appel, it was almost as if Jeff Luhnow stood behind a podium and announced the Astros were going to compete sooner rather than later. And, there is a strong case for keeping Bud Norris. There is a strong case for locking him up to a long-term deal and having him in blue and orange for the foreseeable future. There is no guarantee that every young pitching prospect will pan out – there might be two Tim Reddings for every one Roy Oswalt.
Do I think the Astros will keep Norris? Not really – but there’s a case, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked if Luhnow goes that route.
I think Norris will be traded, but I’m not completely sure when. He could get dealt within the next week or next year – I don’t know. But Luhnow shouldn’t feel rushed. Is what is being offered more valuable to the Astros than what Bud Norris currently does for the Astros? That’s the question, and I’m not sure the answer is as simple as “screw it, trade him.”
If Norris is dealt, I could see him headed to the Cardinals, Orioles or Giants… maybe the Dodgers. Given that Luhnow is going to get the best deal for the Astros, I can’t help but to wonder if the asking price for the Giants would be a tad bit higher considering Bud’s recent comments.
Lucas Harrell was almost a side note, and I almost didn’t even consider him as trade fodder. I’m not sure what his value is right now – maybe nothing? When he’s on, he’s a really solid pitcher – valuable to any organization. However, when things go bad for Lucas, they blow up into tiny pieces, and those tiny pieces blow up into even tinier pieces until all that’s left is a pile of steaming crap.
Harrell is a competitor, though - and, that means something. I’m not saying other guys don’t care or other guys aren’t as competitive as Harrell, but I think Harrell is wired a little differently than most folks. He’s cocky, and he knows that he can beat you – and, when he loses, it’s not because you’re better, it’s because he screwed up. He takes it personally, always. It’s feast or famine and perhaps his act is getting a little old with people who don’t get paid enough to put up with his shit. No matter what, though – he’s entertaining.
I think Harrell will avoid getting outrighted and avoid getting dealt. I think we’re going to continue to see him, and perhaps he’ll be able to fix whatever is broken. Or things will get worse… who knows?
Wesley Wright and Carlos Corporan have value. Either of these guys could be dealt, but I highly doubt they will. While I understand there is probably a market (albeit a small one) for both of them, they provide a little bit of stability and veteran leadership – to me, that’s more valuable than a prospect who will likely never make it out of Corpus Christi.
And now there’s a thin urine-colored haze of “While you’re at it, trade Chris Carter too” scuttlebutt lording over the already oversaturated “trade anyone with value” scuttlebutt. I can’t see it happening – and, quite frankly, I think it’s really dumb.
I know that the Yankees had scouts checking out Chris Carter during Spring Training, but even then – it isn’t happening.
I don’t mean to shoot down anyone’s ideas, but I just can’t envision a scenario where Luhnow gives up on Chris Carter after just four months. Furthermore, I don’t see a team offering enough to incite Luhnow to deal Carter after just four months. Is a team going to give up the farm for Chris Carter? No.
I’m not saying that Carter will never be dealt or that Carter is untouchable – I just don’t see it happening in the next two weeks. And much of the talk centers on Carter going to the Rangers?
I’ll tongue kiss a hobo the day after Chris Carter is traded to the Dallas Rangers.
“Trade Chris Carter” is the new “Trade Jose Altuve.” My advice would be to get used to seeing Chris Carter deposit hangers in the Crawford Boxes – because he’s going to be doing it all season.
I’m not sure what the trade deadline will bring for the Astros. They’re definitely running out of significant tradable assets. Bud Norris will bring back the best haul, but I have suspicions on whether or not he’ll even be traded.
The trade deadline can come and go with the Astros making just a few minor moves. That would be very upsetting for many of you – but that’s the reality we’re living in now. I’m starting to worry that many folks are just eager to see movement, any movement, without regard to whether it helps the team or not. Some of you guys have a rigid hard-on for player movement – I call it “masturtrading.” If you spend all day masturtrading on Twitter, you guys are going to grow hair on your keyboards. And, wouldn’t it be embarrassing if your mom walked in and caught you masturtrading to Chris Carter’s baseball-reference page?
Do people want to see trades because they want to see the Astros name run across ESPN’s bottomline?
There is a lot to consider when making deals, and Jeff Luhnow can’t press the reset button when Chris Carter hits 45 homeruns for the Rangers.
If the trade deadline is quiet, we may be able to interpret this as a good thing. As noted earlier, the worst is over, and we’re crawling out of the hole we were flushed down years ago. There’s a calmness and safeness in not adding or subtracting at the deadline. There’s a reassurance that even though things aren’t great, progress is being made and our team is better today than it was yesterday… and will be better tomorrow.
Who knows what’ll happen? On August 1st, this team might look entirely different! Or not.
But, there’s a plan, whatever it is, and it’s working.
But, then again, what about Chris Carter going to the Orioles or Bud Norris to the Rangers?
I was a huge fan of Matt Barnes when I heard that his name was associated with the Astros in early 2011. He was a reasonably smooth right-hander from UConn with an electric fastball and fluid delivery. The Astros, after a particularly bland 76-86 campaign, earned the eleventh pick in the draft, and the only question in my mind was whether or not Barnes would still be on the board when the Astros made their selection.
So in March of that year, I made the short trip to Irvine to see UConn play UC-Irvine with hopes of seeing Matt Barnes mow through the Irvine Anteater line-up. I had a FlipCam and plans on registering some scout-quality video documentation of the fireballer. Unfortunately for me, the Huskies chose to give Barnes the day off while trotting out a smallish portsider in his place.
I knew there were a few players that would eventually be drafted - it was pretty obvious because most of the crowd consisted of lonely sleep-deprived scouts in wrinkled windbreakers hacking away on laptops. But the crown jewel wasn’t playing, he was on the shelf; he was wearing tennis shoes and laughing with one of his teammates. “Well, hell,” I thought. I looked around and wondered if the scouts felt as dejected as I did.
I decided I’d put away my camera and just enjoy the game.
…And three months later, imagine how dumb I felt when the Astros used their first round selection on UConn’s starting centerfielder. I had absolutely no idea I was watching the future Astros’ pick go 0-2 with a walk and a sacrifice fly.
George Springer went to the Astros with the eleventh pick and Matt Barnes went to the Red Sox eight picks later.
It’s funny how these things work out, I guess. As a fan who keeps up with your team, you keep getting fed information, you get your heart set on a certain idea or notion and then everything you’ve thought is pulled out from under you. It’s like dating a particularly fly honey and finding out that she’s not at all who she says she is. Maybe she’s wearing a wig or has fake nails. You might feel deceived. You might ask her, “What else on your body can I get at the mall?”
The more information we’re given, the more obfuscated the process becomes. We’re saturated and confused.
Jordan Sams compares it to the Bachelorette.
Being able to understand the draft, understand a particular team’s direction and incorporate that information into compiling a useful and legitimate mock draft is as impossible as teaching astrophysics to Jordan Schafer. There are so many variables and unknowns that it is impossible to figure out who is thinking what and which players are going where.
It’s confusing and frustrating but appetizing.
That’s why we check out mock drafts. That’s why we click on the links.
The Major League Baseball Draft is a delicious club sandwich loaded with inaccurate information and curious informants slathered with rich creamy speculation in between two slices of nine-grain WTF bread. …and your choice of potato chips.
But, my God, it’s fun, so take a bite!
This year’s mock draft season is another prime example of speculation gone awry (or consistent with my club sandwich metaphor – a-rye.)
On May 30th, Dave Perkins from Sports Illustrated said the Astros “are leaning towards” taking University of San Diego’s Kris Bryant.
Okay, Kris Bryant seems like a good choice.
Also on May 30th, ESPN’s Keith Law said, “The buzz within the industry has them leaning towards Colin Moran.”
Conflicting reports? So, the Astros are going to take Moran and not Bryant? Well, okay, Keith. I trust your wisdom!
But, let’s be clear, this is a wee bit confusing. I’m not sure how anyone can be certain as to which way the Astros “are leaning” – the impression I’m given suggests the Astros might not even be certain as to which way they “are leaning.” And who exactly is “the industry”, and how exactly are they a reliable source for Astros information? And why is “the industry” giving Perkins and Law conflicting information?
Get with the program, Industry!
The Astros are a lot of things. They’re the worst team in the American League? Sure. They’re unorthodox? Absolutely. Improving? Yeah, buddy! They’re transparent and loose-lipped? Not a chance.
I read the third mock draft posted on May 30th. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo said, “Gray is still the pick.”
So, the Astros are going to pass on Bryant and Moran and pick Gray… okay, are we sure about this? What does Jim Callis think?
On the 31st, Jim Callis from Baseball America has the Astros taking Jonathan Gray.
Good! Finally! Some agreement between two draft experts!
Callis then says, “The pick comes down to Gray or Appel.”
You son of a bitch.
We’re given a lot of information and we have to decide what to do with it. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it legitimate? Does it conflict with what everyone else is saying? Do we consider where it is coming from? The people feeding us this information are providing this information from outside of the organization. They feed us unsubstantiated rumors, and we get upset when the rumors don’t come to fruition. Dammit! I wanted the Astros to pick Johnny Football! We put too much stock in it – maybe one of these guys is right, though? Maybe Mayo and Callis are right and the Astros will take Gray. Maybe Law will prevail when the Astros take Moran, or Perkins will when the Astros take Bryant.
But then again, last year (almost to the day) Mayo was “still” on Appel. He said there was “no news justifying the Astros straying from the choice” and had Carlos Correa going seventh to the Padres. And Callis also had the Astros taking Appel in 2012 citing that “Jim Crane wants a frontline starting pitcher” and discussions with Carlos Correa “may just be a ploy to try to convince Appel or Buxton to accept a bonus lower than the $7.2 million pick value outlined in the new draft rules.”
As a matter of fact, Keith Law had the Astros taking Appel, too. So did Dave Perkins from Sports Illustrated.
As of now, we’re a few days from the draft, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the Astros haven’t made a concrete decision as to whom they are taking and aren’t leaning towards a single specific player at this point. …and perhaps that might be their plan.
And I have a feeling that many of us are looking at Matt Barnes when we should be looking at George Springer – but, for the life of me, I can’t determine who is cast as whom in this year’s episode.
But, like Mayo, Callis, Law, Perkins and everyone else, we can only make semi-educated guesses based on available information to predict what the Astros may do.
..and, in the end, we’ll all likely be wrong.
I suggested the Astros would take Clint Frazier in April, and I’m sticking to my guns.
I’m under the impression that the Astros will be using the same (or similar) template this year as they used last year.
And I realize how hypocritical I’m being for speculating about the draft after harping on people who speculate about the draft.
If there is any consolation, I’ll likely be wrong.
It is my
expertopinion that the Astros aren’t as concerned with drafting the best available player as much as they are drafting the best available class. There’s a distinct difference. I’m not saying the Astros are concerned with quantity over quality, I’m saying that the Astros seem more interested in multiple impact players rather than a single player who’ll hamstring their ability to offer significant bonuses in later rounds. If they can parlay their first overall into multiple first rounders – I think that’s the route they’ll take.
The Astros said they drafted the best available player when they took Carlos Correa last year and he just happened to sign below slot. Obviously, that’s what we expect them to say, but I’m not so sure it is completely accurate. It could be, it might be – but it isn’t as if Jeff Luhnow was going to step up to the podium, clear his throat, adjust his tie and say “we believe Appel, Buxton and maybe Kevin Gausman were better players, but Carlos Correa’s contract demands fit what we’re trying to do here.”
We can’t rely on the Astros to be honest about what their draft board looked like.
Whether the Astros actually considered Correa as the best player available isn’t information that would have helped Luhnow negotiate a contract with Correa’s representatives. So, if it weren’t beneficial, why would he divulge it? Jeff Luhnow clearly subscribes to a Quikian methodology when discussing draft eligible players. DJ Quik says in his song Dollaz + Sense, “If it don’t make dollaz, it don’t make sense. So don’t kill game, let the pimpin’ commence.” DJ Quik is suggesting that since there isn’t a clear advantage for Luhnow to show his cards, he should just keep his information to himself while allowing the pimping to commence.
So, I don’t think we can assume either way that the Astros thought Correa was the best player in the draft… and, I believe that’s the perception that we must operate under when considering last year’s draft. And, in the scheme of things, I don’t think it even matters.
Let me explain.
Independent of where Luhnow’s team rated players on their draft boards, the Astros may have been wise to use mock drafts and
expert opinions as a tool to leverage a deal with Correa. Luhnow would have been wise to call Correa’s representatives and say, “if your guy doesn’t agree to our deal, Keith Law says your guy will drop all the way to the Padres at the seventh pick.” With a simple point and click of the mouse, Luhnow could support his point.
That was the perception at the time. There was a real concrete possibility that Correa would have dropped… possibly to seven. And Luhnow would have been in his right to bring this fact up.
Max Fried, who the Padres eventually selected, signed for $3M.
Correa signed for $4.8M. He didn’t have to worry about dropping out of the top five.
It may have been a gamble, but I believe that Correa’s representatives got a better deal for their client by agreeing to take less than slot from the Astros.
$4.8M is $4.8M regardless of the draft position or where it comes from – if Correa’s representatives felt they couldn’t have gotten the same sum of money anywhere else in the draft, then, in hindsight, they did right by their client.
Correa didn’t get as much as Buxton (2nd overall), but he got more money than Mike Zunino (3rd overall), Gausman (4th overall), Kyle Zimmer (5th overall), Albert Almora (6th overall), Fried (7th overall) and Mark Appel (who went 8th and rejected $3.8M from the Pirates).
Had Appel agreed to the $6M deal the Astros offered, Buxton would have still gone to the Twins, Zunino locked in with the Mariners, Gausman to the Orioles and Correa’s representatives would not have been able to obtain $4.8M anywhere else. I can’t imagine Correa’s representatives felt they could have gotten a better deal by not agreeing to the Astros’ terms and letting the draft take its course.
In the end, they were smart to listen to Jeff Luhnow.
If they even entertained the possibility of getting more somewhere else – the thought that they could be making a multi-million dollar gamble should have scared the hell out of them.
But, make no mistake, Jeff Luhnow got over on Carlos Correa just as much as Carlos Correa got over on Jeff Luhnow. No one got cheated. This was a mutually beneficial business decision orchestrated by two parties who had a firm grasp on what they were doing.
This was a win-win situation.
Correa got more money than he anticipated, while the Astros were also able to select Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz and offer them first round money.
When all is said and done, the Twins might have gotten the best player in the draft, who knows? Either way, it doesn’t matter because the Astros assembled the greatest amount of talent for the money they had to spend.
The Astros got more value; they got more bang for their buck.
In my opinion, the Astros set a precedent on how teams should effectively conduct their drafts. I believe the Astros are trendsetters. They strategically divided up their bonus pool in order to get more impact players – they traded down while still acquiring the player they wanted all along. If this were the NFL, this would be the equivalent of trading Ricky Williams to the Saints and getting back Edgerrin James and multiple draft picks.
They made the players fit their parameters instead of the other way around.
As a matter of fact, I believe this ideology will carry over to other teams who possess the first overall selection. This will now be the norm instead of the exception – unless, of course, there is a can’t-miss superstar at the top of the draft… like Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg.
How does this relate to Clint Frazier?
This is the exact template I foresee them utilizing on Thursday. I expect that they’re already negotiating with three or four of these guys and using the realistic possibility of these players dropping out of the top five to leverage the negotiations.
Clint Frazier fits a specific mold that the Astros are looking for. He’s an outstanding player with through-the-roof potential, but he runs the risk of falling significantly in the draft. The Astros could (and should) offer a mutually beneficial pre-draft agreement that’ll keep Frazier from falling in the draft while lining his pockets as one of the wealthiest (but not the wealthiest) new stars in professional baseball.
