The Astros: Out of Their League?

The Houston Astros take on a new season in a tough division with things all-new — uniforms, owner, manager, team and rules — not to mention a new/old mascot. And road trips to Dallas.

The Astros: Out of Their League?
Jeff Myers

"We feel this is very appropriate. Ed Wade is an outstanding baseball man. He's organized and has surrounded himself with a good, solid staff. Much of the work Ed did in Philadelphia had a lot to do with them becoming a champion. We feel he has us moving in the right direction to be a champion as well." — Drayton McLane, February 20, 2010

That was only three years ago.

Rewind to spring training 2010. Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were the Astros' veteran cornerstones, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn were the Astros' future and Drayton McLane was the Astros' owner, choking daily on Carlos Lee's $100 million contract (as Lee himself was undoubtedly choking on a triple bacon cheeseburger).

Teams with the highest three-season loss totals in baseball history. Click to enlarge chart.
Teams with the highest three-season loss totals in baseball history. Click to enlarge chart.
BRETT WALLACE
1B
Age: 26
MLB Exp: Three years
Strength: Lively bat, potential “plus” hitter
Weakness: Glove made of concrete
Random Fact: Baseball pants double as a circus tent
Courtesy of the Houston Astros
BRETT WALLACE 1B Age: 26 MLB Exp: Three years Strength: Lively bat, potential “plus” hitter Weakness: Glove made of concrete Random Fact: Baseball pants double as a circus tent

The farm system was scorched earth. Washed-up veterans like Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz and Pedro Feliz were sold to the fan base as viable solutions to gaping holes in the roster. And inevitably, right about this time every year, McLane would step up to a microphone, spew the word "champion" about a hundred times and convince himself (if nobody else) that it was all gonna be all right.

It was futility personified, probably even more futile than the Astros' situation in 2013 in that there really was no long-term plan for this team back in 2010. By the time McLane later announced his intention to sell the team, in November 2010, fans were ready for the next era of Astros baseball, sight unseen.

Despite the downward spiral at the end of the McLane Era, though, in so many ways 2010 was a much simpler time to be an Astros fan. The devil you know and all.

That all changed on November 17, 2011.

That's the date that Jim Crane's $610 million purchase of your Houston Astros was approved by Major League Baseball. As part of the deal, Crane acquiesced to the wishes of Bud Selig and volunteered to make the Astros mathematics's sacrificial lamb, moving the team to the American League beginning with the 2013 season, ostensibly to even out the numbers and give each league 15 teams grouped nicely and neatly into three five-team divisions.

Almost immediately, the dilapidated house that was the Astros organization — run down by years of the Band-Aid repair work (every veteran short-timer signed in 2009 and 2010), poor decorative decisions (Carlos Lee's bloated contract) and neglect (the entire minor league system) that were staples of the McLane Era — turned into a complete tear-down.

Old-school baseball "good ol' boy" Ed Wade was promptly replaced as general manager by sabermetric brainiac Jeff Luhnow. The scouting department was revamped, New Age evaluation principles were embraced and titles like "Director of Decision Sciences" were created. Eventually manager Brad Mills was swallowed whole by the new regime and replaced with fiery 40-year-old Bo Porter.

And the roster? It was gutted, necessarily so, to the extent that by the end of the 2012 season, even the most diehard Astros fans would have had trouble recognizing the faces in the starting lineup.

Indeed, much like home buyers overspending on a modest house in the Heights just so they can tear it down and build something much nicer and more extravagant on the lot, Crane was able to purchase the patch of dirt that is the Astros for $610 million and demolish the existing home into a "$25 million payroll" pile of baseball rubble.

Now comes the reconstruction, and it's here where the story of the Astros in 2013 begins, at some nexus of the baseball universe where blind faith and undying patience meet hours of therapy.

With new uniforms, a bunch of new players, a new manager and a new league, if it feels to you as if this Astros team is an expansion team, you're not alone. They may as well be. Unfortunately, the Astros are projected by most experts to unwittingly embrace the "expansion" feel of the franchise by approaching a level of futility normally reserved for brand-spanking-new ballclubs.

In fact, after going the entire first 50 years of their existence without a 100-loss season, the Astros put up 106 and 107 losses in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Only five other franchises on seven other occasions have lost as many games in two consecutive years.

