Are the Astros Planning Front-Office Changes?
Is the job of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow in danger? Probably not. The Astros are on a current pace that will have them lose less than a 100 games this, so that's progress. The team probably won't get the first pick in the amateur draft this season -- thank you for reaching new levels of suckiness Rockies and Rangers -- so more progress.
But Fox Sports' well-connected and well-respected MLB reporter Ken Rosenthal, stated that Luhnow's job status is something to watch as the season comes to an end. And while Rosenthal doubts that Luhnow need worry, if something happens, it should not be a shock.
Rosenthal's premise is simple: The Astros are a bad team; the front office bungled the Brady Aiken situation; Jim Crane wants to win; and Crane's new, key advisor is Nolan Ryan, who comes from a bit of a different baseball background and mindset than Luhnow. Throw in the fact that Ryan's son Reid is the team president, and voila, a new general manager seems to be almost inevitable.
The Houston Astros are a bad team, slightly improved record this season notwithstanding. Most of the players on the MLB roster are only with the Astros because the supposed talent in the minors is not yet ready for the big leagues. And if not for incredible seasons from Jose Altuve and George Springer (and an incredible past month from Chris Carter) the Astros would be well on the way to another 100-plus loss season and another shot at a number one draft pick.
Sports Illustrated says the team will win it all in 2017 because of Springer and all of that talent in the minors, but as the season ends and the Astros start preparing for 2015, the question Jim Crane has to ask is simple: Is the promise of 2017 good enough? And if that's not enough, then what else can be done to improve interest and garner positive attention for the team?
The Astros are a PR disaster. There's the contract debacle with George Springer. There's a bit of a rift between the front office and the coaches as to not only who should be on the roster, but also the general belief that the front office willingly sacrifices any chance at slight success on the MLB level for minor league triumphs and contract manipulation. The Players Association has filed a grievance over Brady Aiken. The team's state-of-the-art database was hacked and player evaluation and trade discussions were leaked to the public. And the team is still losing games while often looking helpless and overmatched on the field of play. Even Mayor Parker thinks they suck.
Yet the Astros have announced that the team's raising season ticket costs for next season. It also looks as if the team might actually have games on television next season. So something probably needs to be done to generate some excitement. Especially for another season of losing baseball while the talent works its way up to the majors. Thus it does make sense to contemplate people who might be fired -- and Rosenthal's connected enough to make it obvious this isn't just total conjecture backed up by nothing.
But Jeff Luhnow and the front office group will likely not be the ones to go. Especially not after that glowing story in SI. Instead it'll probably be the coaching staff that's replaced, starting with manager Bo Porter. The coaching staff and front office appear to not always be on the same page, so it stands to reason that the front office would get a chance to bring in a manager and staff who are. And if the manager is more known for crazy vendettas against opposing players trying to enforce the shift than he's known for actually managing acumen, then that move makes even more sense.
This gives the Astros a scapegoat for the awful play this season, and Porter and his staff can take the blame for the lack of development (and decisive steps back) of players like Matt Dominguez and Jason Castro while giving fans a direction to vent their anger over another lost season. And bringing in a new coaching staff can help generate excitement that will help fans swallow the increase in season ticket prices.
The Astros have too much invested in Luhnow's experiment to pull the plug now. Nolan Ryan might be advising Crane, and Ryan might disagree with Luhnow's approach -- though there is zero evidence of that -- but it's just hard to see Ryan advising Crane to blow it all up and start over again. So maybe Rosenthal's piece is a bit far-fetched. But if it should happen, nobody should really think of it as a surprise.
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