There’s a possibility that the Astros are pointing at these mock drafts while informing Clint Frazier’s representatives he might slip out of the top ten if he doesn’t agree to reasonable terms with the Astros for considerably less than slot. Mayo has Frazier at seven, Callis has him at ten and Law has him at twelve. Couldn’t the Astros use that as leverage, pay Frazier more than he would get otherwise and still have money to spend on later picks?
“Look, Clint, you’re an outstanding player, but you’re not going to get more money than Appel, Gray (even with the positive drug test) or maybe even Kris Bryant. That’s off the table. However, if you take the deal we’re offering, you’ll be the very first pick in the draft and get a boatload more money than what you’d get if you’re drafted after those guys… and Kohl Stewart, Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows. We’ll pay you like the fourth or fifth pick in the draft – if not, we’ll take someone else. This draft could get very ugly very quickly for you. We’re talking millions of dollars.”
For the Astros, it’s about value. For Frazier, it’s about making as much money as possible and getting into a good situation. And, if handled delicately, both of these parties can walk away from this draft feeling like a winner.
For Jeff Luhnow, it makes dollars, and it makes sense.
There’s no need for Frazier to use his University of Georgia commitment as leverage because he’s already in line to make more money taking under slot with the Astros than what he would if he let the draft play out. And if the Astros happen to let it leak that the same negotiations are not necessarily exclusive to Frazier but also Kohl Stewart and Austin Meadows – I think Frazier has to consider his bargaining ability in the event he’s the second, third or even the fourth high school player taken. (Although, I don’t think the Astros are necessarily “in the business” of leaking contractual information for strategic negotiating purposes.)
If it’s a “take it or leave it” deal, Frazier can’t afford not to take it. He runs the risk of being so underwhelmed that he’d have no choice but to scurry off to Athens and try his luck in two more years.
…and if he doesn’t accept the offer, the Astros can move onto someone else – my guess would be Kohl Stewart.
Its $4.8M-ish Clint Frazier will not get anywhere else. For Clint… it makes dollars and it makes sense!
And, if by chance, the Astros have Clint Frazier rated the best prospect in the draft – then so be it. Luhnow can stand behind the podium, adjust his tie and say “we drafted the best player available” and not have to share the truth (either way) with anyone. …let the pimpin’ commence.
What do I know?
In the end, my suggestion is not to get your hopes up on a particular player. Don’t hitch your wagon to someone like I did with Matt Barnes – because, you’ll likely end up wrong and eventually feel stupid when your team selects George Springer. …like I did.
Trust the process and trust that Jeff Luhnow is going to do whatever he feels is best for the organization. He’s going to draft the players he believes will help the Astros in the long run, and he won’t get caught up in mock drafts or “the industry’s” recommendations.
On Thursday, the Astros will be beyond prepared. They’re evaluating the talent and crunching the numbers. They have the right guys making the selection. They’re analyzing, over-analyzing and analyzing again. I’m confident that the Astros are going into this process with a clear understanding on what they want to accomplish, and I believe that’s what’ll transpire this weekend.
For a baseball fan, the Major League Baseball Draft is a delicious club sandwich loaded with inaccurate information and curious informants slathered with rich creamy speculation in between two slices of nine-grain WTF bread. …and your choice of potato chips.
Take a bite.
Take a huge bite, and enjoy it.
But trust the process.
…or not. What do I know?
I really don’t put out enough content to make a statement by “going dark.” I write about twice a month on average – sometimes more, sometimes less.
“Going dark” is what a few other Astros bloggers are doing to protest Jim Crane’s latest public relations gaffe. So, instead of sitting idly by while others make statements by “going dark” – I’ve decided to write.
Last night, around 7:00pm, KHOU trotted out the following headline: Astros Cancel Annual Fundraiser for Houston Area Women’s Center. Wow! That’s a lot of information in a single headline. …And it’s pretty damning to boot. I wonder what went through the minds of the Astros public relations department.
With respect to Sean Pendergast, let’s do an abbreviated Zapruder analysis and break down each and every word of KHOU’s headline.
“Astros” – The Astros are Houston’s Major League Baseball team. Currently, the team is 10-29 and the worst in baseball. Over the last two years, the Astros have been completely saturated with bad press. A steady stream of operational blunders and general mismanagement has played a significant role in overshadowing their poor play.
“Cancel” – Cancel is a verb. According to Merriam-Webster, it means “to call off usually without expectation of conducting or performing at a later time.” It also means, “to destroy the force, effectiveness, or validity.”
“Annual” – Annual is something that occurs every year and once a year.
“Fundraiser” – Exactly how it f*ckin’ sounds.
“For Houston Area Women’s Center.” – HAWC is a volunteer, non-profit organization that relies on the goodwill of the community to provide services for people who really need the community’s help. According to their website, HAWC “offers services free of charge to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families.” HAWC goes on to say, “We provide shelter, counseling and advocacy to support them in building lives free from the effects of violence. We seek social change to end domestic and sexual violence through community awareness and education. Our services are confidential and available to everyone.”
Let’s go back to “fundraiser.” Let me explain what a fundraiser is: a fundraiser is when an individual or group puts on a social activity or sells goods for the purpose of raising funds – generally for a particular purpose. Every year Girl Scouts knock on my door and, much to the chagrin of those who care about my health, I buy an irresponsible amount of Girl Scout cookies. I cut a substantial check and the Girl Scouts, using a forklift, load Samoas and Thin Mints onto my porch. The money the Girl Scouts collect goes towards providing the Girl Scouts with the necessary resources to support their organization. Girl Scouts are not rich, and they cannot afford to cut checks whenever they want to do fun activities – they rely on me. This is why they sell cookies – this is a fundraiser.
This is why the Astros Wives Organization hosted the Black Ties and Baseball Caps Gala – to raise money for the Houston Area Women’s Center. The Astros Wives Organization didn’t have the money to donate, so they organized an activity to RAISE FUNDS for a good cause.
However, as Jose de Jesus Ortiz tweeted, “Astros owner Jim Crane told Women’s Center Wives Gala would be canceled in January.” The HAWC said they are looking for other donors to make up for the “lost money.” Obviously, this was money the HAWC needed.
No one is asking Jim Crane to cut a check. In the KHOU article, it says, “the popular gala raised $250,000 for the women’s center in 2012.” It doesn’t say, the Astros dug into their own pockets and dropped a quarter of a million on the HAWC, the article says the money was raised. Raised.
The fact that they use this specific verbiage implies that the Astros only needed to donate their time and energy to this cause – and, when given that option, they chose not to do it. Whether this was an initiative set forth by Major League Baseball, George Postolos or Jim Crane… it was a choice. The Astros had the opportunity to use their clout, time and energy to help people who relied on them, people who needed them – but they chose not to help.
They chose to help someone else, and that’s fine.
So, almost twenty-four hours after the news broke and after consulting with a lawyer, the Astros released a statement they should have released months ago or at the very least should have had queued up and ready to go.
Basically, they chose to “go in a different direction.”
Meg Vallaincourt, Astros Senior Vice President of Community Relations, explained that the Astros Wives Organization was a poorly run charity. She stated that the AWO does not donate the standard 70% of proceeds to the Houston Area Women’s Center. Although, as Reid Laymance points out, the Astros Wives Organization was “billed for the use of Minute Maid Park.” So there’s that.
So, instead of 69% or 50% or 25% of the proceeds going to the Houston Area Women’s Center – they’ll get nothing because the Astros Wives Organization is, in essence, ineffective. Although I wouldn’t tell that to the families who rely on the center! Instead, Jim Crane and the Astros are pledging $18M to at-risk youth initiatives. …I suppose this is where the Community Partners’ billboards come into play.
And money going towards Houston’s disadvantaged youths is a good thing - a great thing!
Obviously, Jim Crane can donate money to whichever cause he’d like. He can give his blessing or shoot down any events that carry his team’s name – but, all things considered, this was just another bad move, another bad choice. It was an even worse choice not to be proactive before this story became a PR nightmare. Shouldn’t Vallaincort have had a plan to continue the relationship with HAWC or at least been able to allocate less than 1.5% of Jim Crane’s $18M pledge as a way to ice over this disastrous situation? Did this story absolutely have to become such a mammoth clusterpoo?
No one is begging Crane to pay $250,000 – people are begging Crane to let them raise $250,000 for the Houston Area Women’s Center. Why is this unacceptable? If the Astros Wives Organization is run so poorly and the Women’s Center isn’t getting the maximum proceeds, why can’t Vallaincourt develop a plan to cut the fat from the event and make it more lucrative for the Women’s Center?
This is just one more wave rolling and barreling into the Astros sandcastle of credibility.
If Jim Crane made this decision in January, why is it that this story is just getting steam right now? Is there not a single person associated with the Astros that thought the team should be ahead of this story? The club could have controlled the narrative, they could have beat KHOU to the punch and put themselves in a better situation… but, oddly, they didn’t. The Astros could have made this into a feel good story – but, again, they chose not to.
Of course I think Crane should have made efforts to continue the team’s association with the Women’s Center. But, again, it isn’t my money, and I don’t have $10M to talk about it with him over lunch. However, his beyond putrid PR team is currently scrambling trying to control the damage, having lawyers analyze press releases and trying to deflect the story while they’ve had months to prepare for this. Months!
Did they not think this would make the evening news?
Are the Astros so tone deaf that they believed this wasn’t a story? Even after all the bad press they’ve accumulated in the last two years?
Are we in the Twilight Zone?
What the hell is going on with the Astros?
What should be concerning to the Astros is the fact that many people are not shocked by these events. The Astros are earning a reputation for bad publicity, and they keep fumbling away their goodwill. They’re a public relation’s dumpster fire. They keep unnecessarily shooting themselves in the foot. They’re unpredictable. They’re dysfunctional. They’re the Randy Travis of Major League Baseball.
No one is shocked that the Astros are choosing to back out of supporting a women’s center… shouldn’t that bother the Astros? No one is giving the Astros the benefit of the doubt… shouldn’t that bother the Astros, too? Everyone was expecting the Astros to fudge this situation… shouldn’t that bother the Astros, too?
I’ve gotten emails and direct messages via Twitter – people are outraged, disgusted but not the least bit surprised. The environment that Crane has created for himself cultivates these sorts of reactions. When Crane bought the club, fans were actively rooting for him; they were hopeful, and they were ready for meaningful improvement. They were tired of Drayton McLane’s song and dance and wanted Crane to come in and save the day.
Crane had the opportunity to be a hero. But, instead, Crane has built an organization that his fans completely distrust. …and that sucks!
No one can watch the games, there’s dumb signage blocking the view of downtown, there’s no Deshaies and no Dierker and the Astros are twiddling their thumbs.
Astros fans are not overreacting – the Astros have conditioned us to expect the worst.
Jim Crane has dug himself a hole that he cannot get out of – he’s the villain.
Loyal Astros fans distrust the organization, Jim Crane can’t catch a break and all the while the oblivious public relations staff plays Candy Crush.
That is a very alarming indictment for the Houston Astros. The Astros organization is in an ass-over-teakettle public relations freefall, and no one in the organization seems to really give a shit.
Ironically, the Astros’ inability to get ahead and be proactive in the face of bad press is only matched by their self-destructive ability to create bad press.
Maybe that’s an integrity issue?
further reading on this subject? Check out Astros County.
I haven’t blogged in over a month, and I bet you’re all wondering why, right? …right? Upon my last post, the one I wrote before the beginning of the season, I promised myself that I would sit back and observe the organization without my blogger-born eye for scrutiny. I promised myself that I would remove myself from my made-up responsibilities and take the time to enjoy watching baseball again. It was important to me not to be as so damn negative and ultra-critical about everything.
I wanted to be more of a fan and less of a blogger.
I wanted to get back to the basics. I wanted to quit worrying about the stupid community partner billboards or league realignment and whether Jim Crane was honest with us. I wanted to quit thinking about the 2014 draft and whether or not the Astros have the integrity to stay out of the basement. I wanted to quit mutilating my Bud Selig and Drayton McLane voodoo dolls. I wanted to suppress my fear that Moses Ryan is now thirty-nine years into leading the Astraelites out of Houston and into “The Promised Metroplex.”
I wanted to see the Astros as what they really and truly are – a young exciting team plowing their way through uncharted American League territories. I wanted to bear witness to the duality of a baseball career cast deliberately and almost experimentally among a single solitary nine – an unlikely assemblage of young guys getting their first chance coupled with older guys getting their final chance. I wanted to witness the births, the resurrections and the painful deaths. This is baseball reduced down to its lowest common denominator. And there is a great deal of passion somewhere in between, and I wanted to be a part of it, to experience it, to soak it in. I wanted to root for each and every one of them, each hanging on by a mere thread, each with a future uncertain.
Rick Ankiel was hanging on by a mere thread.
Ankiel had a rather superb spring, and his unique experiences likely played a significant role in him earning a spot with the team. The Astros hoped Ankiel could serve as a stopgap until one of their greenhorns could step in and take over right field. Unfortunately, Ankiel struggled tremendously at avoiding strikeouts. On Monday, he was mercifully delivered his coup de grâce – he was designated for assignment and is likely finished playing major league baseball.
His is a fascinating story. He started off as a pitcher in the Cardinals organization. In 1999, Ankiel was the number one prospect in baseball. He was a phenom in every sense of the word. He made his major league debut at nineteen and struck out 194 hitters in 175 innings as a twenty year old in 2000. He had incredible stuff and had a long dazzling career ahead of him that would feature All Star appearances and Cy Young Awards.
I feared he would torment the Astros for the next decade or two.
But, at the end of 2000, the wheels fell off and Ankiel couldn’t throw strikes. He became Steve Blass. What ailed Ankiel transcended mechanics and form – it was psychological; he wasn’t even close to throwing strikes. I have an unnatural hatred for the St. Louis Cardinals and even I thought it was sickening to watch. There was absolutely no satisfaction from the Cardinals’ rivals regarding Ankiel’s misfortune. He was damaged, broken beyond repair. It was very uncomfortable. I felt terrible for him.
He dangled around for a few years and found himself hanging on by a mere thread. He missed a year due to an injury and then pitched sparingly in 2004. But he was done. He would never pitch again.
At twenty-four, his career was over.
But Ankiel decided to reinvent himself.
Already a good hitter, Ankiel decided that he’d focus on that aspect of his game. And, in a short amount of time, he evolved from a good hitter to an outstanding hitter. He rose through the ranks of the Cardinals minor league system and found himself back in a major league uniform in 2007.
He hit .285 in 2007 and hit 25 bombs in 2008. He played flawless defense and his million dollar left arm, completely useless on a pitcher’s mound, was one of the most feared outfield weapons in major league baseball.
Ankiel showed perseverance and an unmatched hunger to succeed. He battled through the adversity and fought tooth and nail to get back to the show – and he did! In the matter of a few years, a career was born, died and was reincarnated.
I hope he writes a book one day.
Rick Ankiel turned a tragic event into one of the better stories over the last twenty years.
To me, this is baseball and this is why I love it. In the scheme of things, records and statistics are irrelevant. Baseball is slice of life theatre set before an agonized and elated audience, a microcosm of our very being. Baseball isn’t about 27 outs or 162 games – it’s about savoring the brief morsels of success, it’s about coping with failure and it’s about being part of a family. It isn’t as much about making history as it is about having a history, being a part of a history. History is made whether you’re a part of it or not. In life as it is with baseball, we are all hanging on by a mere thread – each of us with a future uncertain.
…and like Rick Ankiel, we reinvent ourselves, we adapt to changing environments and we do whatever we can to just hang on.
So, I’ve kept my mouth shut, and I’ve watched baseball. I’ve eradicated the numbness and negativity from my body and in the process I’ve sated my thirst and found what I was looking for.
Astros baseball is fun again.
…a lot of fun.
Jim Crane has done his part by remaining on the sidelines and away from microphones, reporters and all other potentially disastrous objects. Perhaps, like me, he is in the midst of a self-imposed exile to cure his spinning head. In all honesty, I hope he’s finding happiness too. I hope the losing isn’t bearing down on him.
