The past couple of years, the Houston Astros have been an organization that would be classified as rebuilding. The Astros represented the National League in the 2005 World Series, and the only player remaining from that team is Wandy Rodriguez. The team has almost completely overhauled their roster within six years.
Some have questioned the direction of the organization and if the Astros are really heading in the right direction. The team is dedicated to this rebuilding process, and while the move from worst to first will take some time, these are 10 ways they can speed up the process.
Drayton McLane agreed to sell the Astros to local businessman Jim Crane back in May. We just turned the calender to September, and Crane still has not been approved by MLB as the new owner.
So why the hold up?
Crane has a bit of a controversial past, and I am sure MLB is doing their due diligence on his background.
However, the Astros can't truly begin the rebuilding process until Crane is named the new owner.
I am sure Crane will evaluate the Astros organization from top to bottom, and I expect to see some changes, particularly in the front office. The sooner the deal is approved, the quicker the Astros can truly begin rebuilding.
Carlos Lee is eating up a huge chunk of the Astros' payroll, making $18 million this year and next. Not to mention he no longer has the ability to play left field and is taking away valuable playing time from some of the younger prospects (like Brett Wallace).
Now, Wallace struggled this year, but I think he needs the major league experience to develop into the player some people envision for him.
What better time to have him go through the struggles when the team is not in contention?
The sooner Lee comes off the books, the better.
Two years ago, the Astros traded away Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, which at the time was thought of as a good move since both players were on the downsides of their careers. Whenever the Astros would be competitive again, they probably wouldn't have been able to contribute like they did in their primes.
This year the Astros traded Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, who I think are still young enough in their careers to be key pieces for a competitive Houston team in the future. The trades did bring back some good prospects, and I understand the need to rebuild the farm system, but trading for prospects is always risky.
Time will tell if this was a good move for the Astros.
The Astros have called up a number of prospects this season, including some players who have never played higher than Double-A. This includes second baseman Jose Altuve and outfielder JD Martinez, and the early results have been pretty good.
The Astros need to continue this trend of evaluating their farm system and getting prospects playing time at the major league level. This will allow the prospects to go through growing pains now while the team is struggling.
Hopefully when the team is competing, the prospects will have worked out their struggles and be playing at a high level.
George Springer was the Astros' first round pick this season, and all indications are the Astros got a pretty good player. The stakes will be much higher next season when Houston will most likely have the No. 1 overall pick.
Having the first overall pick is never a guarantee that your team will get a superstar, but not getting a top player can extend the rebuilding process.
The quickest way to becoming competitive is having a strong starting rotation, and the Astros have the potential pieces for a top rotation in baseball. Jordan Lyles and Bud Norris have already shown flashes of being capable as top-of-the-order pitchers, and the organization can build around them.
J.A. Happ has struggled a bit this year, but has come back strong from his demotion to Triple-A, giving up only one earned run over two starts. Henry Sosa is another young pitcher who struggled a bit to start his career, giving up 12 runs over three starts, but has given up only two earned runs the past two starts.
The Astros have already shown indications that they want to win with pitching, adding a number of pitching prospects in their trades this season.
The bullpen has been pretty awful this season.
The Astros are third in the majors in blown saves with 23 and are dead last in save percentage at 48 percent. If Houston is going to build its team around pitching, they will need a strong bullpen to back them up.
They do have some talent in the bullpen with Mark Melancon, Wilton Lopez and David Carpenter, but they will not be able to do it on their own.
Here is a tough stat for Astros fans to see, but if the team was able to secure 75 percent of their save opportunities—which would rank them eighth this year in the majors—the Astros would currently have a record of 80-61.
If the Astros are going to win with pitching, they will need to learn how to manufacture runs.
The easiest way to do that is to find a speedy player who hits for a high average and can get into scoring position at the top of the order.
The Astros had this in Michael Bourn, but heading into next season it looks like it will be a two-way race between Jordan Schafer and Jason Bourgeois to fill Bourn's shoes, with George Springer as a long shot.
Schafer has played very strongly since coming over to the Astros, hitting .311 in his first 12 games, and if he is able to come close to that pace over the next few years, it will definitely help the offense and speed up the rebuilding process for the Astros.
I am sure fans would love to see the Astros go out and sign the top-name free agents, like Prince Fielder, this offseason.
Unfortunately, this is not how the team does business, and Jim Crane has already shot down that idea.
That doesn't mean the team can't use free agents to speed up the process, but they do need to be smart about who they sign. Over the past few years, Houston has signed older veterans, such as Pedro Feliz and Brett Myers, to try and fill spots, which hasn't really worked out.
The team should not try to use free agents to fill major holes in the team, but as a way to fill minor holes that can't be filled by the farm system.
The worst thing an organization can do during a rebuilding process is constantly change their plan. When Jim Crane comes in and adds the management personnel that he does, they need to sit down and construct a plan to build a winner.
The Astros will need to stick with this plan and not change course at the first sign of trouble. If they constantly change the plan, they will just extend the rebuilding process.
Now, I am not advocating that if they have a plan that isn't working to stick with it, because that does not help the organization. They do need to make sure they give whatever they come up with ample time to develop so they can adequately evaluate the success of it.