I know it's only three games. I know they were playing the Brewers. I know my judgment may be clouded by the fact that they actually won all three games, getting great pitching in the process. But I actually enjoyed going to an Astros game for the first time in a long time this past Sunday.
Don't get me wrong, I know there are worse places to spend a Sunday afternoon than watching even BAD baseball. I get that. But we're talking in relative terms here. The Astros had become not just a bad baseball team, but they had become old, stale, boring, and even at times a little bit unlikeable.
They are still bad, but now the same tired formula at least appears to have been placed on the shelf. (I don't think Uncle Drayton will ever throw it away -- see "Rebuilding, Drayton's denial of" below) Does this mean that all of the age, boredom, and unlikeableness (made that one up, a doozy) went out the door with Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman headed north?
No, it's more unilateral than just the trading of two guys. How about I share with you my first five thoughts after a weekend to digest all of the transactions of the weekend? Sound okay? Good....
1. The biggest adjustment for Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman will be the thirty minutes after the games.
I remember a couple years ago in 2008, I was in the middle of covering my first full baseball season as a media member. I remember 2008 for two things --
First, the Astros were actually somewhat competitive in spurts that season and were playoff-relevant until they had to go play home games against the Cubs in Milwaukee after Hurricane Ike. Carlos Zambrano effectively ended the Astros season with a no-hitter against a lineup that had roughly four hours of sleep combined in the previous five days. (Karma being what it is, someone hid Zambrano's meds shortly after that and he doesn't seem to have located them since.)
Second, the Red Sox and Yankees both came to Minute Maid Park that season. My dad, a lifelong Red Sox fan and partial season ticket holder, came into town for the Red Sox games and I managed to get him into Cecil Cooper's post-game press conference with me after one of the Astro losses. In a room with about five media members present, Cecil Cooper got asked five softball questions, gave his canned Cooper answers, and he left.
My dad, born and raised on watching whoever was managing the Sox have to face a twenty minute media grilling every night (even after wins), looked at me and said "That's it?" It was almost like he was questioning my manhood for being part of such a soft media town.
From there, we went to the Red Sox clubhouse and Jason Varitek (Sox catcher and eight-hole hitter) had about a dozen reporters around him. He'd have had more except the other two dozen or so were gathered around Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, etc. In short, it was a zoo.
What is my point with this? Media-wise, New York and Philadelphia are a lot like Boston (and not really at all like Houston). The interest in both cities is rabid, the accountability is acute, the judgment is harsh (and not always fair). Roy and Lance are hired guns with little to no equity built up with the northeast media. The pressure is probably greater on Roy because he's viewed as more of a savior, as a more integral part, and the Phillies still have work to do just to make the playoffs. Plus, he's got another year to deal with it if it doesn't go well.
Roy's postgame press conference after his first start lasted longer than his last couple months worth of postgame media sessions in Houston combined. Granted, they'll get shorter -- it was his first game -- but not much shorter.
2. Hunter Pence just had his floaties removed.
At some point the Astros have to find out what they have in Hunter Pence. He is 27 years old and has actually been incredibly consistent, if very average. The problem is the results that he has been consistently cranking out I think fall short of (a) what the organization's expectations are for him and (b) what the average fan's impression is of him.
In short, a 25-home run, 80 RBI, .270/.325/.450 level of output is not where the person who is now being marketed as the centerpiece of your team should be settling in statistically. Hunter is still a relative bargain at $3.5 million, and is still under the Astros' control for three more offseasons, but the breach that's been left behind from a perceived leadership standpoint will give him an opportunity to attempt to make it partially his clubhouse. I'm not sure he's got the makeup or bandwidth to seize it. We'll see.
3. These trades have mysteriously made Carlos Lee a little less offensive to me.
When the Astros had the air of a team that conducted its business like they thought they could actually win a pennant, I was supremely offended by Carlos Lee -- his girth, his sloth, his smile while hitting .237, pretty much everything about him offended me. Because inherently if you think you can win, Carlos is everything that runs counter to that. Overpaid, doesn't give a shit about winning, I'm seriously getting angry thinking about it.
