Over the last few weeks, I have read or listened to Astros fans talk about how the team has given up and how the front office does not care at all what the fans think by trading away the best players we have. I want to try and let these fans, and everyone else know that now is the time to be a true Houston Astros fan.
For any other fan like me, who grew up watching the NL Central winning Astros teams of the late ‘90s and then the back to back appearances in the National League Championship Series in 2004 and 2005, it is not easy to see your team constantly labeled as the worst team in the league, with the worst future. But as hard as it is to admit, we are hands down the worst team in baseball right now.
We knew this day was coming, or at least should have. For the last decade, the Astros have been one of, if not the worst team in all of baseball about signing their high round draft picks and trading away prospects for average major league talent. Ownership did not want to dedicate the time and money in to the farm system that was necessary to keep the talent level there. The best example of this is 2007, where the Astros lost their first round pick for signing Carlos Lee, a type-A free agent, the second round pick for signing an aging starting pitcher in Woody Williams and then neglected to sign either of the top two picks we did make.
No teams top draft pick signing should be a player taken in the fifth round, you just cannot expect to develop talent that way. The other big problem the Astros had in the draft was only drafting players with “sign-ability” meaning only take guys who we know we can sign and for as little money as possible, something that small market teams are forced to do instead of taking a Scott Boras client that they know is going to ask for big money. Drafting like this over the years has caused the Astros to draft a guy like Jason Castro, (who don’t get me wrong, has shown that he may be a decent major league catcher) with the tenth overall pick in the 2008 draft when many scouts said that he was second round talent instead of going after Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace, Brett Lawrie, or Ike Davis for fear that they would ask for more money than we wanted to give.
Now back to free agents. Drayton McLane loved to show the fans that he was trying to build a winner by throwing large amounts of money at players because he believed we were just “one step away” from making the playoffs again. One of two things could have been going on there.
1. Drayton actually believed that Pudge Rodriguez or Brandon Lyon were the missing pieces that the Astros needed to get back in contention.
2. Drayton was simply a business man selling his product. Honestly, I think it was a little of both. Over the last few seasons, we have made numerous signings that raised eyebrows all over baseball (Russ Ortiz, Woody Williams, Pedro Feliz) and plenty of trades (Clint Barmes, Matt Lindstrom, Miguel Tejada) and the fans were told that these were good deals and most fans believed it because we were getting players we had heard of for prospects, which are players that the run of the mill fan, did not know, nor care about.
The main reason I believe these deals were made though was Drayton knew we were not any good so he figured that if he paid free agents a lot of money, fans would think we were right back in it. Over the years, Drayton became a baseball fan but still always operated the team as a business, because let’s face it, that’s what he was, a business man. (My favorite example of this was during Drayton’s first front office meeting after buying the team; he told everyone that he expected the Astros to win 120 games that year. He just did not know the game.) And now that the business is in a downturn, he’s selling it to Jim Crane. Great news for Astros fans.
Jim Crane is a business man, just a McLane is, and the only difference is Crane is a fan as well. He is not in this just to make money. He wants to win because at heart, he is just like all of us, desperate to see the Astros back at the top where we belong. With this however, comes change.
When the Astros first traded away their best player, Hunter Pence, the cries out outrage could be heard all over town, and then to add even more salt in the wound, we also traded away Michael Bourn. On several occasions I heard, “We just traded our two best players how are we supposed to win?” and my response was, “we had the worst record in the league with them, so obviously they were not enough”. As much as I loved watching Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, I was one of the few fans hoping they would be traded, not because I did not want them anymore, but because I knew it would be best for the team.
Hunter is due a raise at the end of this season and then again after next season so his next two years of service would have cost the Astros around $23 million. Being that he is still player under his rookie contract, he is still under team control for this season and the next two, thus increasing his value to other teams. Had we waited any longer, there is no way what the Philadelphia Phillies, or any other team for that matter, would have given up their best hitting and pitching prospect. According to Baseball America, the players the Astros received in the two deals are now ranked 1, 2, 5, 6, and 9 respectively in the organizational rankings, and that does not include Jordan Schafer who will take over the everyday job in center field when he returns from the disabled list. Schafer is basically a lesser Michael Bourn, who just two seasons ago was the number one rated player in a deep Atlanta Braves system.
I know most fans are upset with the “no-name” team we have new and I have heard us called a Triple-A team on several occasions, but I am excited to watch these young guys grow. J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve, Jordan Lyles, Bud Norris, and Jimmy Paredes are here to stay. How can you not be excited about this? The Astros were losing anyway, so why not make it interesting. With the exception of Norris, who is only 26, the rest are all 23 years old or younger with Lyles being the youngest player in all of the Major Leagues right now.
A projected 2014 Houston Astros roster.
C. Jason Castro
1B. Jonathan Singleton
2B. Jose Altuve
3B. Jimmy Paredes
SS. Jonathan Villar
LF. J.D. Martinez
CF. Delino DeShields Jr.
RF. George Springer
BN. Chris Wallace
BN. Brett Wallace
BN. Jordan Schafer
BN. Brian Bogusevic
BN. Jason Bourgeois
SP. Bud Norris
SP. Jordan Lyles
SP. Jarred Cosart
SP. Dallas Keuchel
SP. Paul Clemens
CP. Mark Melancon
RP. Brett Oberholtzer
RP. Josh Zied
RP. David Carpenter
RP. Aneury Rodriguez
RP. Wilton Lopez
RP. Henry Sosa
It’s a long way off, but it is fun to think about. It is going to be an interesting and fun few years for Astros fans, so go ahead and jump of the bandwagon now, don’t just be a front-runner and wait until we make it back to our next World Series.