Houston Astros: GM Blueprint of How to Build a Winner by 2015
Every sports fan at one time or another questions the moves by their team's GM and thinks they can do a better job. Over the past few seasons many have questioned the moves of former Houston Astros GM Ed Wade, who traded away Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn.
That is the past and there has been tremendous turnover the past few months. Jim Crane is the new owner, who hired almost a completely new front office. One of the key pieces is Jeff Luhnow, who is the new GM, coming over from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Starting a new job can be tough with a lot going on, so I am here to offer Mr. Luhnow some advice on how to turn the Astros into a winner by 2015.
Plan for the Move to the AL
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As great as it would be for the Astros to leave the National League on top there really isn't much of a chance for that. The team should be building and planning for their move to the American League in 2013.
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One constant for World Series-winning teams is a strong manager presence. Over the past decade managers like Tony LaRussa, Terry Francona, Bruce Bochy and Ozzie Guillen have led their teams to titles.
The Astros need to evaluate Brad Mills and see if he can reach that level and if they don't feel he can they need to make a change sooner rather than later. Mills did a great job his first year in keeping the Astros competitive after the Berkman and Oswalt trades.
Entering 2011, many hoped that the team could build on the strong finish and continue to show improvements. That wasn't the case and many times the team, as well as Mills, looked lost.
My opinion, I think Mills has the abilities to be one of the top managers in the league as he was the bench coach for Terry Francona for five years, winning the World Series twice.
Strong Farm System
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One thing that Ed Wade did in his tenure was raise the worst farm system in the majors to a respectable level. In 2007, Baseball America published the Astros' top prospects in this article and looking it over, Hunter Pence is the only one who has developed.
The article also stated:
Houston was Baseball America's Organization of the Year in 2001, when we ranked their minor league talent the third-best in the game. The Astros system hasn't rated higher than 20th since.
I don't think it is a coincidence that when they had a strong farm system they were annually competing for the NL Central crown. For the Astros to be competitive in 2015, they need to get back to committing to their farm system.
Keep Promising Players
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A strong farm system doesn't do a team any good if they keep trading away top talent. The Astros received decent talent last year for Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn but they are both young enough that they would be at or near the top of their game by the time the Astros were competitive again.
Other than the Yankees and the Red Sox, teams are competitive because of a strong farm system and bringing along and keeping their talented players. The Astros are at a point where they have a farm system with quality pieces and need to build on them instead of trading for more prospects.
Get the First Pick Right in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft
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Unlike other sports, like football or basketball, it is much harder to make the right pick when you have the top pick in the draft in baseball. In any draft, teams are doing what I call "educated guessing" when drafting because there are so many variables that come into play that are outside a player's control.
All teams can do is scout, evaluate and hope their forecast three to four years down the road is right. The problem, or unlucky situation, the Astros have with the first overall pick is that there is no clear-cut top prospect like in years past.
Zachary Ball of Bleacher Report put together a mock draft last month, which can be seen here, and has the Astros taking RHP Mark Appel. This is probably who my pick would be for the Astros but for them to be a winner in 2015, this pick will need to make a huge contribution.
Focus on Pitching
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With the move to the American League, the Astros will be facing tougher batting lineups with the addition of a DH and pitchers no longer hitting. The Astros will need to put together a formidable rotation to compete with this.
They do have some young arms in Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles, and if Mark Appel can form into that ace that some see, the foundation is there for a solid rotation. The Astros have brought in a number of pitching prospects the past two seasons who could round out the five.
Get Jonathan Singelton Ready for 2013
Jonathan Singleton was one of the key pieces to come over in the Hunter Pence trade and looks like he fell into the perfect situation. He can hit for average and power and does both very well, but his fielding leaves something to be desired.
Unless Carlos Lee is moved this year, I don't expect to see Singleton with the Astros this season because he really can only play first base. In 2013, when they have the DH position to fill, Singleton will be the perfect fit and can rotate between first and DH.
Find a Superstar
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The Astros need to find that player who other teams need to game-plan for. In years past the Astros have found those superstars in their system—Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio—or gone outside the organization—Roger Clemens and Carlos Beltran.
Either way the Astros need to find that player. Some players have the potential to be that, with Jonathan Singleton and George Springer coming to mind. However, if the organization evaluates them and see they are not going to be that type of player they need to go out and get that superstar on the free-agent market, bringing me to my next point.
Open the Checkbook
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The Astros have been in cost-cutting mode for a few years now, mainly to make the organization more attractive to prospective buyers. They went out and signed veterans on the downside of their careers like Brett Myers and Pedro Feliz to fill spots instead of bringing in pieces to build towards the future.
That part is now over with Jim Crane taking over the organization and it is time to start being a player in free agency. The Astros will never be the Yankees or Red Sox of the world, but being in one of the larger markets in the MLB, they can start to spend some money.
I think Prince Fielder would have been a perfect fit for the Astros as he is still young and in the prime of his career. He could have given the organization an identity and wouldn't hurt the Astros towards the end of his contract because he could move to DH.
The Pieces Are There for a Winner
If the Astros add one or two key veterans like they did in 2004, adding Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, the pieces are there for a playoff-caliber team in 2015. A lineup consisting of George Springer, a five-tool player, power-hitter Jonathan Singleton, second baseman Jose Altuve and outfielder J.D. Martinez should cause problems for opposing pitchers.
The rotation would consist of Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, potentially Mark Appel, Jarred Cosart and spending for an ace if one of these pitchers doesn't develop into one. The building blocks are there for a quality team in the future and while Ed Wade didn't have immediate success on the field, he left the organization in a better place than where he found it.