In a way, our unacknowledged détente is mutually beneficially – my blood pressure remains at a manageable level, and the Astros upper-level management personae can graciously afford fans an opportunity to recoup after the series of violent gut-punches delivered during the offseason.
In retrospect, I understand that the offseason was hard on Crane too. Although he has no one to blame but himself, it probably isn’t easy consistently alienating the people who root for you the most. Maybe a part of me, a little part, even sympathizes with him.
Alas, the month long hiatus is over, and I plan on writing again. I have returned. I feel renewed. I feel refreshed. I’m having a lot of fun being an Astros fan again.
And, a month into the season, isn’t there a lot to be excited about?
Although their record doesn’t necessarily reflect it, the Astros aren’t all that bad, either.
…well, except for the 17-2 and 9-0 loss to the Tigers. They were bad then.
Marwin Gonzalez is playing well, and Jason Castro is beginning to look like the player we thought he’d be. In a surprise to no one, Brandon Barnes continues to force himself into the everyday line-up. Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris are pitching well. Bo Porter hasn’t gotten so outraged that his head has come uncorked erupting bubbly hatred like an angry champagne bottle. And, didn’t Carlos Corporan go 4-4 last week?
Then there’s Jose Altuve – the Pocket Jesus. He is the Houston Astros’ best player and franchise savior.
In certain cities and at certain points in a player’s career, a player may find himself entrenched in a situation similar to Altuve’s – the undisputed best player on a rebuilding team. With this designation, the player finds himself with an automatic, default bid to the All Star Game but also finds himself slathered with layers of outlandish trade speculation.
…and, thus, nestled in on the two way street of obsequious fan adulation and irresponsible trade recommendations, lives Jose Altuve’s name.
As we march into May, Altuve trade speculation has wiped the sleep from its eyes, rolled out of bed and has started a pot of coffee. In a matter of moments, as Will Moriarty would say, Astros fans will go through Altuve trade scenarios “faster than a burrito being chased by Metamucil.
But, talk is cheap, and a blogger has gotta blog. So, hunker down and prepare to hear a slew of trade rumors in the next several weeks.
Jim Bowden suggests the Dodgers should make a run for Altuve.
The whole idea of dealing Altuve is preposterous. I can’t believe I’m even entertaining the notion that it is a possibility.
On its face, trading one player for multiple players seems like a reasonably good idea. If you could turn one Jose Altuve into two Jose Altuves or three Jose Altuves, there is absolutely no question that the Astros should make that particular move. But what is the likelihood that Jose Altuve could yield a player equal to or more than his current value? How many Altuves equal one Altuve?
Ideally, in a transaction of assets, both teams want to feel like they’ve gotten the better end of a deal or at least equal to what they gave up – “I gave up something good, but I got something back equal to or better than what I gave up. Cool!”
The principal issue I have with trading Jose Altuve is that I am not convinced that the Astros could possibly receive fair or equal value. At this point, how can anyone accurately determine Altuve’s value?
Jose Altuve has just turned twenty-three years old. He has accrued over a year a thousand plate appearances and is closing in on two full years of major league service time. Again, he is twenty-three years old – are you listening? As of now, he’s the fifth youngest player in major league baseball. In his second full season of major league ball, Altuve has already shown progress over last season – as a matter of fact, considering all levels, he gets better every single year he plays.
He’s a reasonably intelligent hitter, an obvious student of the game, and he’s becoming more and more acclimated to major league pitching. He’s barely into his comfort zone as a major league hitter. He hasn’t even hit his prime yet – he’ll likely get a lot better!
But he’s still severely undervalued – even by the people who watch him play.
Altuve’s primary issue is that his size will always devalue his contributions on the field. At every level, he’s been discounted and overlooked because of his small stature. Despite displaying a genuine talent for hitting a baseball, Altuve’s doubters contended that his numbers wouldn’t translate into major league success. And, now that they’re proven wrong, there is a growing concern that Altuve will not be able to sustain this level of success.
Let me know how that works out for you.
In 2010, Altuve spent the season in between Lexington and Lancaster, he managed to hit .301, hit 15 homeruns, steal 42 bases and collect 20 doubles… and going into 2011, he was still under the radar. So, in 2011, after 238 at-bats in Lancaster, he packed up his .408 batting average and then went on a .361 clip in Corpus Christi before being called up to the Astros.
For his career, Jose Altuve is a .292 hitter.
He’s really something to witness. He’s the shortest guy in baseball, and he’s peppering the outfield with line drives. When Altuve does something well, it is always prefaced by mentioning his height. It is a part of who he is, but it doesn’t define him. He’s so much more than the smallest player in baseball.
Altuve isn’t good for someone who is 5’5”; he’s good for someone at any size.
…he just happens to be 5’5”.
Perhaps there will be a point where Jose Altuve is regarded as one of the best in the game. That is something not entirely out of the realm of possibility. I firmly believe Jose Altuve can win a batting title – it’s possible! I believe Jose Altuve can lead the league in doubles. I believe Altuve can earn his spot on an All Star team without wearing the “every team has to have at least one” collar. This can happen; this isn’t breaking news.
The Astros don’t have much to hang their hats on these days. When reading about the Astros, you’d be hard-pressed to find the word “best” littered in any of the newspapers. But if the Astros hold onto Jose Altuve, that could change.
And when considering an Altuve trade, it always seems like the guys mentioned as possible returns are around the same age that Altuve is now – except without a major league track record of success or an All Star appearance. I cannot understand why someone would want to trade a twenty-three year old All Star for a twenty-three year old prospect.
Who replaces him? Jimmy Paredes? Nolan Fontana? DeLino DeShields Jr? In my opinion, Jose Altuve is a better player and has a higher ceiling than all three. Plus, he’s a year younger than Paredes, only a year older than Fontana and two years older than DeShields. And, if the Astros are really high on DeShields and they have to find a spot for him (which I think they will), they can put him in the outfield or have him DH. I think DeShields could be a very good left fielder.
Also, in relation to some of the Astros top prospects, Altuve is younger than George Springer and only nineteen days older than Jarred Cosart.
And even if the Astros were able to pry away a team’s top three prospects, there is absolutely no guarantee that these prospects would outplay Altuve. Here’s a link to Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects in 2003 via a Tigers’ message board. How many of those guys had (or are having) successful major league careers? Half? How many would you take over Altuve straight up? A quarter? Compound that with the fact that the Astros would trade with a particular team and not a list of the best prospects in the game and the likelihood that we’re kicking ourselves for trading Altuve becomes exponentially realistic.
…and do the Astros really want to be the club that traded away Jose Altuve?
A twenty-three year old All Star with the capabilities of winning a batting title under club control for the next five years for prospects?
The Astros need to acquire players like Jose Altuve but not at the expense of trading Jose Altuve. They are actively scouting other teams’ minor league systems and organizing their draft board in hopes of discovering the next Jose Altuve. The Astros are looking overseas at international free agents and searching near and far in hopes of discovering the next Jose Altuve. The Astros are not interested in trading Altuve – they’re interested in building around him.
And they will. They’ll find another diamond in the rough.
The Astros are smart enough not to outsmart themselves.
He brings fans to the ballpark. He helps make the team fun and watchable. He helps make the losses tolerable. He’s an inspirational figure for those who feel discouraged or challenged. At 5’5”, he’s a mountain of a man. He represents the faith fans have in the organization’s direction; the promise that life will get easier for Astros fans. He’s a heavy dose of raging badass concentrate in bite-sized packaging. He’s hope, courage and “kiss my ass, I’m going to prove you wrong” personified.
Like Rick Ankiel, Jose Altuve’s story is fascinating and inspirational. Pocket Jesus is another great story that is unique to the sport of baseball. Altuve overcame an onslaught of unwarranted criticisms and seemingly impossible obstacles to get where he is. He found himself in the minor league struggling, hanging on by a mere thread – but he rose to the occasion and made the Astros give him a chance. And after performing at every stop – here he is, hitting .331 at the major league level.
We’re witnessing something special – something borderline magical. The Astros should hang on and enjoy the ride.
In July of 2011, as the Astros found themselves in mid-descent towards the cold bedrock of the NL Central seafloor, the scuttlebutt surrounding Houston was that Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez would all be divvied up and sold to the highest bidder. Interest in Myers and Wandy and their multimillion-dollar deals subsequently waned, withered and died (although Wandy, as we found out, was almost traded to Colorado). The crème rose to the top, and Astros trade talk focused in on fan favorites Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn. And Ed Wade, likely hating his job, had his finger reluctantly on the trigger.
Hunter Pence, right or wrong, was regarded as the Astros’ best player by the baseball-illiterate media, and they zeroed in on the very real possibility of him being traded.
We’ll examine Jon Heyman’s brilliant and fair handling of this situation.
On the 26th of July, Jon Heyman wrote “Hunter Hunted, But Won’t Be Caught.” Heyman postulated that the Astros’ asking price would be too high for Hunter Pence considering that he’s the face of the franchise. Heyman said that the Astros would have “a hard time selling their best and most marketable player.
But, Heyman be damned, Hunter Pence trade talk inched on and intensified. On the 27th, Heyman, not fully convinced that Hunter would be dealt, defiantly tweeted, “Rival GM on Houston’s lofty Pence requests: they need to get real.”
On the 28th, it became apparent that Hunter Pence would be dealt… maybe even that day. Heyman begrudgingly conceded that Pence would be traded but continued his embarrassing assault on Ed Wade, “The Astros should have taken offer of Singleton, Cosart and 3rd prospect from the Phillies for Pence.”
Ed Wade could have taken Heyman’s advice, but, fortunately for him, he didn’t – and on the 29th, the Astros traded Hunter Pence to the Phillies for Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid and a player to be named later. Heyman, unimpressed and foolish, took to Twitter to air his criticisms – “the Astros sold high, still didn’t get much” and “SAT answer: Astros are to Phillies what Kansas City A’s used to be to Yankees.”
On August 15th, the Astros announced that Domingo Santana would be the “player to be named later” and completed the trade with the Phillies.
History may never accurately reflect Ed Wade’s contributions to the Astros – the good and bad. Drayton McLane refused to give Ed Wade the tools to compete, but we’re not quite sure as to the grip of McLane’s iron fist. But, history, whether or not it will, should show that Wade laid a solid foundation in Houston and acquired multiple players who’ll be franchise cornerstones for the next decade.
But Jon Heyman understands that his readers are just as baseball-illiterate as he is – and that’s why he gets away with it.
There is a market for this kind of crap.
There is absolutely no accountability.
2013 Draft Speculation
At this time last year, Carlos Correa wasn’t really on anyone’s radar. Before I get smarmy emails correcting me, let me rephrase this – Carlos Correa wasn’t on most people’s radar. The general consensus was that the Astros would draft Mark Appel. Appel was born in Houston, was the most polished college pitcher in the draft and was mowing down college hitters faster than Mexican Valium – so it seemed logical that the Astros would draft him.
But then there was Byron Buxton – propped up next to a jukebox with a come hither look on his face. Buxton was a 5-tool beast-machine from Georgia who was getting comparisons to Matt Kemp, Mickey Mantle, George Strait and Pope Francis. He could hit, he could run and he could do a damn good rendition of Amarillo By Morning.
So, most people were either in the Buxton camp or Appel camp. And when Bud Selig mosied his way to the podium, he lisped to the stunned onlookers that the Astros had selected Carlos Correa.
Correa went to the Astros, Buxton went next to the Twins and Appel dropped all the way back to Palo Alto. In a move that should surprise no one, Jeff Luhnow pressed his L1 button while everyone else toggled up and pressed triangle to dive.
Fast-forward to 2013, and folks around here don’t know what to think. The draft boards have more question marks than they did last year. Appel is again eligible to be drafted, high schoolers Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier are making cases and then there’s Jonathan Gray who’s stock has skyrocketed since the college season has started.
And, once again, the general consensus is that the Astros will take Mark Appel… again.
And that’s why I’m not convinced.
Appel’s agent – uhm, excuse me, advisor – is still Scott Boras. While I understand that the Astros have a little more leverage this year being that Appel is a senior, I have no doubt that Boras would send Appel to play with the Newark Bears, Sugar Land Skeeters or Hackensack Bulls if he feels the Astros are not offering terms that will satisfy him or his client – uhm, excuse me, advisee. There’s a precedent for this, Boras has sent one of his guys to the Independent League before, and I’m not convinced he wouldn’t do it again.
…and the Astros are likely aware of this.
Perhaps they’re already negotiating.
He’s likely the best player in the draft, he’s local and he wants to pitch for Houston… but when it comes down to it: if Mark Appel was looking to give Houston a discount, he wouldn’t have hitched his wagon to Scott Boras. Scott Boras isn’t in the discount business.
…and I think Houston is looking for a discount.
But, then again, I am not certain that Jeff Luhnow will utilize the same blueprint this year… but I think it is more likely than not.
Who will the Astros draft? I could name about fifteen guys that wouldn’t surprise me. I think I speak for most people when I say that.
But, damn the torpedoes, I’m calling my shot: Clint Frazier is the guy.
He’s a five-tool outfielder from Georgia who plays with Hunter Pence intensity. He’s got serious power, one of the three best outfield arms in the draft, and he’s lightning fast. The perception is that cross-town rival, Austin Meadows, is a better player (or at least has had more publicity saying as much), but Frazier’s two homeruns trumped Meadows’ 0-1 in their most recent head-to-head match-up.
The reason why the Astros select Frazier is because I think Luhnow can convince Frazier’s people that if he’s not selected first overall, that he won’t be taken before Meadows, Appel, Gray and possibly a few others – especially if the Astros go with Sean Manaea or Austin Wilson instead. If Frazier doesn’t go first overall, he could lose a lot of money.
Frazier will have some leverage in that he’s a high school senior and could opt for college, but, the way I see it, he’d have three options – take the Astros offer of guaranteed top 5 money, take his chances later in the draft or go to college. If he feels that the Astros offer is better than taking a gamble later in the draft, he’d probably be willing to work with Luhnow and that could save money for later draft picks – maybe Kohl Stewart or Cavan Biggio gets the Lance McCullers treatment and drops to the second round because of signability concerns.
The Houston Sports Counterplot Top 10 Prospects
I submitted the top ten list on my season preview, but I thought I would give it a little more love in this article. When I consider a prospect, I always take into account how polished the player is in addition to their ceiling. For example: someone like Ariel Ovando, I would think, would belong on any Astros top ten prospect lists if we were solely projecting his ceiling. Unfortunately for Ovando, he’s not as polished as other guys on the list. I try to look at these prospects for what they are now and what they project to be.
But, for the record, I would keep an eye on Ovando.
1.) Jonathan Singleton – 1B
Marijuana really does hinder your growth.
Just say no.
There was some speculation, mostly from myself, that Singleton could have found himself on the Opening Day roster if he could put together a solid spring. This was before the Astros signed Carlos Pena to a two-year deal and before Singleton got popped with a 50-game suspension after failing a second drug test. Instead, this Spring Training, Singleton played sparingly with the Astros and got a limited number of at-bats.
When Singleton was caught with a bat in his hands, he looked awfully impressive. But, unfortunately, 2013 might be remembered as the year he missed a third of the season for being caught with a bong in his hands.
Singleton has herculean power from the left side and should punish American League pitching once he arrives to the show. Although he’s spent some time in the outfield, he’ll be penciled in at first base, his natural position, for the next decade or so.
Singleton, or Homerton as we’re now referring to him, is expected to serve his fifty-game suspension as a member of the Oklahoma City RedHawks. I’m going to assume Jon stays there all year, roast nary a bone and likely finds himself on the short-list for a September call-up.
Next year, he’ll be starting for the Astros on Opening Day, and hopefully hitting pitches over Tal’s Hill instead of getting blazed up while listening to Cypress Hill.