The expansion New York Mets did it in each two-year period from 1962 to 1965. By the end of 2014, the Astros could match that.

If you're looking for some historical perspective on what the 2013 Astros are "chasing," the chart to the right lists the teams with the highest three-season loss totals in baseball ­history.

To simplify, the Astros need 59 wins in 2013 to stay off of this list of the top ten most futile teams over a given three-year period. Coincidentally, sports books in Las Vegas have posted the Astros' season-win total at 59 on the season.

Bigger than the story of the Astros' trying to win 59 games in 2013 is the exponential degree to which the difficulty of doing so has been augmented by their move to the American League.

Much has been written and discussed about Astros fans' angst over the move to the AL. Gone are the "rivalries" with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, which frankly were steeped more in a few division title races and, in the case of the Cardinals, a couple of postseason series than in any sort of historical or geographic logic. Except on the rare occasions when the Astros play in a National League ballpark, gone are the days of watching pitchers bat.

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11 comments
adam545
adam545

Hate the AL.  Goodbye and good riddance.

kejo66
kejo66

So far this owner gets an F, I'm happy he's building up the farm/future, but that's like saying I pay my child support.

In the meantime he has completely screwed his most important customers, the season ticket holders.  

When the Rockets realized in 2011-2012 they weren't getting Superman or another "superstar" (Pre-Harden), they sent huge incentives to their season ticket holders, including rocket cash, big discounts on gear, and dozens of extra tickets to games, among other perks. 

Now we have the perks and a superstar, but that's another story...

This Jackhole among other screwups  has raised prices for premium games, as if there was any demand at all or such a thing as a premium game right now, and basically ran us Seasoners off after 18 years by telling us that if we don't have $10 mil then we don't matter.

(Yes I'll be back because it's MY TEAM you ungracious jerk Mr Crane, not your's, but in the meantime I'll be stubhubbing $5 seats if I decide to go at all-- and I'll keep my gear and beer purchases down just to spite you)

PS Seany

 If you like the DH then not only does that ruin every ounce of cred you had but we should advocate changing the rules to have 9 fielders and 9 DH hitters, Why not? I hate seeing slappys hit....also we should change the rules of chess where the horsey gets to move like a queen. 


H Newcomb
H Newcomb

There is no such team anymore. Houston is a National League town.

NewsDog
NewsDog

You like the DH?

You are entitled to your opinion… no matter how wrong it is.

The pitcher is not an automatic out, some hit rather well, Carlos Zambrano comes to mind. And, since MLB is trying to get away from roidball the DH is proving less needed and thus the AL has been playing more small ball lately, long an NL strategy. 

When I become commissioner of Baseball (a serious hallucination, not a fantasy) the first thing I’m going to do is get rid of the DH, followed by the balk as a close second.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Again who cares when >60% of Houston can't even watch the games, thanks to Conca$h and the hometown team's greed (Astros, Rockets and sadly even the Dynamo)..

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@NewsDog And for the record Milwaukee belongs in the AL not Houston, thanks Selig. Hate AL baseball..

sean.pendergast
sean.pendergast

@NewsDog "no matter how wrong it is" Awesome. I don't like the DH. I LOVE THE DH! TAKE 'AT!!!

MadMac
MadMac

I like that you didn't even mention attending a game in the park our tax dollars built. I haven't been to a game since Randy Johnson pitched at the Dome. I refuse to spend that kind of money, especially now that we're in the stat-ball era, where success means, (series? fans? pshaw!) more TV/merchandising revenue. The ultimate success is flipping the team for a fat payday. Failure? Failure just means Houston has no MLB team and ANOTHER stadium we don't know what to do with.

sean.pendergast
sean.pendergast

@MadMac Thanks Mac, to be fair, the main purpose of the piece was to address the move to the AL, not dissect the politics of stadums and tax dollars, etc. So I didn't mention that because it wasn't germane to the theme of the piece. Sorry. I'm happy to discuss that if you want to, call my radio show 713-43-1560 any time after 3pm weekdays

MadMac
MadMac

Bad writing on my part. I was referring to gossamersixteen's comment about the cable dispute vis a vis the cost of attending a game. I thoroughly enjoy your articles you make the issue accessable to a layman. I apologize for my wording.

 
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