Dear Astros Fans, Repeat After Me: Rebuilding Is a Good Thing
There are some Astros fans who are kind of upset about the veteran purge going on with the team at the moment. These fans profess to understand the team's need to rebuild, finally. But they don't want this rebuild to come at the expense of the big league club.
What has to be understood is the Astros are a bad baseball team. They didn't become a bad baseball club by failing to spend money at the major league level -- the Astros under Drayton McLane gave out many bloated contracts to veteran ballplayers, many of whom had never actually done anything to deserve the bloated contracts they had. What the Astros under Drayton McLane did do was ignore the farm system. And an empty farm system makes it hard for a big league club to be competitive no matter how much money is being spent in major league salaries.
Going into yesterday's game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Astros were 34-65. On this same date in 2011, the Astros were 33-70. And on that same date in 2010, the Astros were 40-59. That 2010 date is important because that is right before the Astros veteran purge began.
On July 26, 2010, the Astros were going underwater despite a veteran club consisting of Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Jeff Keppinger and Brandon Lyon. And that 2011 team was at the bottom of the ocean on July 26, 2011, despite sending out a team with vets like Myers, Pence, Bourn, Rodriguez, Lee, Keppinger, Lyon, Clint Barmes, Jason Michaels and, for a while, Bill Hall.
So even with a veteran club, the Astros were awful. But the minors were depleted. A depleted minor league roster means there were few quality players ready to bring up to the major league squad. And to get good veteran players, teams generally have to toss in good, young minor league talent, but the Astros weren't able to do that because what few good players they had in the minors needed to be kept so they could move up to the major league squad.
New owner Jim Crane and his GM Jeff Luhnow have made the decision to go full-in on the rebuild. They've purged the club of bloated contracts and of veterans. So maybe some of the fans are not so happy with the product they're now seeing on the major league roster, but seriously, is the team the Astros are now fielding really any worse than what they were fielding on July 4?
So yes, the Astros are now a bad team with no big names on the roster. But they were a bad team with big names on the roster. And next season, they're going to be a bad team with no big names on the roster. And probably the next season after that. But the season after that, then if Luhnow's moves pan out, the Astros should be on the verge of being a good club again.
What the fans are seeing is the birth of a long-term plan, something this team hasn't seen since Bill Wood was GM for John McMullen. And Wood and McMullen gave Drayton McLane a team consisting of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Ken Caminiti, Shane Reynolds, Peter Harnisch and Darryl Kile. They also gave McLane a fully stocked farm system that McLane's general managers Bob Watson and Gerry Hunsicker used for players such as Derek Bell, Mike Hampton, Brad Ausmus, Carl Everett, Moises Alou and Randy Johnson.
The problem is that Drayton McLane's neglect of the farm system means that while Luhnow tries to rebuild the minors so that the major league team can thrive in the future, the major league team has to suffer in the now.
Brad Pitt Billy Beane in Oakland and Andrew Friedman in Tampa Bay have proven that a major league roster can be rapidly rebuilt by concentrating dollars on the draft, trading veterans for prospects and rebuilding the farm system. And this appears to be the path the Astros are taking.
Will it work? The Kansas City Royals, despite years of trying, have failed constantly. The Pittsburgh Pirates have taken 19 years to rebuild. The Seattle Mariners are stuck in perpetual rebuild mode, so maybe the Astros are doomed. Then again, the Royals produced Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran, so perhaps their problems resulted more from not following the plan to fruition than from a failure of the plan.
The Astros were an aging, rapidly failing team at the end of June. They've jettisoned the bloat -- literally in the case of Carlos Lee -- and they're finally starting a much-needed, long hoped for rebuild. Is the major league team going to be a bad one for the next couple of seasons? Yes, but it was already a bad team and without the trades, and it was still going to be a bad team next season. Only now there's some hope for the future.