2.) Carlos Correa – SS
It was hard not putting Carlos Correa at the top spot – after all, he was the first pick in the 2012 draft and has already impressed at the professional level. Simply put, Correa being second is more of an endorsement of Jon Singleton than saying anything about Correa.
Correa spent time with the Astros this spring and looked every bit as advertised as he hit .455 and got 3 RBI and 2 stolen bases in 11 at-bats.
…and he had 3 hits in front of the Houston crowd against the Cubbies.
And he’s 18.
Wanna feel old?
That means Correa was born only a month before Jeff Bagwell won his MVP award. That also means that Alex Rodriguez made his Major League debut before Correa was born. That also means that Correa was born in the post-orange Astros era.
It’ll be interesting to see how Jeff Luhnow handles Correa. On one hand, Correa strikes me as a guy who could make short work of the minor league system, but on the other hand, Luhnow doesn’t seem interested in rushing anyone to the majors. Two years? Three years? He told Buster Olney that there’s a possibility Correa would be up “before his 21st birthday”. When will we see Carlos Correa? I have no idea.
I’ve heard comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki and Alex Rodriguez. I’m not sure if that means he’ll be often injured or if he’ll one day make more money than the entire Houston Astros organization. But, he can pick it at short and he’s got an outstanding bat. He’ll head to Quad Cities where he’ll man shortstop for the Astros new low-A affiliate.
3.) DeLino DeShields Jr. – 2B
DeShields hasn’t physically killed anyone with his speed, but he made life really hard for the catchers in the South Atlantic League. Had Billy Hamilton not gone insane on the base paths, DeShields would have likely been the talk of minor league baseball. DeShields stole a ridiculous 101 bases between Lexington and Lancaster and, no pun intended, ran away with the Astros Minor League Player of the Year Award.
The former first rounder had a very poor 2011, as he couldn’t quite catch up with Sally League pitching. He hit .220 and looked clueless at the plate – if anyone could possibly look like a bust at 18, it was him. However, in 2012, he repeated at Lexington, hit .298, 22 doubles and humiliated catchers while on base. Between Lancaster and Lexington, DeShields struck out 131 times, so that’s something he’s going to have to work on in Lancaster. But DeShields also worked walks and found ways to get on base – if he’s to advance to Corpus Christi, his bread and butter will be setting the table by getting on base and wreaking havoc.
I’m excited to see how he’ll improve under the tutelage of Vince Coleman.
4.) Mike Foltynewicz – SP
Like DeShields, Foltynewicz had a breakout season in Lexington last year and saw his stock shoot up significantly.
The former Longhorn-commit from Illinois went 5-11 with a 4.97 ERA for the Legends in 2011 and, like DeShields, was kept in Lexington for the 2012 season. He rewarded the organization with a strong 14-4 record that saw his ERA slashed to 3.14 en route to winning the Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Foltynewicz logged time with the big league club during Spring Training and dazzled his future home crowd by mastering the Chicago Cubs, giving up only 1 hit in 4 innings while striking out 7. He has a true ace type skill set with an electric high 90s fastball.
The 20 year old will start the season in Lancaster, but, if he shows that he can master the brutal California League, he could end the season with Corpus Christi.
5.) George Springer – OF
After racking up 22 homeruns for the Jethawks, Springer was promoted to Corpus Christi for the last month of the 2012 season. “It’s about time,” Astros fans said. As a matter of fact, “#FreeSpringer” got a little bit of play amongst Astros bloggers and minor league aficionados.
Springer will start the 2013 season with the Hooks and anchor a very intriguing Wates, Springer, Santana outfield corp. That should be a very exciting outfield, but could be broken up once Wates and Springer find their way to Oklahoma City before the end of the year.
George Springer was born about 15 miles away from where Jeff Bagwell went to high school – so the area where Springer was born has been very good to the Astros organization.
Ranking Springer as the fifth best prospect wasn’t easy to do. There’s a pretty strong argument for making him the best prospect in the organization because he’s an all-round really good player. Baseball America ranks him as the 37th best prospect in the game. Springer just does everything well. Hits? Runs? Throws? Math homework? He does it all. In my opinion, there are not many holes in his game because he does a lot of things really well– although, he has to cut down on strikeouts before he’s able to advance.
While I wouldn’t put his tools on the same level as Correa, as far as his ceiling, but I would say he’s the second best legitimate 5-tool player in the organization.
6.) Jarred Cosart – SP
Cosart just missed out on winning a spot on the Opening Day roster. It was apparent that Luhnow gave Cosart the opportunity to win a spot in the rotation and Cosart just appeared to need a little more time in AAA to hone his skill.
But make no mistake: Jarred Cosart will be in Houston at some point in the season, and he figures to be a huge part of the Houston Astros’ reclamation project.
There’s probably nothing I can say that you guys don’t already know – Cosart is a power pitcher with some good off-speed junk. He’s got a very strong curve and an above average change-up. He’s got some control issues and when he gets into trouble, things have a tendency of going from bad to worse. However, he’s young, and these are issues I think will be corrected as time moves along.
Cosart went to Clear Creek High School and loves all things Houston. The guy is invested in his hometown, he’s hungry and his desire to be a successful major leaguer is off the charts.
7.) Lance McCullers – SP
Sometimes I like to carry a Snausage in my pocket and stuff it in my dog’s mouth when she yawns – so my dog knows exactly how Jeff Luhnow must have felt when Lance McCullers fell to him in the 2012 draft.
There was tons of discussion about McCullers being a top 10 or even first overall selection, but as soon as he dropped out of the top 10, there must have been serious concerns whether he’d sign. Jeff Luhnow took a gamble, drafted McCullers and after a little bit of courtship, McCullers spurned his Florida commitment and signed with the Astros.
I asked Jayne from What The Heck, Bobby? where she thought McCullers would start the year, and she guessed Quad Cities. I said, “Isn’t that quite a jump?” and she said, “No, not really, but I imagine his innings will be limited.”
Jayne is right, if he had a good spring, there’s no reason why he can’t handle Quad Cities. McCullers is 19… they grow up so fast.
8.) Robbie Grossman – OF
After his electrifying performance in Spring Training, Grossman earned himself a spot on my top ten list. Grossman was the key piece coming back from Pittsburgh in the Wandy Rodriguez deal. He’s the ideal Luhnow guy because on first glance, he doesn’t appear to be all that awe-inspiring, but he does the little things and continually manages to find himself on base and in the middle of the action.
With the Astros, Grossman started out hot in Spring Training, cooled down and registered a .273 batting average and got on base at a .407 clip. (As if cooling down means hitting .273 despite never playing above AA.)
Grossman has a legitimate shot at getting some at-bats in Houston at some point this year, especially if Justin Maxwell or Brandon Barnes show that they’re overwhelmed.
9.) Domingo Santana – OF
Santana was the player to be named later in the Hunter Pence deal. He hit .302 with 23 homeruns and 97 RBI helping the Lancaster Jethawks win the California League title.
Santana is only 20 years old but has already mastered Lancaster and will likely start the season in Corpus Christi. I’m always taken back when people exclude Santana’s name in top 10 lists because I think his advanced skill set and his youth makes him a very intriguing prospect. As a matter of fact, I should probably have him a lot higher, but the fact that I don’t is a testament to how good the Astros farm system is.
Being 20, he’ll be one of the younger players in the Texas League, and there’s no reason to rush the guy. I expect him to spend all of 2013 in Corpus Christi.
10.) Jonathan Villar – SS
The fourth former Phillies farmhand on my list, Villar punched his ticket onto my top ten list despite punching his fist into bathroom door and winding up on the disabled list.
From what I know of Villar, this was an isolated event and doesn’t expect to be a future issue.
I assume Villar will start the season in Oklahoma as Jio Mier is slated to start in Corpus Christi. Connecting the dots, Villar must feel a bit lucky that the Astros released Tyler Greene because it means he’s not going to have to split at-bats in Oklahoma City and, with Ronny Cedeno and Marwin Gonzalez in Houston, there doesn’t seem much keeping him from the majors in the event he can show significant signs of development.
I would not consider Villar major league ready, but he’s probably the most major league ready shortstop in the organization. However, if Villar struggles in Oklahoma City and Nolan Fontana continues to work walks and get on base, don’t be shocked if Fontana blows past Villar in the pecking order.
I would suggest checking out What The Heck, Bobby?’s list of who is where and also reading Astros County’s “Who’s Still Here?”
There You Have It
So, there you have it.
…and there we have it.
So, who was the rival GM that Heyman quoted as saying the Astros “need to get real?”
‘cause Singleton, Cosart, Zeid and Santana are legit, highly regarded prospects who are reasonably close to making contributions at the big league level. They’ll be flanked by Correa, Rio Ruiz, McCullers, Foltynewicz, Springer, DeShields, Grossman, Vincent Velasquez, Nick Tropeano, Max Stassi…
The future looks bright.
…For whoever that GM is, I’d say, indeed, the Astros are about to get real.
We gathered around the dock, and Jim Crane gave a speech. A christening. He spoke about his new boat - about its name and how he came up with it. “She’s a tiny little vessel. But she is strong!” Everyone cheered. He spoke a little bit about the boat’s history and how the new coat of paint ties in with that storied past. Everyone hung on each and every word. George Postolos, faithfully standing by, handed Jim a bottle of Dom Perignon, “to the American League and to new beginnings! To the old girl, the National League, may we never speak her name again!” Crash! Jimmy broke the bottle against the hull and each of us, everyone of us, clapped. “Hear! Hear! To the Astros!”
The National League: May we never speak her name again.
Unless, of course, Bud Selig brings it up.
And there we have it: the Houston Astros have set sail into the rough waters of the American League West. The old rusty ship, settled at the bottom of the National League Sea, left to be reclaimed by explorers, historians and treasure hunters. Anew, the SS American League, mighty and small, fearless but surrounded by danger! Yet, we shall sail on. Rough waters! Choppy seas! The Rangers! The Angels! A’s and Mariners! Sharks and giant squid! Icebergs ahead!
I’m not terribly excited about realignment nor do I believe Jim Crane’s semi-truthful account on how the realignment negotiations really transpired, but I understand that I have to accept that the Astros are now an American League franchise and no amount of kicking and screaming will be able to change that.
That being said, I’ll still manage to kick, and I’ll still manage to scream about it.
The National League: I’m sure I’ll speak her name again.
I have complete faith in the competent First Mate Jeff Luhnow. I believe he’s building, piece by piece, a vessel that we can all be proud of. But, our Captain, Jim Crane, is not doing his organization any favors by continually speaking with the media and putting his foot in his mouth. He’s not been the savviest public relations representative for the Astros and has appeared to come off as tone deaf on a number of occasions. And each ignorant and arrogant word pours more bucket-fulls of water onto the deck – but at some point, if again we sink, Jim Crane will have to hold himself responsible for charting the course that leads to his demise.
He’s not garnering any goodwill amongst fans that feel burnt by this organization. Each time his name appears in the newspaper, he’s slowly transforming himself from the hero untying this damsel-in-distress organization to the wispy character who is reinforcing Drayton McLane’s knots and tightening us to the railroad tracks.
But there’s a lot to look forward to in 2013.
We’re going to see plenty of new faces, and we’re going to see some exciting baseball. We’re going to be a part of something special. We’re going to witness the rebirth of a franchise. And, quite honestly, I do not think this team is as bad as the experts are making them out to be. Sure, there will be some head scratching and face-palming. They’ll struggle, they’ll look ridiculous at times – but they’ll improve. They’ll make leaps and bounds. They’ll surprise you. They’ll make you proud. And, more importantly, they’ll win some ball games.
And, yes, we should hold the 2013 Astros to a higher standard than what we held the 2012 Astros to. We should expect them to be better –we should expect them to perform at a higher level and expect to see a few more battles won that they would have lost last year. They’re a better team than what they were last year.
There’s hope in Houston. A brighter day awaits us – and maybe it is sooner rather than later.
Our old ship has sunk. We’ve hit rock bottom. We’ve rebuilt. And now we’re back. Now it is time for the Houston Astros to get back to the level of competition that our city is accustomed to, sail ahead, fight those who oppose us and to drop anchor and dump our seaman on Bud Selig and the American League West.
There’s going to be a lot of newness surrounding the Houston Astros in 2013. Obviously this team is going to be a little more exciting and fans may be a little more hopeful about the 2013 team as compared to the 2012 or 2011 teams. They’ll have new opponents, and they’ll make new rivals… maybe Astros fans will grow to hate the Orioles or Tigers the same way they grew to hate the Braves and Mets over the years.
Typically, the American League, as a whole, draws less than the National League. As the pundits say that American League baseball is “much more exciting,” I contend that the proof is in the pudding and National League teams tend to bring in more fans than their junior circuit counterparts. The American League has a couple of teams at the very top of Major League Baseball attendance numbers (New York, Boston, Texas) and the rest are stuck at the bottom, fighting each other to stay out of last place.
But the Astros have a decided advantage in 2013.
They’ll pack the house on dates with the Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox. I also think they’ll see hefty gates against the Angels and Tigers. And, let’s not forget, the Astros will welcome back their old buddies from St. Louis for two games in late June.
The schedule works out nicely for the Astros – this might be a once in a blue moon sort of thing. The home games against the Red Sox and Yankees will come in August and September when fans typically become disinterested and attendance generally lags. The Yankees come in for the last series of the season. Granted, the last few games of the season would do well on their own, regardless of the opponent, but since the Yankees will be in town, this will insure that the season ends with three consecutive sell-outs. Maybe the Astros will give out some bobbleheads to commemorate Mariano Rivera’s final regular season game – or maybe they’ll promote a bobblehead commemorating this event.
So, I’m predicting that the Astros see a substantial spike in attendance numbers. That being said, in 2014, once the newness wears off and people quit caring about the Angels or Tigers, if the Astros are not fielding a desirable product – they’ll be in a world of trouble and attendance numbers will flounder, fall to the Earth and blow up in our faces like a North Korean nuke.
The final tally - 1,747,888
Brand Keys “The Sports Fan Loyalty Index” – The Dumpster Fire Within
In a recent article by Maury Brown, he posts about Brand Keys releasing their 21st annual report on The Sports Fan Loyalty Index.
Brown says, “The Sports Fan Loyalty Index, which measures all the teams in the four Major Leagues, provides an apples-to-apples comparison of the intensity with which fans within a team’s SMSA support the home team versus corresponding values for fans of other teams in that market.”
Where do the Astros rank amongst the other 30 baseball teams?
So, yeah, I’m going to call shenanigans on this so-called Index.
Look, I get it that life really sucks for Astros fans right now. I understand that all Houstonians big and small are rushing to Academy or Sports Authority or Dick’s Sporting Goods and gobbling up all the Texas Rangers gear they can find. I understand that Jim Crane is wiping his Postolos with everything Houstonians hold dear. But how on Earth could the Astros possibly be rated lower than the Miami Marlins? Give me a break!
Jeffrey Loria is not just a bad owner – he’s a terrible example of a human being.
He tricked all of southern Florida into financing a stadium that they didn’t want and, more importantly, couldn’t afford. Just a few days ago, the mayor of Miami, Tomas Regalado says, “the residents of Miami were raped.” Yes, he really said that.
Loria, baiting before switching, signed a bunch of superstar players and went about as if he wanted the Marlins to… you know, be worth making the trip out to the new, expensive stadium. He sang, he danced, and he said everything Miamians wanted to hear. But, as soon as the Marlins were out of contention, the Marlins traded Hanley Ramirez for a half-eaten ham sandwich and an Orange Crush (which was promptly fed to their sea cow first baseman). Then, this off-season, Loria, giant brass balls drooping to the floor, turned complete heel and traded off everyone but Giancarlo Stanton to the Blue Jays.
And, now, as if he couldn’t get any cooler, he is suing season ticket holders.
