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.

However, the discarded franchise history and the adoption of the designated hitter should pale in comparison to the raw truth about moving to the American League West, and that is this: It is probably the hardest goddamned division in baseball.

In English Premier League soccer, they employ a method called "relegation." In the simplest terms, the worst teams in a given division are moved down into lower, less prestigious divisions the following season until they can play their way back into the upper divisions.

In an odd way, it's almost as if Major League Baseball is using "bizarro relegation," moving the 107-loss Astros up to a higher level of competition and plunking them down in a division that last season saw three teams win 89 games or more, and the 89-win team went out and bought Josh Hamilton in the off-­season for $25 million per season.

BUD NORRIS
P
Age: 28
MLB Exp: Four years
Strength: Power pitcher
Weakness: Maintaining consistency
Random Fact: Would trade his firstborn for a
49ers Super Bowl win
Courtesy of the Houston Astros
BUD NORRIS P Age: 28 MLB Exp: Four years Strength: Power pitcher Weakness: Maintaining consistency Random Fact: Would trade his firstborn for a 49ers Super Bowl win
JOSE ALTUVE
2B
Age: 22
MLB Exp: Two years
Strength: Spark plug at top of the order
Weakness: Plays same position as Delino DeShields Jr.
Random Fact: Frequently mistaken for the late Hervé Villechaize
Courtesy of the Houston Astros
JOSE ALTUVE 2B Age: 22 MLB Exp: Two years Strength: Spark plug at top of the order Weakness: Plays same position as Delino DeShields Jr. Random Fact: Frequently mistaken for the late Hervé Villechaize

If the sum $25 million looks familiar, it's because that happens to be the Astros' projected 2013 payroll for their entire team.

To stay with the "Astros franchise as an actual domicile" analogy I used earlier, imagine the tornado picking up Dorothy's little shithole of a farmhouse in The Wizard of Oz and plunking it down in the middle of River Oaks. That's the stark contrast in which the 2013 Astros will exist alongside their new neighbors in the American League West.

What exactly are the nuances of this move to the American League and what do they mean to the Astros? To you? Let's examine a bit more closely.

1. In the short term, the Astros' schedule just got much more difficult.

Over the past two seasons, the Astros have gone 10-20 in interleague play. If we take those numbers in their rawest form (a .333 winning percentage) and extrapolate them over the 142 games the Astros will play against American League teams in 2013 (the schedule now has 20 interleague games as opposed to 15 in prior years), that's 47 wins, which would mean they'd need to go 13-7 against the National League just to get to 60 wins on the season.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at the roster of teams in the American League or the Astros' record the past two seasons against those teams to hypothesize that the schedule just got much more difficult for Houston. Hell, forget the West for a second; look at the American League East! The one team in the American League East that hasn't made the playoffs in the past four seasons (Toronto) is actually now favored to win the American League in 2013!

To baseball at large, though, the bigger story is the effect that the ease of having the Astros in their division (and the 19 games apiece that come with it) will have on the playoff chances of the Athletics, Rangers and Angels. Those three teams won 94, 93 and 89 games respectively last season playing in a four-team AL West with the Seattle Mariners. Each team plays its division foes 19 times, so in 2013, those teams will all play the Astros 19 times instead of some 19-game mishmash of American League teams from the East and Central divisions.

Even taking the worst four teams from the East and Central divisions last season (Red Sox, Royals, Indians and Twins, let's say), it's hard to imagine the three stalwarts of the AL West not winning at least three or four additional games against the Astros that they wouldn't have won against those other teams.

The bottom line is that, yes, things just got a whole lot harder for the Astros, but they also by definition just got incrementally easier for the rest of the American League West, and as a result, there's a great chance that both wild-card teams in the American League come from the Astros' division.

Who said the Astros can't make an impact?

2. American League teams love to spend money.

Much has been made of the Astros' paring their 2013 payroll to an estimated $25 million. This would be far and away the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball. The next lowest would belong to the Miami Marlins, who did everything short of putting José Reyes on Craigslist to reduce payroll this offseason. Yes, $25 million is a ridiculously low number, but in the midst of a complete teardown, for the salary spend to bottom out, even to historic levels like $25 million, is not a huge story to me.

Now Jim Crane essentially saying, "Don't tell me what to do" by challenging his detractors to bring him a check for $10 million if they want to have a say in how he runs the club? That's a story. And that happened recently in a Wall Street Journal profile of the Astros owner. Not good for his look.

The crucial Astros-specific salary story will be written when the time comes to decide what portions of their nucleus — most of which is still at least a year away from the Major Leagues — to lock up to long-term deals and which free agents to sign to supplement the home-grown core.

According to Luhnow, that time is still years away: "You compare our roster to the Rangers, we're not there yet. But will we be in five years? I hope so. Will our payroll be up in the range where it can compete with the Rangers? I hope so. But for now, we're not even close."

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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 topcommenter

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 topcommenter

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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