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.

When the time does come to decide on future spending, know that the Astros are now in a league that houses seven of the top ten payrolls in Major League Baseball, including three of the most liberal check cutters in the game, the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Angels. Of course, by the time the Astros are ready to spend somewhat big — in, say, 2017 — the Angels will be paying Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson a combined $97 million, and the ­Yankees will be paying a 42-year-old Alex ­Rodriguez $20 million, so who knows how the dynamic will evolve.

Unequivocally, though, from a fiscal-­irresponsibility standpoint, the American League is where the big boys play, the Dodgers' recent spending binges notwithstanding.

3. Some of the American League teams that don't really spend that much are actually pretty damn smart.

LUCAS HARRELL
P
Age: 27
MLB Exp: Three years
Strength: 11 wins on a 55-win team! Wow!
Weakness: A bit of a late bloomer
Random Fact: Could be traded by the time you read this
Courtesy of the Houston Astros
LUCAS HARRELL P Age: 27 MLB Exp: Three years Strength: 11 wins on a 55-win team! Wow! Weakness: A bit of a late bloomer Random Fact: Could be traded by the time you read this

Big-market teams spending themselves into the baseball version of a Kristal- and lap-dance-induced haze is one thing. What makes the American League even trickier is that the teams trying to do it the way the Astros likely will try to do it, with advanced stats and meticulous scouting laying the groundwork for fiscally responsible success...well, they're ­really, really good at it.

Tampa Bay has ridden a payroll in the $50 million range to a 2008 World Series appearance, three playoffs and an average of 92 wins per season the past five years. Oakland's ability to squeeze a lot out of a little has been well documented in print and on the silver screen, and they won 94 games last season. Baltimore has a modest $88 million payroll and is coming off a 93-win season with a young nucleus.

The reasonable expectation for the Astros is some balance between cost-effective youth and selective spending on veterans. They won't ever be the Yankees, Red Sox or Angels (nor, if you're a fan of reasonably priced ­tickets, should you want them to be), but with the lucrative new Comcast Sports­Net (lucrative once it gets cleared in more than 40 percent of the homes in Houston, that is), of which the Astros own the biggest chunk, and the assumption that fans will return to watch the watchable, then a payroll ranking somewhere around tenth to 15th in baseball is logical.

Basically, the Astros' goal should be to emulate the Texas Rangers, which reminds me...

4. Road trips for fans may not necessarily be better but can be more frequent.

When the move to the American League was announced back in 2011, one of the narratives forwarded by longtime Astros fans was how much crappier all the American League cities are than the National League cities. Amazing how luxurious cities like Milwaukee become to Astros fans when Bud Selig is about to take away their precious "double switch" and pitchers bunting. The American League "downgrade" was a reach then, and it's a reach now.

Of the road trips that matter, Astros Fan, you're losing San Francisco, San Diego, Wrigley and, purely on venue and atmosphere (not so much the city), St. Louis. I'll admit, that stinks. However, you're picking up Fenway and an underrated gem in Seattle; upgrading to Yankee Stadium in New York; and still getting road trips to Southern California and Chicago. Even Toronto is a hell of a wild card city in the summertime.

And on top of all that, you now pick up three road trips per season to Arlington to watch the Astros take on the hated Rangers, whom you will hate even more once the Astros are good again sometime between now and rapture! In all, in the face of you jilted, bitter folks who want to equate Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to some sort of tropical paradise, I will say that the road schedule is more, not less, travel-friendly.

5. Oh, about that designated hitter thing...

I realize that proclaiming this in a Houston publication is going to be about as well received as Manti Te'o standing on a chair in the middle of an NFL locker room and announcing that he's gay, but here goes: I like the designated hitter.

There, I said it. Yeah, you heard me. I hate pitchers bunting. I hate pitchers swinging. I hate pitchers pretty much doing anything except pitching. Wait, I take that back; I used to love José Lima's singing, but that's it. Now, ironically, you know who really likes to see pitchers hit? Opposing pitchers!

As if the degree of difficulty could get amped up any further for guys like Lucas Harrell or Bud Norris as they try to win games (assuming that both are still with the Astros by the time this goes to print — far from a lock), now, instead of an automatic out in the nine hole like they had in the NL, they have to deal with some single-minded bopper somewhere in the heart of the order. Sorry, fellas.

As for the Astros, they had a hard enough time finding eight position players with Major League-caliber bats last season. I can't imagine that having to find a ninth this season is going to help matters in 2013. And for what it's worth, it appears that DH duties will fall upon some combination of Chris Carter (16 home runs in 2012 for Oakland), Brett Wallace and the veteran Carlos Peña (and his .206 batting average the past three seasons).

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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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