Just look at how the Astros and Marlins exported goods to Canada. The Marlins traded Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle, three all-star players, to the Blue Jays and got back a handful of prospects. And what did the Blue Jays get for shipping their prospects to the Astros? Brandon Lyon and JA Happ.
Again – I get it! It’s bad in Houston! The Astros are a freaking dumpster fire right now, but, there’s absolutely no comparison – zero. Compared to our dumpster fire, the Miami Marlins are a freaking four alarm fire wrapped in an earthquake at a crippled-children’s orphanage. Yes, the Astros are a beat up 1984 Honda Accord with no air conditioning and a broken side view mirror; the Marlins, however, are shoes. There is no way on God’s green Earth that the Marlins have a fan base more loyal than the Astros.
The Marlins are shoes.
These Dudes Don’t Look So Tough
We’ve kicked open the door, we’ve crashed the party, we’re drunk and now it is time to hit on some of these guys’ wives.
Have you ever been to an Angels’ game? I have. It is exactly like a Dodgers’ game except the fans that show up late, which I would characterize as “more than half,” are wearing Tapout shirts instead of neck-tattoos.
No one pays attention, and no one seems to care about what’s going on. “Who is this Mike Trout fellow? Is that Tim Salmon’s son?”
The El Pueblo Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula Angels of Anaheim (which I assume is their official name) are likely the class of the division in 2013. They have a very solid and capable rotation with CJ Wilson at the top and Tommy Hanson at the bottom. Their offense will be anchored by All-Everything Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and (fancy seeing you here) SOB Albert Pujols.
By far, the tastiest AL West tidbit of the off-season was this. Josh Hamilton, in a moment of complete sobriety, slurred that Dallas is “not a true baseball town” which, in turn, caused everyone in the Metroplex, or rather the folks who know about the local baseball team, to collectively poop their pants. I’m not saying Hamilton was wrong – he’s not wrong, he’s right. He’s exactly right. But, how can you say something like that and then go out and sign with Anaheim? Anaheim is a “true baseball town?” Really? Hamilton has obviously been huffing too much paint because calling out Dallas for not being a “true baseball town” and hightailing it to Orange County is like changing the channel from Swamp People to Moonshiners because you prefer a program with “a little more class.”
Let’s not forget, Josh, the Angels shamefully tacked on “Los Angeles” to their name because their owner, Arte Moreno, has a very noticeable hard-on for all things LA… even though the ciudad is 40 miles and two hours away.
Lakers. Dodgers. UFC. Beach Volleyball. Angels. That’s the pecking order in Orange County, Josh. You’re drunk, so shut your mouth about “true baseball towns” and go home.
You’d be hard pressed to find another fan base as oblivious as Orange County. The only reason Angels fans exist is because folks there do not want to hop on the 405 and stew in traffic all day to get brutally beaten at a Dodgers game.
92-70 – Angels win the division
It isn’t too hard to hate the Rangers. Throughout my entire life, I viewed the Rangers as nothing more than the baseball equivalent of an ex-convict relative. We were told that while they were indeed part of the family, it is best not to make eye contact and never consume anything they serve at reunions. When we didn’t have to see them, we didn’t care about them and they were, pretty much across the board, a non-factor.
Even within the Metroplex, who really ever cared about the Rangers?
But now we’re sharing a division, and it’ll be like a family reunion umpteen times a year.
My advice? Don’t make eye contact and stay away from the shady sweet potato casserole.
As we discussed earlier, the Rangers are dealing with a few notable defections – namely Josh Hamilton (and their dignity). But I believe they still have a squad that will vie for a playoff spot. Yu Darvish proved that he can be the ace the Rangers have so desperately wanted, and the rest of their rotation stacks up rather nicely. Even with the loss of Hamilton, the Rangers will trot out a line-up that should produce some pretty robust offensive statistics. Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, the-oft-injured Nelson Cruz and (fancy seeing you here) Lance Berkman will provide plenty of fireworks this summer. But their most intriguing player will be starting the year in Round Rock. SS Jurickson Profar, who is probably as exciting a player as Mike Trout, is geared up to terrorize the Astros for the next decade or so.
Yes, we can hate the Rangers freely.
No, not because these flavors-of-the-month meatheads are scooping up the Snooki Berkmans of the Astros organization, but rather the Rangers consider themselves exclusively as Texas’ team and advertise themselves as such on their uniforms.
Let me preface what I’m about to say by saying that I know a lot. I’m likely the smartest guy you know. And, seeing that I know a lot, I know that Dallas doesn’t represent Texas. Texas isn’t about getting a $35K job and buying a Mercedes on credit or marrying a woman with poorly done fake boobs and a mustache. If it wasn’t for Houston, Dallas wouldn’t be able to ruin their credit or marry ugly women – they’d all be a part of Mexico and ruining their credit and marrying ugly women there.
The only reason you can wear “Texas” across your jersey is because of us.
You’re welcome, Dallas.
But, it is time to take “Texas” off your jerseys, Dallas.
I’m not at all happy about having our young impressionable team wandering around in Oakland. In my opinion, this is just another wicked ploy by Bud Selig to destroy the Houston Astros… this time, by putting them in the American League and into the line of fire. Oakland is a dangerous city – after all, the American League is just a collection of city after city in which good law-abiding Astros fans are likely to be stabbed and succumb to the temptation of prostitutes.
Apparently, there’s a baseball team in Oakland.
On June 30th, the A’s were 37-42 after losing to the Rangers. After that game, they won 5 on their way to going 19-5 for the month of July. They finished the last three months of the season by going 57-26 and stealing the division from the Texas Rangers. Can the A’s find lightning in a bottle for 2013?
As Lance Zierlein would say, they’ll more than likely find “fart in a bottle.”
Since Billy Beane took over in 1998, the A’s have traditionally had a no-name roster chockfull of budding stars – once they become stars, they’re traded to the Braves, Cardinals, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Nippon Ham Fighters or whoever. This has been a process that has worked out quite nicely for the A’s as they’ve been in and out of the playoffs over the last fifteen years - but it should be noted that they haven’t had a World Series appearance to show for it.
Yoenis Cepedes will headline the A’s offense in 2013. In his first year stateside, Cepedes flirted with .300 while hitting 23 bombs. He was runner-up in Rookie of the Year votes and got some MVP buzz. I expect him to build on a very successful 2012 campaign as he becomes more comfortable playing in the big leagues.
Cepedes will be flanked by Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp and (fancy seeing you here) Jed Lowrie. Reddick is an interesting case as he hit .242 with 32 homeruns in 2012. He’s one of those guys who could repeat this performance or fall off the face of the Earth – who really knows because he doesn’t exactly have a track record for success?
The Oakland A’s are going to live and die by their young, unheralded pitching staff. I’m not quite sure if this is a “The Big Three: Part Two,” but this is a staff that is definitely the best since Hudson, Mulder and Zito.
While I expect Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker to put together nice seasons, I am very interested to see the numbers Brett Anderson puts forth as Oakland’s ace. Anderson, who has had a run of injuries derailing his young career, looks healthy and primed to bounce back. I’m confident that he’ll be every bit of the player the A’s thought he’d be when they traded Dan Haren for him and Chris Carter.
I don’t even know what to say about the Mariners other than I’m not sure there is a more boring team in baseball right now.
They’ll win a few, and they’ll lose a few and, at the end, no one will really care.
The Mariners can pretty much guarantee a win every fifth day provided their offense finds a way to score a run or two. But other than King Felix, there’s nothing particularly special about the Mariners’ roster this year.
Remember when Kendrys Morales was like, “no, I’m not Kendry, I’m Kendrys. It’s plural, bro, like multiple quintiles of Kendry.” That is confusing! And, it doesn’t even make sense – shouldn’t the plural of “Kendry” be “Kendries?”
Anyway, Kendries Morales will be the middle of the order bat they thought Justin Smoak would be. Michael Morse, via the most boring three-team trade ever, found his way to the Great Northwest and has the capability to hit Maxwellian-esque homeruns. Plus the Mariners have a lot of young talent in their line-up, guys like Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders could show some improvement in 2013 while Jesus Montero is a legitimate budding star.
We’ve established that Felix Hernandez is the best player on the team and everyone who is anyone has already commented on the fact that he makes more money than the entire Astros roster – whatevs. After King Felix, the Mariners plan to trot out Joe Saunders, Blake Beavan and a Japanese fellow whose name escapes me. Brandon Maurer will man the fifth spot and they have a truckload of pitching in the minors that will likely get a shot at some point in the season.
The Mariners have done a decent job of rebuilding their team, and they’re further along in the process than where the Astros are. I expect they’ll flirt with .500 for a while and then tail off into the L column.
…And The Rest of the League?
NL East - Braves
NL Central - Cardinals
NL West - Dodgers
NL Wild Card - Nationals
NL Wild Card - Giants
AL East - Blue Jays
AL Central - Tigers
AL West - Angels
AL Wild Card - Rays
AL Wild Card - Rangers
World Series – Nationals over Tigers
The “Cool Kids” Table
AL MVP - Evan Longoria
NL MVP - Bryce Harper
AL Cy Young - Justin Verlander
NL Cy Young - Craig Kimbrel
AL Rookie of the Year - Aaron Hicks
NL Rookie of the Year - Shelby Miller
Astros Break Out Star
When the Astros dealt Jed Lowrie to the A’s in February, they had high hopes for the three players they got back in the deal. While Brad Peacock has looked good in Spring Training, most of the buzz around the three centers on Chris Carter. Carter has power for days and showed last year that, at 26, he’s still an intriguing prospect.
…And, in 2013, I expect him to break out and have a strong offensive season.
Likely in LF, I expect Carter to cut down on his strikeouts (although he hasn’t shown signs of doing that so far in Spring Training) and continue to put up power numbers.
Castro is going to do a lot of little things that might go unrecognized in 2013. He’ll put up decent offensive numbers and will provide quality defense behind the plate. However, his real value is going to be how he handles the Astros’ hodgepodge pitching staff. Will he be able to help Bedard and Humber revive their careers? Will he help Peacock and White get their heads on straight? Will he keep doing whatever he was doing that had Lucas Harrell playing on ace status? He’s got a lot of responsibility with this pitching staff, and I think he’ll prove to be a vital part of this staff’s success.
At the end of the year, folks will be talking about Jose Altuve or Lucas Harrell or whomever… but if the Astros pitching staff plays well-above expectations, Jason Castro will deserve some of the credit.
Shocking, But This Guy Stays on the Roster All Year
Barnes has shown that he can handle centerfield until a better option comes along. This spring, he’s hit, and he’s played outstanding defense. While I expect Maxwell to get the nod on Opening Day, I will not be surprised to see his playing time diminish in lieu of Barnes’ superior play.
We Hardly Knew Ye
I can’t imagine how Pena will manage to stay on the team this year – at least not for the full season. With Wallace and Carter already on the club and Laird and Singleton stewing in Oklahoma City, Pena has a lot of competent competition behind him on the depth chart.
I fully expect Jon Singleton to make his debut this summer and, if the Astros are still trying to figure out what to do with Wallace, Pena will be traded or released.
Looks who is back!
No, not really.
Nolan Ryan might quit his job with the Rangers, but I don’t imagine there is a position waiting for him with the Astros. I can’t imagine Jim Crane wanting to cede any power to Ryan and I think that’s what Ryan wants – power.
The Houston Sports Counterplot’s Top 10 Prospects
1.) Jonathan Singleton
2.) Carlos Correa
3.) DeLino DeShields Jr
4.) Mike Foltynewicz
5.) George Springer
6.) Jarred Cosart
7.) Lance McCullers
8.) Robbie Grossman
9.) Domingo Santana
10.) Jonathan Villar
Here’s an article written by Jayne from What The Heck, Bobby? that speaks to some of the guys in the minor league system who have something to prove. And, here’s another that’s about the minor league pitching philosophy that Jeff Luhnow plans to espouse in 2013.
So, Who Are These Guys?
Change is not always a bad thing. As a matter of fact, considering that this is an organization that has lost 213 games in the last two years, it would be an understatement to suggest that change is preferred. Change is needed! When the Astros trot out on the field on Sunday, we’re going to see a collection of new faces and much newer faces.
The Astros are an assemblage of players at different points in their career. They have prospects looking to show they’re worth the hype, under-the-radar rookies who want to make a name for themselves and older cast offs who are looking to reclaim their careers. The Astros have grizzled old veterans like Jose Altuve, 22, and wet-behind-the-ears rooks like Chris Carter, 26. And even a guy who has pitched a perfect game.
The Astros youth movement has taken a slight detour at the big league level as guys like Philip Humber, Erik Bedard, Carlos Pena, Rick Ankiel and Ronny Cedeno figure to register a significant amount of playing time. I don’t necessarily have a problem with veterans fending off prospects because 1.) The Astros should field the best team possible and 2.) There is absolutely no need to rush prospects unless they’re ready to contribute.
Either way, the big league roster is going to be significantly different at the end of the season than what we’ll see at the beginning of the season. I’m expecting maybe 12-13 guys who are on the roster now will not be around when we get to September – maybe more. There will be a flurry of trades, demotions and releases.
There are a few core guys who’ll manage to stick around for this year and beyond, but understand that this organization has a lot of talent coming up from the farm and change isn’t always a bad thing.
Opening Day: The line-up
2B – Jose Altuve
Altuve, an all-star last year, has emerged as the face of the franchise in 2013. I expect he’ll continue to improve, he’ll take a few more walks and he’ll load up on doubles and triples. In my opinion, he’s the only known quantity the Astros have.
Who plays in September? Jose Altuve
1B – Brett Wallace
Wallace is the most frustrating guy on the team. There is no debate that he’s a talented player, but whether he’s able to put it all together is a different story. I think batting second will be an ideal spot for Wallace because I think he’ll cut down on strikeouts and get on base. He’s a guy that, if he’s able to put it all together, can flirt with .300 and lead the league in doubles. …that won’t happen. But I expect Wallace to put together a very nice season splitting time between first, third and DH.
Who plays in September? Jonathan Singleton
DH – Carlos Pena
Pena is what he is. He’s a stopgap until Singleton is ready and insurance in case Wallace can’t hit. The best-case scenario for Pena, would be to put together solid numbers and get dealt to a contender. I’m not convinced he’ll be able to do it – if he starts out sluggish, don’t be shocked if he gets DFA’ed and is replaced by Brandon Laird.
Who plays in September? Brett Wallace
CF – Justin Maxwell
I’m putting the line at .240 for Maxwell. If he hits anywhere below that, you won’t be seeing his smiling face across Astros billboards next off-season. He might hit the ball 450ft, but if he can’t connect more often and cannot show an ability to get on base, he’ll find himself on the bench or off the team. If given a full season, Justin Maxwell could very easily lead the league in strikeouts. Will his massive power numbers be enough to compensate for his inability to get on base?
Who plays in September? Brandon Barnes
RF – Rick Ankiel
I’m thrilled that Ankiel is going to make the team this year. Downright giddy! He’s done everything the team has asked him to do and more. He’s going to play solid defense, put up decent numbers and fend off prospects. That being said, Ankiel could play himself out of Houston and onto the bench of a contender. Having a guy like Ankiel will be monumental in establishing a professional culture amongst the greenhorns.
Who plays in September: Fernando Martinez/Robbie Grossman
LF – Chris Carter
I’m picking Chris Carter to have a very nice year. Carter will hit for power as I predict he’ll take advantage of the short porch in left.
Who plays in September? Chris Carter
C – Jason Castro
I think this is the year that Jason Castro shows that he’s a legitimate big league ball player. After a strong Spring Training and a solid second half of 2012, I’m predicting that Castro emerges as one of the better catchers in baseball. Castro’s health is going to be a concern, but I’m banking on him registering a healthy 120 games behind the plate in 2013. I believe that Castro will show great improvements offensively while providing defensively reliability. In my opinion, this is Castro’s year to take the reins and assert himself as one of the club’s leaders.
Who plays in September? Jason Castro
3B – Matt Dominguez
Matty D was traded to Houston for Carlos Lee. It is one thing to find a willing partner to take Carlos Lee off your hands, it is another to get something valuable back in return. Matt Dominguez is a Gold Glove caliber third baseman that the Marlins’ foolishly traded away in July of last year. Dominguez is going to play spectacular defense in 2013, but he will show significant deficiencies at the plate. Dominguez’s glove will keep him in the big leagues, but I imagine if he struggles too much at the plate, Brandon Laird will be close by to pick up the slack. I’m predicting that Dominguez’s bat will be just enough to keep him from demotion. …I expect his offensive numbers to improve as the season moves along.
Who plays in September? Matt Dominguez
SS – Ronny Cedeno
Cedeno arrived in Houston after being let go by the Cardinals because Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler Greene showed that they could not be trusted to handle shortstop. This is not a glowing endorsement for anyone. I really like the Cedeno signing, though – not because I think Cedeno is going to be a valuable piece to the puzzle, but I do think Cedeno provides a better option than the two guys he beat out. Cedeno is a guy who has played with a handful of organizations and he understands his role with the club. In my opinion, he’s not likely to stay with the Astros throughout the season and will likely give way to a Villar/Gonzalez platoon towards the end of the season.
Who plays in September? Jonathan Villar
I think Bud’s a goner. This is a shame because Norris is an absolute treasure on 1560 The Game. The stats I predicted for Bud will be stats he’s accumulated at the time he’s dealt… probably to the Cardinals or Giants. In 2013, Bud is going to be a lot better than what he was in 2012. He’s going to get a lot of tough luck and lose a few games he should win, but, ultimately, he’ll be shipped off to greener pastures before the trade deadline.
If Harrell remains on the team, which I think he will, he’ll put up numbers comparable to what he put up last year. The offenses are better in the American League, but I think Harrell is going to be a better pitcher this year than he was last year, and he’ll assert himself as the ace of this staff. My only concern with Harrell is that he might get traded if Jeff Luhnow finds a team that wants him bad enough.
Humber had a very strong Spring Training, but I do not think it will translate into the regular season. I am predicting Humber to struggle significantly and be given a lot of chances before he’s removed from the starting rotation and given the Nelson Figueroa treatment.
I think Peacock is going to be a very nice pitcher for the Astros this year. He’ll have his ups and downs, he’ll frustrate fans, but he’ll put up decent numbers and remain in the rotation throughout the year. I predict that Peacock will lead the team in strikeouts and rack up double digit wins for the rebuilding Astros.
Bedard is the third pitcher who I think will start the year with the Astros but finish elsewhere. However, unlike Humber, I think Bedard is going to show a lot of value and get dealt before the deadline.
Rotation in September: Harrell, Peacock, Alex White, Jarred Cosart, John Ely
Alex White (long relief, spot starter)
Rhiner Cruz (set-up)
Jose Veras (closer)
Wesley Wright (loogy)
25 Astros = Alex Rodriguez
If this were The Oregon Trail, Jim Crane’s wagon would be travelling on “meager” status and Jose Altuve would have already died of Dysentery. The Astros payroll is super light this year – I mean, it is the dollar menu of Major League Baseball. The Astros roster often sits in the passenger side of their best friend’s ride, tryin’ to holler at the New York Yankees.
Jim Crane is a modern-day Cheap Pete ordering a rum lifesaver and a glass of water at the bar.
And, as you’ve already heard from ESPN, CBS, NBC, ABC, AARP, NWA and BBW, Alex Rodriguez will make more money than the entire Astros roster in 2013. Isn’t that an amazing factoid that should embarrass the most proud Astros fan? But, I have to wonder, whom on the Astros would you replace A-Rod with? Should the Astros be jealous of the fact that the Yankees are paying A-Rod a ridiculous $28,000,000 to hit .270 and spend most of the year on the disabled list?
I get it. We should feel dumb for being Astros fans – whatever. But, don’t throw A-Rod in our faces as if having him on the team would be some kind of badge of honor
How will the Astros do in 2013?
This is going to be a tough assignment – to pick how the Astros will do in 2013. There are so many unknowns that it is damn near impossible to predict how things will transpire. Will Justin Maxwell strikeout 300 times? Will he hit 40 homeruns? Will Lucas Harrell show that 2012 wasn’t a fluke and come out pitching like the Astros’ ace? Is Chris Carter who we hope he’ll be? Who the hell is Hector Ambriz? Can the duality of Brett Wallace coexist with itself? Will Wallace figure out a way to wire his head and his ass together before Bo Porter takes a giant sh!# on him?
If the Astros win 100 or lose 100, will anyone even notice or care because they’re not on TV?
I have no idea.
But we’re not hopeless. There is reason for hope in 2013. The Astros aren’t fielding a club full of zeroes in 2013. No! No! My friend, there is reason for hope. There is reason to believe that Chris Carter will have a breakout year and that Jason Castro will stay healthy. There is reason to believe that Jose Altuve can lead the league in doubles and that Brett Wallace can show the world that he’s an everyday player. There’s reason to believe that Brad Peacock and Alex White can hold down the middle of the rotation for years to come. There is reason to believe that Jose Altuve will not be the only Astros all-star in 2013. There’s reason to believe this because there is legitimate potential on the 2013 Houston Astros.
But, still, I’m picking them to finish in last.
My suggestion: don’t get too caught up in the wins and losses. Watch this team grow and get better. Cheer for the little things! The details!
If you have CSN Houston, watch the games.
Read what the newspaper and blogs are saying. Read Astros County, The Crawfish Boxes, Farmstros, What The Heck Bobby?, Climbing Tal’s Hill, Whiskers on a Stache, and Tales From the Juice Box. Follow Trei Bundrett, Lee Street and listen to what Sean Pendergast has to say on 1560. You need to follow Mike Fast.
This team will improve throughout the year. They’ll get better. They’ll play fundament baseball under Bo Porter, and they’re going to hustle. They’re going to fight, and they’re going to make us proud to be Astros fans again.
And they’re going to win a few more games than they did last year.
And they won’t be the worst team in the league.
And, next off-season, they will not be the butt of any jokes.
By Stephen Naron
Guys, remember a few years ago when the Texans had NEVER had a winning season and were the ugly stepchild of the NFL, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were taking turns blowing up every tendon and bone in their bodies, and the Astros were trying to place a Carlos Lee band aid on the mortal wound they’d inflicted on the franchise? Well, it’s 2013 now and the sports scene in Houston has drastically changed. The Texans are “perennial” division champions, the Rockets are the youngest and arguably most exciting team in the NBA, and the Astros have compiled a storehouse of young artillery in their system. I figure right before baseball season, NFL draft, and NBA playoffs is as good a time as any to check in with all 3 major Houston sports franchises (sorry soccer…we haven’t been annexed by Mexico yet) to rank their likelihood of success in the immediate future. The parameters? How is the team set up to be successful in the next 5 years (winning seasons, playoffs, championships with emphasis in that order)?
So, which team is most likely to give the greatest city in America their first parade since 1995?
Daryl Morey has solidified himself as best GM in Houston this year. Let’s run down the list shall we…..James Harden: legitimate superstar. Best player since McGrady (possibly Olajuwon) in H-town. He is the epitome of efficiency. He oozes coolness and confidence. He enjoys the spotlight. There’s only two players in the NBA I would trade for him (Lebron and KD). Omer Asik: A double-double machine. A Judge Reinhold looking 7 foot assassin who is the anchor on the defensive end. Jeremy Lin: WAY better than I imagined he would be. Has shown sparks of something very special and is becoming a better distributor of the rock. Then you have quite possibly the best value of ANY player in ANY sport in one Chandler Parsons. If Scottie Pippen would have had boy band good looks and not acted like a douchebag all the time, he’d have been called Chandler Parsons. The Rockets are the youngest team in the league, and score in bunches. They do struggle defensively - especially when Asik sits, but they are exciting to watch and play hard every night. Their schedule seems to indicate that they will finally get off the schneid and back into the playoffs this year.
This is all in addition to their incredibly good cap situation, you can see why I’ve picked the Rockets to have the most success over the next five years. They are in shape to add even another big name this offseason, and with Harden here they should be very attractive to free agents now.
I can sum up my only Rockets concern in two words: Lebron James. No other Houston team is in a league that contains such a transcendent star right now. The Heat are in the middle of a 20-something game streak , and it kinda seems like the rest of the NBA will be playing for second with King James reigning.
However, let the Rockets get one more big piece and….they are right there in the conversation.
In Morey We Trust.
Keep laughing it up everybody, but what Luhnow is doing on the baseball side is going to pay huge dividends - soon. Sure, the Astros will not be that good this year, and will almost certainly have the worst record of the big three this season - but they are also being built for a huge turnaround within these next five years. The Wild Card? Jim Crane. We already know that he evidently didn’t amass his fortune while becoming a savvy PR guy. He continues to say things that make me scratch my head and test my loyalty. Will he spend the money when Luhnow’s plan starts coming together and it’s time to bring a few select veterans in? We just don’t know right now, and I am probably giving him the benefit of the doubt.
I do know this: Luhnow and Bo Porter are extremely good hires and I trust both of their visions for the team. The Astros don’t have the same money constraints that the other two have, but for the immediate future they do have the toughest divisional foes.
Ironically, I think it’s the rampant spending in the AL West that is going to set the Stros up perfectly to start a Django-esque tour of revenge across the division in a few short years. So muck it up for now Dallas Rangers fans cause I have a little black book of insults ready to unleash in a few short years when your team is back to the unmitigated disaster they were for the first five decades of their existence.
Here is the good news: of all three teams this is the one I would be least surprised at being World Champs next year. The bad: as we are seeing in free agency now, the Texans aren’t exactly set up to be as successful down the road as some thought.
Sure they have the most exciting young defensive player in the league (who is going to get paid soon), but Andre keeps getting older and this postseason sort of answered that old Flacco v Schaub debate some of us used to have.
The NFL is almost for sure the most wide open of the three leagues, and I like that the Texans seem to be embracing building the D (especially with Schaub as QB) to win a championship, but I am also very concerned about the confidence Andrew Luck is already building in Indy. Could the Texans make a few shrewd moves, get a healthy Cush, and get Schaub’s confidence back to a level that enables them to bring the ultimate prize to Houston? YES! But there is no doubt that the Texans’ window is a lot smaller than the Rockets’ and the one the Astros will be opening in a few seasons.
As Texans fans, we are going to have to hope that Rick Smith is able to finagle the salary cap numbers well enough to keep the team in the hunt and not lose too many pieces in the next few years.
So there’s how I see the State of the City in regards to the big three sports franchises. The Texans are most likely to get the job done now, the Astros are in a great position long term, and the Rockets are set up nicely to be a force in the Western Conference for several years. If that’s not optimistic enough let’s end up with a game of would you rather: Two lists…… Carlos Lee, Steve Francis, David Carr OR Jose Altuve, James Harden, JJ Watt?
…I thought so too.
Lately, I’ve been fighting these emotions… these overwhelming feelings, I blame it on my elevated levels of machismo, but I’ve got a lot on my mind. And, this being Valentines Day, I just wanted to say a few words to some of my followers… particularly, all the pretty ladies. I’m talking to you. This one goes out to all the girls out there. All the girls who root for the Astros and read my blog. I see you, baby. This blog entry goes out to you.
…and only you.
Girl, I’ve been thinking about you for a while. I see you over there… all sexy looking. Mmmm… I know the baseball season is about to start and you might not be hearin’ a lot from me… but, girl, mmmm, yeah…. I just want you to know, that, this year is the year, our year, if you will… mmm… me, you and the Houston Astros. Oh yeah. This is the year that the Astros will finally go to the World Series. We’ll be on top! So, while I am sitting in front of my television and I seem to be ignoring you while you’re talking about your feelings or what happened on Pretty Little Liars or that slut Becky you work with… mmm, girl… I just want you to know, that Jose Altuve has a legitimate shot at leading the league in doubles this year. And, girl, that’s what really matters - Jose Altuve racking up doubles. Mmm… What’s that, baby? Yeah… well… you’re the finest Astros fan in the world and, girl, there is one thing I wanna do with you. And, I’ve been wanting to do it to you for a long, long time. You ready, girl?
This poem is called…
WE’D WATCH THE ASTROS ON VALENTINE’S DAY
I’ll be relaxed on my couch, my big screen on Comcast Sports,
Wearing nothing but my Astros jersey and a pair of high school gym shorts,
My left hand’s digging in some Doritos, the right is holdin’ onto a beer,
I’m drinkin’ ‘cause they’re losing, but, girl, you make me want stand up and cheer,
‘cause you’re prancing in our livingroom and I know it’s time to get it on,
We’re gonna watch replays of the playoff year - until the break of dawn,
I’ll be your Jeff Bagwell, girl, you wanna be my Biggio?
I take you ‘round the bases, run my hands all through your fro,
I’ve been wanting this for along time, there’s only one thing I wanna do,
This Valentine’s Day, baby, I wanna watch the Houston Astros with you.
It’ll be like oh oh ohhhh… it’s a replay, it’s not live,
And a oh oh ohhh… girl, it’s like 2005
And a oh oh ohhh… if I could have it my own way
Oh oh oh… girl, we’d watch the Astros on Valentine’s Day.
I can see you really want this, girl, ya know I’ve been wanting this, too.
Dressed sexy in your Astros gear, the Altuve jersey I bought you,
You’re looking so hot right now, but I can’t take my eye off this game,
If you keep talking over Brownie and Ash, girl, I just might go insane.
My Doritos chips are getting smaller and my beer can is getting light,
If the Astros start winning, girl, and we’ll be watching this all night.
And when we wake up in the morning after our Astros Valentine’s Day,
I hope you make me some eggs and we can sit back and watch the replay.
It’ll be like oh oh ohhhh… it’s a replay, it’s not live,
And a oh oh ohhh… girl, it’s like 2005
And a oh oh ohhh… if I could have it my own way
Oh oh oh… girl, we’d watch the Astros on Valentine’s Day.
Oh oh, girl, They’ll be rounding the bases
Oh oh, girl, we’ll be making Astro-oh oh ohhh faces.
But this was just a dream, the Astros season has yet to start,
These fantasies about winter baseball is playing extra inning games with my heart,
And, girl, if you love me, I think you should understand,
That while I’m your biggest cheerleader, baby, I’m way more of an Astros fan.
So, flip on the television and let’s not stop it until we’re through,
This Valentine’s Day, I wanna oh oh ohhhh… watch the Houston Astros with you.
It’ll be like oh oh ohhhh… it’s a replay, it’s not live,
And a oh oh ohhh… girl, it’s like 2005
And a oh oh ohhh… if I could have it my own way
Oh oh oh… girl, we’d watch the Astros on Valentine’s Day.
Oh yeah… mmm… before there’s any discussion or debate amongst the sexy ladies out there about who this poem is really about, I gotta be honest, ladies… it’s about all of you. …each and every sexy lady out there.
There’s Jayne… mmm… from What the Heck, Bobby. She writes about Astros prospects. Well, girl, I gotta special ‘prospect’ for you… how about you, me, a Jacuzzi and an updated version of the Astros top prospect list? We can talk dirty to each other by saying words like Foltynewicz and Wojciechowski. Yeah? That’s right, girl, I wanna Wojciechowski you. Mmmm…
Then there is Terri. Terri writes about the Astros… but, she also writes about food. Tales from the Juice Box is the name of her blog… mmm. I gotta say, girl, you look more luscious than a plate of barbecue brisket with a side of potato salad. I like your blog’s dinner discussions, but, I say, let’s (you and me) have a few discussions over dinner… oh yeah. I’ll tell you about this new recipe that I got… it’s for an Astros All-Night Passion Cake. Interested? It includes a dash of me and a dollop of you and then a whole bunch of passion… and some cake… and the Astros.
There’s Camille, she doesn’t write for a blog, but she retweets me… over and over again. All night. I like it, girl. You can retweet me and I can retweet you. We can favorite each other’s tweets… and it’ll be magical, sexual and sensual. Let’s listen to a mix tape full of our favorite Lil Rhiner songs. You’re always lookin’ finer than frog hair.
Oh, yeah, Alyson Footer… she is the sassiest and sauciest hot mama in baseball. Girl, when you left, you broke my heart. All I ever wanted to be was your Brad Ausmus boy toy. Sometimes, I wake up and I scream your name. But, girl, I know you left for greener grass… but I just want you to know, girl, my bed is cold at night and I miss you. P.S. Thanks for mentioning my #AstrosMovie tweets in your blog… that was pretty awesome, girl.
There’s DeAnna, can’t forget about her… girl, you tweeted about the Westminster Dog Show and I don’t know what that was all about. Well, baby, I don’t know much about dog shows (or dogs for that matter), but I do know that you’re one smokin’ hot babe and you have my tail wagging at full speed. If you were locked in the pound, I’d come get you out ‘fore they euthanized you… and we could go to the dog park and I would let you sniff my butt.
There’s the Aldermans… there’s like 3 or 4 of you, I can’t keep up… I think y’all are sisters or maybe there’s a mom mixed in there or whatever… that’s way too much for one Astros fan to handle. But, I’ll be honest, like the 2013 Astros, I’m up for the challenge. Is Cheryl Faulkner a long lost Alderman sister, too? She’s been commenting on our tweets and that’s totally hot. I’m #BachShitCray over you ladies.
Kelly George… Kelly George… you got me acting like Curious George. You’re the new Astros social media director. I think you were Miss Alabama or something at one point… but, as of now, you’re the smokin’ hot Miss Astros Lady. Miss Astros Lady? That sounds dumb, but I swear, girl, that was a compliment. And, you’re a total babe. And, as the social media director, I want to socially direct you straight to my heart. It is full of Lipitor and bacon grease, but under that slippery layer of fat is an Astros fan that really wants to answer all of your trivia questions.
And, mmm, then there is Orbit. Mmmm, I’m not sure if you’re a man or a woman or what… and, quite honestly, I really don’t care. You ooze sexuality that transcends gender or universally accepted ideas of attractiveness. The things I want to do to you are likely not legal on this planet… or most planets… except Uranus, it is definitely legal on Uranus. (And, yes, that was a double entendre.) Anyway, I just think you have a big ol’ fat butt, and, Orbit, I’m really, really into that… However, I’m not really into the extra-terrestrials, though. …but then again, I’ve never really gotten it on with one. But, you know what they say, “Once you go green, it’ll be hard to ever get clean… ‘cause we’ll be dirty.” Mmmm…
And, lastly, there’s my girl… my real one. She’s on the top of my list… sure, she understands that I’m a stallion that cannot be wrangled. But, she was willing to try. …and that’s all I ask of her and the Houston Astros. She bought a Kevin Bass jersey and she is the arm candy at every single baseball game I go to. She’s my number one. The love of my life. She’s my Chris Burke homerun. She’s my manager, she’s my ace and she’s my all-star. She’s the Biggio to my Bagwell. I love you, girl.
When I was a school-aged chap, the worst and most agonizing days were the days leading up to Christmas vacation. These days were soaked with unbridled anticipation and excitement. The clock ticked slowly, the calendar wouldn’t budge and we were resigned to our perilous fate – we would be stuck in school forever. Like hostages, we were trapped in classroom torture-cells, duct taped to our chairs; we were slaves to barbaric whims and desires of our unrelenting violent schoolmarm dungeon-masters.
“Fun crushers! Joy robbers! Thieves of happiness!” we cried!
Yet like hardened soldiers, we bravely slogged forward. We grinded through tedious book reports, tedious mathematical equations (work shown, mind you) and tedious science projects… with brains melted, hands callused, our desire to survive… eh… about 50/50.
“How many baking soda volcanoes must I build, you sadistic bastards?” we cried!
It was painful. It was painful because Christmas was right around the corner. It was so close that we could smell it! It smelled like cookies and Christmas trees.
If we could handle this week, next week would be so much better. The finish line! The light at the end of the tunnel!
This week was painful.
Next week was Christmas.
“You can never break me! We will march till Christmas! We will not be defeated!” we cried!
This is exactly where we are in relation to the baseball season. We’re on the homestretch, but it is still too far away from being anything other than painful.
But will the pain go away once the season starts?
After a tumultuous off-season that included realignment and across-the-board torrential mass defections, Astros fans are left to clean, bandage and tend to their own wounds with the hopeful acceptance (though with a hint of reluctance) that each mark, each permanent scar serves a higher purpose. These scars represent the conflict, the moral struggle to remain loyal to our Astros through the better, the worse, the richer, the poorer, and through sickness and in health. We hope that eventually the mountaintop will be worth the struggle, the heartache and the scars.
For our team’s good.
The baseball season is upon us, the winter is over, and a new chapter in our Astros history commences – now it is time for our team to pick itself up off the floor.
The pain will go away once the season starts.
Now is the time to heal.
But, truth be told, 2013 could be another long season for our Astros.
But exactly how bad are they?
Will the Astros be the worst team in Major League Baseball? …again?
This guy thinks so. So does Ken Rosenthal. And, so does this douche.
(By the way, Rosenthal, the only way the Astros “will not survive the AL West” is if they get lost somewhere in downtown Oakland between the stadium and their hotel. “Survive?” What the hell does that even mean?)
We know that with the baseball season comes a heaping helping of unrealistic hopes and unreasonable expectations. As we chug down that cold February homestretch and into the burning hot April baseball season, these hopes and expectations are being irresponsibly wielded about like the loose and floppy boobies of a redheaded Pasadena roadhouse bar wench.
“The worst team ever! 150 losses! I’m calling it!”
"Eh, maybe the make the playoffs."
It is really difficult to gauge how the Astros’ season will unfold, as there are a myriad of unknowns going into this season - more so than any other season that I can recall. They’re moving into a new league, and they have a new manager with new philosophies. They have a DH now and several new players. They have all new competition.
Regardless of how they finish, it is incredibly important for this organization to show the fans (not to mention themselves) that they’re legitimately serious about bringing respectability back to this franchise. This is the proving ground. The Astros need to make an honest effort from an organizational standpoint to show that they’re committed to winning. This means they’re going to need to be competitive throughout the season; they’re going to need to be better than they were last year – this isn’t asking much, this is a task they can (and should) accomplish.
The Astros need to show improvement, progress and some recognizable signs of life. They should be desperate to show that their brand is worth salvaging and that, despite their long history of irresponsible transgressions, they’re worth Houston’s time and money. They need to build and they need to develop, they need pay into the equity the previous regime foolishly fumbled away.
For our team’s good, it is crucial that the Astros change their culture and attitude - immediately. They must reverse their own fortune and refute the laughingstock label that the rest of the baseball community has bestowed upon them. The Astros are an organization of Screeches competing in a Zack Morris and A.C. Slater world. …and, if you’re unaware how Saved By The Bell turned out, Morris got a job on a hit TNT show, Slater is the host of Extra and Screech is doing low-budget porn and hiding crystal meth in the dashboard of his ’92 Ford Tempo. …this does not bode well for the Astros.
With the designation of being the worst team in baseball last year, the Astros have earned the first pick in the first year player draft for the second year in a row. Some would suggest that earning the first pick has its advantages. You know, losing for our team’s good. It means that your team gets the luxury of choosing the top draft eligible player in the country, but it also means that every single team in the league is better than yours.
…like the Cubs.
And, in Screech Powers terms, looking up at the Cubs is the equivalent to walking in on Violet Anne Bickerstaff performing a sex act on Mr. Belding after scorching your eyebrows off using a Bunsen burner.
There is a growing contingency of Astros fans that are actively rooting for the Astros to obtain the first pick in next year’s draft. In other words, they’re rooting for the Astros to have the worst record in baseball… for the third year in a row… for our team’s good. As someone who has devoutly followed the team for as long as I have, I cannot stomach another season of 100 losses. There are few things I hate worse than losing. My God, I really hate losing.
And shame on those people for loving it.
My opinion is that the toxicity of a losing environment significantly outweighs and overwhelms the benefits of losing in order to acquire a higher draft pick. One of guys who follows me on Twitter, ZachMayer14, put it rather eloquently “The draft is a consolation prize for losing, it is not a reward.”
Losing should hurt.
Losing is a disease hard to cure… and it is contagious, it spreads like wildfire and gets in your blood. It is a stench you cannot wash off. And, worse, when you build a culture content with losing and when you accept that you’re going to lose, you’re going to act like a loser, you’re going to treat yourself like a loser and you’re going to do the things that losers do. Before you know it, you’ve bought into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you’ve dug yourself a hole that you may never get out of.
Ask the Royals or Pirates about how hard it is to shake a losing culture.
And some fans are willing to take the gamble? Some fans are hoping the Astros finish with the worst record in baseball for a better draft pick? This is for our team’s good?
Simply put: this organization cannot afford to tank baseball games – not from a marketing standpoint, not from a player development standpoint and not for the good of our franchise.
What does losing mean from a marketing standpoint? It means 2013 will be another year where more fans defect to Dallas or decide not to give a damn about the Astros. James from Astros County put the collective fears of many Astros fans into a single tweet. “Houston’s front office is either going to look like revolutionary geniuses, or the reason my kid doesn’t like the Astros.”
Fans are tired of getting coal in their stockings. Fans are tired of losing and Jim Crane, checking the gate numbers, is already scrounging for spare change in his couch cushions. From the top down, this organization has to understand that they’re competing with every other form of entertainment for cold hard cash. The Astros aren’t just competing with the Rangers, they’re competing with prime-time television, movie theatres, the zoo, hanging out at the mall, anything with air conditioning – the Astros are competing with every single option someone can spend their dollar on and the Astros are quickly finding out that they’re going to need to work tirelessly for your interest… and your money. Last year, after another dismal campaign on the field and at the gate, fans proved to the Astros that they were not interested in spending money on a substandard entertainment product. Moving into the American League, where teams typically have significantly lower attendance numbers, the Astros are in real danger of not moving 1.5 million through their gates this year.
…and, if the Astros continue to lose, will it matter if they ever get good again? Once the dust settles and the Astros revive their franchise, will the fans that left come back? Where will Jim Crane’s money come from?
Ask anyone who has ever competed at a high level about winning and losing. Ask Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio if they’d ever consider tanking a year, obstructing player development and alienating their fans for the first pick in the draft…
I met Jeff Luhnow. I sat with him during a baseball game. I watched him jump up and down like he had just won the Showcase Showdown when Chris Snyder hit a homerun against the Rockies in Colorado. He’s not the kind of guy who tanks games for draft picks.
After interviewing Bo Porter, Jayne from What The Heck Bobby?, said “I dare one of these guys to tell Bo Porter to his face that the Astros are going to lose over 100 games in 2013.” He would rip their hearts out of their chest. Porter is a competitor. Porter oozes intensity and spits fire. Porter is looking to start his Astros career out with a bang. He’s looking to bust heads open. He doesn’t give a damn about draft picks. He doesn’t give a damn about who the best prospect in 2014 is.
This team is loaded with unproven players who are trying to make a name for themselves. They play a sport that doesn’t have much patience for losing. The heat is on. These guys understand that if they can’t produce at this level, they’re going back to the minor leagues… so they’re hungry to stay in the big leagues. They’re not interested in riding busses and staying at Red Roof Inns for the rest of their lives. They don’t give a damn about the draft picks either.
Bud Norris wants to win.
Lucas Harrell wants to win.
Brandon Barnes wants to win.
Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi want to win.
…and the Astros are acquiring players who are hungry and are committed to performing at a level that’ll keep them in big league uniforms for the long haul.
They aren’t making trades to get worse. They’re making trades to get better. And, with the Lowrie deal, I believe they got better for the 2013 season!
This is for our team’s good.
From a player development standpoint, getting your players into the habit of losing is counterproductive. If the Astros were to get the worst record in baseball, how would they accomplish that task? Chances are, they’ll need another cataclysmic wire-to-wire performance, a run of poor luck and a handful of disappointing players regressing, fizzling out or just-can’t-play-at-this-level. Disappointing. If the Astros lose over 100 games, Jose Altuve likely takes a step back. Perhaps Lucas Harrell shows us that his 2012 performance was a fluke, and he’s unable to replicate any kind of success in 2013. Maybe Bud Norris is the same Bud Norris that he was last year, and maybe J.D. Martinez will prove to us that he will never be able to hit Major League pitching. For 100 losses, it’ll likely be revealed that Jeff Luhnow got toasted in the Wilton Lopez and Jed Lowrie trades and completely missed on Philip Humber, Erik Bedard, Jose Veras and Rick Ankiel.
If the goal is getting back to respectability, this would not be a step in the right direction.
A lot of things have to blow up in the face of the Houston Astros for them to be the worst team in baseball… for the third year in a row – and, for people who are rooting for the first pick in the draft, this is what they’re rooting for. Directly or indirectly, what it boils down to is that they’re rooting for our team to fail miserably and they’re rooting for our team to be embarrassed… in front of a national audience… for the third year in a row.
Where is the fight? Where is the drive to succeed?
They don’t mind being the league’s laughingstock? They are not embarrassed to lose? Where is the shame?
They might as well be wearing a Rangers hat on Opening Day.
Not one single player is going to change the Astros organization. There isn’t a guy who is going to shift the balance of power. One guy isn’t going to be the difference between 100 losses and 100 wins. There isn’t a single player who is going to take the Astros to the World Series by himself. Carlos Correa can’t do it, the guy they draft this year can’t do it and neither can Carlos Rodon.
And who is to say that the first overall pick is going to be worth tanking for? The leader in the clubhouse is Carlos Rodon, but how can we be sure that he doesn’t turn out like Kris Benson or Bryan Bullington? The Twins were just a mere Altuve away from drafting Mark Prior. Prior was considered “the best college pitching prospect since Tom Seaver.” “We could have flipped a coin,” said Twins GM, Terry Ryan. Prior would have likely been the selection had his father not been so vocal about Mark not wanting to play for the Twins. So the Twins ended up selecting Joe Mauer, and the Cubs took Prior. Mauer ended up being a perennial All-Star and Prior’s shoulder looks like a plate of rotten spaghetti.
There are no sure bets in the draft.
The counterargument points to the Washington Nationals. There has been plenty of speculation that they tanked in order to draft Bryce Harper. While I haven’t heard any legitimate speculation that they tanked for Stephen Strasburg (who like Prior was highly regarded and like Prior has a history of arm trouble in his brief career), the speculation around Harper is being laid on pretty thick and has some real legs to it. However, I’ll point to two things out to those wanting the Astros to follow the Nationals strategy:
1.) The Nationals haven’t won jack. …ever.
2.) Teams picking at the top of the draft do not typically go on to win the World Series.
Since 1992, there are only three teams to win a World Series after having the first pick in the draft. And, only two of the first overall picks since 1992 have World Series rings.
The Marlins selected Adrian Gonzalez first overall fin 2000 and won the World Series in 2003. (Gonzalez’s contribution to the Marlins World Series victory was that he was traded for Ugueth Urbina in 2003. Gonzalez never suited up for the Fish.)
The Phillies selected Pat Burrell first overall in 1998 and won the World Series in 2008. (Pat Burrell hit .250 and had 33 homeruns for the 2008 Phillies, which turned out to be his last year in Philadelphia.)
The Angels selected Darin Erstad first overall in 1995 and won the World Series in 2002. (Erstad was a key contributor for the Angels when they won the World Series in 2002.)
It doesn’t take much time – go look at Baseball-Reference, check out the past first overall picks since the advent of the MLB draft, and you will notice that there is a direct correlation between who is picking first overall and how these teams typically perform year in and year out. Teams with winning traditions, with World Series rings, do not typically pick first overall… and, when they do pick first overall, it is once and then they’re making efforts to compete again.
…and they do compete again.
…meanwhile, many Astros fans are hoping that Luhnow Claus slides down the chimney and places “the worst record in baseball” designation under our Christmas trees… even though we got the same crap last year and the year before that.
For our team’s good?
It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Winning requires a team effort. The Astros standard of winning, their standard of success, requires a collaborative effort between every single aspect of the organization – from Jim Crane down to Jeff Luhnow to Jose Altuve to Mike Fast, to the announcers, accountants, the Director of Butterfingers and Kit Kat Sciences, tour guides, hobo saxophone players, Orbit, grounds crew and anyone else who sees an Astros logo on their paycheck. And, while there are many different ways to skin a cat, to build a winning baseball organization, the equation is not very complicated - the Astros are going to have to make smart, savvy business decisions, and they’re going to have to continue to put an emphasis on player development.
They must field a team worth watching.
The people rooting for the first pick need to decide how they feel about Jeff Luhnow and the direction of this organization. If you’re rooting for the Astros to get the first pick, that seems like a pretty serious indictment on how you feel about Luhnow’s abilities and qualifications. They need to determine whether or not Luhnow is competent, qualified and capable of constructing a winning organization without having to rely on the first pick in the draft. Does Luhnow need the first pick in the draft every year? For our team’s good? From what I’ve seen, Jeff Luhnow is a very intelligent baseball man and I am convinced that he can operate this franchise in a fashion to which they can win at the big league level while making draft selections in any slot, any position and any round that will greatly benefit the long term success of the Houston Astros. Teams can win and reload at the same time - the Astros shouldn’t have to choose one over the other.
The Astros are not the worst team in baseball. And they’re going to prove it.
Bo Porter will prove it.
Jose Altuve will prove it.
Lucas Harrell will prove it.
Jeff Luhnow, Kevin Goldstein, Sig Mejdal, Mike Fast, Stephanie Wilka and Oz Ocampo will prove it.
For our team’s good.
Our team is good.
The void is almost over and, like a bunch of school kids; we’re clinching the sides of our desks and waiting for the bell to ring. We’re ready for the season to start. We’re ready for the Astros to get back to their winning ways. We’re ready to run down those halls, bust out of those double doors and into our freedom.
Green, sunny, sunflower-spittin’, Baseball Christmas.
Promote the new idea of Astros-elitismTM
Think about it guys….aren’t we all tired of being “picked on” as Astros fans? What better way to shiny up the old Chevy than with a fresh new coat of AL-DH paint? We can be the Aggies of the MLB. I mean, truth be told, the AL is like the SEC of baseball, right? Talk to any East or West coast AL-only snob and you get some form of, “Oh how nice….you guys still let the pitcher hit? Bet you enjoy reading your newspaper every morning and finding this restaurant with a little help from your key maps… let me guess? You prefer your sitcoms the classy way… where the Mom and Dad sleep in two different bedrooms, right?” (It’s going to be so awesome to drop some AL-only, holier than thou, SEC-type vernacular on Cards and Cubs fan now!)
I mean…..the AL is the league of Hollywood guys. Do you see any awesome flicks based on the Brewers or the Braves? NO! Yet the vaunted Red Sox got a Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore rom-com and the Moneyball A’s got an Oscar contending Brad Pitt/Phillip Seymour Hoffman drama (Wait a minute… maybe being a mediocre AL West team IS actually “where it’s at”). I’m just saying guys, welcome to the era where hitting the town in your Astros gear means being treated to superior AL-only dinner parties, Hollywood mixers, and “Designated Hitter” swinger invites.
The NL gets Mr. 3000.
Hold on Stephen… I thought you and other Astros fans have been complaining about the late West Coast start times for months now?
True, but let’s just say this Astros fan is starting to rethink things a bit… see, I’m in the same boat maybe many of you are in right now - the S.S. Parenthood. This of course means fewer trips to live sporting events, less pressure from parents to procreate, and less ability to sit down quietly at 7:05 and enjoy the sweet intricacies of America’s pastime. I can’t lie….I’m starting to think it sounds pretty sweet to be able to sit down at 9:05 for my usual first minutes of living room silence (usually with a jar of peanut butter and some form of chocolate) and flipping on CSNHouston (yep - I’ll be one of the 3 people watching live games this year!) and finding out Lucas Harrell hasn’t even fired his first pitch on the way to another shutout! Sure, my kids will be missing out on a few years of AstrodoctrinationTM, BUT how cool of a Dad will I be in a few short years when I let them stay up with Dad on a school night (for a small peanut butter tax) as long as the Astros keep it within 10 runs (come on you NL’ers…..with the DH you’re never out of it. SUPERIOR GAME! Get with the times!)?????
Separate the REAL Fans
Oh you thought it used to be easy to identify the wayward souls during a Cubs or Cardinals series? PLEASE….I’ve been to MMP for Red Sox, Rangers, AND Yankees……just wait till you see the AL “die-hards” infiltrate the juice box. My personal favorite is “Guy who wears one team’s jersey but the other team’s hat”. You know what I mean, he’s got his brand new orange-billed Astros hat perfectly accentuated by a Derek Jeter pinstriped #2 (I’d like to personally take a “#2” on his wardrobe). Get on board now or get off, because we won’t be letting anyone who owns Red Sox, Yankees, or Rangers gear into the mob in 2025 after we beat Milwaukee in the WS and angrily head to Mordor to desecrate the grave of Bud Selig.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have some NL friends to demean and laugh condescendingly at…
We have about two days until we find out whether Jeff Bagwell will FINALLY punch his ticket to Cooperstown. Although, some are already preparing for the worst, I hold out a little hope that logic rules the day and Bagwell finds a way to sneak in. Meanwhile, baseless PED talks surrounding Bagwell are becoming more and more prevalent. A few weeks ago, Jeff Pearlman, who has been adamant about Bagwell’s guilt, asked me to write a piece for his blog defending Bagwell.
Here’s the link
I recommend visit the link and making a comment or two. Make a point about Jeff Bagwell. Argue. Fight.
Defend Jeff Bagwell.
THE BLINDERS OF FOOLS: A DEFENSE OF JEFF BAGWELL
Jeff Pearlman would have had an extremely difficult time finding a worse person to defend Jeff Bagwell. First off, I’m not a writer and I have a very difficult time putting my thoughts into words without employing a barrage of obscenities or insults. I lack a degree of eloquence and the ability to have a disagreement without shattering a vase or slamming a door shut. Secondly, I’m a diehard Astros fan. And, as a result, I’m a diehard Jeff Bagwell fan. Jeff Bagwell’s rookie season coincided with my “baseball awakening.” Bagwell played a huge role in my becoming a baseball fan—and, more important, an Astros fan. In Little League, much to my father’s chagrin, I (regrettably) imitated Bagwell’s awkward batting stance and tucked my pant legs into my high top Nike cleats.
Jeff Pearlman is aware that I am an Astros fan. He’s aware that I’m a Jeff Bagwell fan. He’s aware that I think Bagwell was clean. So, yeah, full disclosure: I have a dog in the fight.
But Jeff Pearlman still invited me to contribute without condition.
So, here I am (On a side note, I would like to express my gratitude to Jeff Pearlman for this forum to express my thoughts. Although I vehemently disagree with Pearlman on Bagwell, I appreciate the opportunity that he afforded me to allow me post my opinions here).
On statistics alone, we should all agree that there is absolutely no reasonable argument that can be made denying Bagwell’s entry into the Hall of Fame. That’s a given. Love him or hate him, his statistics prove that he was one of the premier first basemen during his era and one of the best first basemen of all time—but we’re not debating his eligibility based on his statistics. What has kept Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame is a growing suspicion that his herculean numbers are a direct result of steroid use.
Steroids? I’m not buying it.
To date, I cannot recall any evidence being presented suggesting Jeff Bagwell took steroids. I cannot recall a single person coming forward to out Jeff Bagwell. I haven’t heard of any dirty needles that were located. I haven’t seen any copies of checks or receipts of purchase. I didn’t even see Jeff Bagwell’s name on the Mitchell Report.
Despite two decades of opportunity, there has been no legitimate or credible substantiation of allegations of PED use by Jeff Bagwell.
Bagwell retired in 2006 and thus became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2011. The townspeople who are trying to burn Goody Bagwell at the stake have had ample time to present a case against Bagwell, and they’ve come up with nothing. No evidence.
How many more rocks need to be turned? How many more “look at how big he got over the years” conversations must we have? How many conversations have to start with, “I have no proof, but …”
I could understand the argument against Bagwell had someone—anyone—come forward and said they knew of Bagwell juicing. I could understand the argument if Bagwell was named in the Mitchell Report—but there’s nothing there. There isn’t any evidence.
“But, there was a huge intricate cover-up involving every single person who ever came in contact with Jeff Bagwell while he was juicing.” Let’s be realistic—we’re giving baseball players entirely too much credit. These guys aren’t exactly the Gambino crime family. I have a Twitter account, and I can come up with hundreds of examples, almost daily, of athletes blabbing information that is against their own best interests. I have a hard time believing that Jeff Bagwell took steroids and no one said a single word. …not a single word.
Players talk. We’ve had a host of do-gooder whistleblowers and a parade of unenlightened bonehead scumbags point fingers at every Tom, Dick and Harry under the sun … except no one has pointed at Jeff Bagwell.
Pearlman called the Astros clubhouse “crawling with PED”—yet, for some inexplicable reason, no one could find any evidence to nail the franchise’s most popular player. They couldn’t find an ounce of evidence to make an example out of Bagwell as none of the supposed legitimate concrete evidence ever “crawled” its way out the door. There isn’t even enough credible evidence to warrant speculation.
Actually, a former athlete has spoken up in regards to Jeff Bagwell’s supposed steroid use. In Bagwell’s defense, former teammate Morgan Ensberg Tweeted, “I think he’s clean. No one has accused him, either.” Here’s another example of Ensberg defending Bagwell.
Jeff Bagwell played his last full season of baseball in 2004. Through severe shoulder pain, Bagwell mustered up 123 plate appearances in 2005, including taking a few agonizing cuts in his only World Series appearance. He was 36 in 2005—which, by today’s standards, means he would have likely had a few more years of sticking around and earning a Big League paycheck. Instead, he officially retired in 2006. It seems to me that a ‘roiding Bagwell would have gone the Andy Pettitte route and loaded himself full of juice in hopes of healing his shoulder, prolonging his career and not having to go Ol’ Yeller on his aspirations of hitting his 500thjack.
At 36, his declined productivity and eventual retirement, is on par with many pre-steroid era Hall of Famers. It isn’t as if Bagwell was in the prime of his career as he was pushing 40.
And I’m not sure why Jeff Bagwell is under suspicion while the public allows others to slide. What exactly dictates who is and who isn’t under investigation? We let guys like Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin in, and we’re not 100 percent sure what drugs they did or didn’t take while they played. I’ll be really interested to see how this affects Derek Jeter’s candidacy once he retires and becomes Hall of Fame eligible. Derek Jeter has played with admitted users like Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Jim Leyritz, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. Jeter has played with several guys on the Mitchell Report. Jeter is 38 and coming off one of the best seasons of his career—how is he above suspicion if we’re using the same cockamamie line of reasoning to crucify Jeff Bagwell?
For the record, I don’t believe Derek Jeter, Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar or Barry Larkin used steroids—but, if we’re convicting Bagwell without evidence, we should at least entertain the possibility that Jeter used too, right?
And what about Albert Pujols? Or John Smoltz? Or Randy Johnson? Are they guilty, too?
Without any evidence, we have to either convict them all or not convict any of them.
We cannot go around convicting folks of something without a single morsel of evidence—there isn’t even any reasonable speculation. I would rather be proven wrong by voting for Jeff Bagwell and finding out he used than not to vote for Bagwell and find out that he didn’t. Essentially, we’re left looking for evidence that we’re not sure even exists to convict someone of something we’re not even sure they did.
… and nothing is uncovered.
… and time marches on.
From the sidelines, it is one cheap potshot after another. Everyone has an opinion but no one can or is willing to provide anything to back it up. It should make any reasonable person’s brain hurt.
Pearlman accused me of wearing “the blinders of fools” because I insist on Bagwell’s innocence. But if I go along with his line of reasoning, wouldn’t I be blindly following Pearlman because he hasn’t provided any legitimate evidence proving Bagwell’s guilt?
“The blinders of fools”? I’m not sure what that even means.
I will proudly wear “the blinders of fools” if that means that I don’t have to run someone’s name through the mud without having any evidence—but we have to assume that unless Pearlman is withholding “the dirty needle,” then, he too, is wearing “the blinders of fools.”
Houston is easy to pick on—I get it. We’re overlooked when it comes time for the Super Bowl, our basketball titles came in Jordan-less years and we even got passed over when the government doled out the space shuttles … even though we’re Space City. We’re used to it. As an Astros fan, my team has had two consecutive 100-loss seasons and is going through a very unpopular demotion into the junior circuit. Rival newspaper rags cleverly declare “Houston, You Have A Problem” as the losses mount. And things are looking worse for 2013. We’re used to it.
That being said, there is not a doubt in my mind that most of the suspicion surrounding Jeff Bagwell is a result of him being a member of the Houston Astros—a city and an organization that the rest of the country really doesn’t give a damn about. If Bagwell played for the Yankees, he would have already been enshrined. But Bagwell played for the Astros. Picking on Houston and picking on Jeff Bagwell is the easiest route and a lot of credible people with plenty of sway are using Bagwell and these unfounded/disrespectful steroid allegations as a platform to make themselves larger than the game they cover. They’re trying to make an example, and Jeff Bagwell is in the wrong place at the wrong time—and that is a damn shame. And, all the while, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is wrestling with its legitimacy—not because of steroids, but because of a collection of witch-hunting sportswriters who would rather see their own names in their own newspapers than perform a job they were entrusted to do.
This isn’t about selling books or keeping the newspaper industry alive—this is about writers irresponsibly wiping their holier-than-thou butts with another man’s legacy for the simple fact that they can, and no one is stopping them from doing it. They have the right and they have the platform—and our only defense is to choose not to read it.
If we find out that Bagwell is guilty and Pearlman is right, then let’s grill Bagwell’s ass. Let’s run him through town and tar and feather his ‘roiding ass. I will be the first person in line because I’ve come to his defense more times than I care to mention, and, God, I hate looking foolish.
I defend Bagwell because I believe him. And if it turns out that Bagwell is screwing me, then to hell with him.
I believe Jeff Bagwell.
I realize my arguments are stale. You can Google “Jeff Bagwell Steroids” and find 20 different articles written by twenty different authors who are making the same tired old argument that I’m making right now. This isn’t breaking news. I’m not saying anything new or enlightening—but neither is the counterargument. We’re playing tug-o-war with the truth and no one seems to want to budge. We’re at an impasse.
So it is time for those who are accusing Bagwell to step forward and reveal what they know. This has become an exercise in futility, and, as cliché as it sounds, it is time to put up or shut up. If you’re going to say that Bagwell used, you must provide evidence. M-U-S-T. Writers are making these types of accusations without stating any facts whatsoever or providing any evidence whatsoever and then rolling their eyes at the rest of us because some people choose not to take their word as gospel. These are serious allegations and no one cares to elaborate any further on “trust me, he did it.” … and I am the one wearing “the blinders of fools” because I require a little more than that? If writers are going to say something that trashes someone’s legacy, they should say what they know and stick their name to it—there isn’t any other acceptable way to do it. Period. They should attach their legacy to it. There has been plenty of time, more than enough, to develop any sort of case against Jeff Bagwell, and no one has come forward with any reasonable evidence.
And, until someone does, we have to assume that Jeff Bagwell was clean.