Now that the message appears to be "We know we need to rebuild" (key words -- APPEARS to be -- I mean, they did still give Brett Myers a contract extension at over $10 million per year) and "We know tough times are ahead," Carlos is now like some sort of circus freak that I hope just mashes occasionally and stays the hell out of the way.
Carlos, just take your walk to and from left field each inning, hit 30 home runs, drop the occasional fly ball so we can make fun of you, drink your pitcher of melted butter and don't interact with any of the young guys. And for the love of God, don't bring Brett Wallace to whatever restaurants you go to.
(Brett Wallace sidebar -- I had never seen him play until he took the field on Saturday, I don't know if he's going to pan out, but I did like this thread on the Toronto fan forums where a bunch of Blue Jay fans were pissed to see him go. Always at least a decent sign that diehard fans of an opposing team are angry when their team flips a prospect.)
4. Ed Wade Era -- "The Prediction"
It's easy to criticize Ed Wade -- he's three years in as the general manager for one of the worst baseball teams in the sport, he chooses to do too many deals with the Phillies, he signed Kaz Matsui, he wears his pants pulled up ridiculously high. All valid criticisms.
However, when you consider the environment to which he came in -- a barren farm system, bloated contracts on the big league level, an owner that didn't sign draft picks, an owner overly loyal to franchise icons -- Ed Wade has done some good things.
There is a great thread on the Astros fan message boards on spikesnstars.com that outlines the commitment that Ed Wade has convinced Drayton McLane to make in the form of signing bonuses for draft picks. It's pretty staggering, estimating over $10.5 million (assuming DeShields gets signed) in signing bonuses with more work to do. (The thread also makes an argument that perhaps Drayton is trying to make his franchise more enticing for sellers; whatever, I don't care, as long as he's now signing guys.)
And in a weird way, so is trading Roy and Lance (i.e. convincing an overly loyal owner to eschew some loyalty for the greater good of the franchise's future), even if he somehow had to include $15 million to get both deals done.
To me, the question I always ask myself is "Will Ed Wade make it as Astros general manager?" What is the definition of "make it"? I would say if Ed Wade is still here the next time the Astros are playing meaningful games in late September, he will have "made it."
Frankly, the odds are stacked against him. There are three scenarios that can play out --
1. Drayton McLane sells the team, and if that happens, then the new owner would presumably look to bring in a new management team, especially if the Astros are still a 70-75 win outfit. Decent chance of happening.
2. Drayton McLane stays out of the way, the Astros patiently rebuild and are relevant in 2012 or 2013 with Ed Wade the brains of the outfit. At best, unlikely.
3. Drayton McLane walks past a mother of three buying a helmet sundae cup who says she wishes the Astros never traded Lance and Roy, and Ed gets whacked before the seventh-inning stretch. Sadly, more likely than you think.
When I handicap Ed Wade's end result as Astro general manager, I think of former Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis. When Weis arrived at Notre Dame, he inherited a program from Ty Willingham that was broken in every foundational way possible -- recruiting was in shambles, the relationships with alumni and faculty were fractured, there was an acceptance of losing that engulfed the program, and most importantly the product on the field was awful.
Charlie Weis took over, had a couple good seasons, and then went into the tank his final three seasons before being fired. But anyone who followed Notre Dame knew that for all of Weis' bluster and for as little progress as had been made record-wise from Willingham, Weis repaired a lot of the foundational things Willingham had broken.
When Weis left, recruiting was back to a near-elite level, salaries for assistant coaches were increased to highly competitive levels, and the team learned to at least hate losing again (even if they were still fairly proficient at it). In short, Weis was not an overall success, but he left the program in much better shape than he found it.
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Like Weis, Ed Wade had a little success early on (2008), and the product has been lackluster since (and will be going forward for at least another two years). But the strides in terms of scouting, farm system improvement, signing draft picks, and at least somewhat convincing Drayton McLane that things needed to change would qualify as substantial improvements over the Purpura Era (albeit ones that are largely invisible to the average fan on a day-to-day basis).
Betcha didn't think you'd get an Ed Wade-Charlie Weis comparison when you woke up this morning!
5. Drayton McLane still thinks we're all sheep.
Remember people, it's only rebuilding if you believe it is. Otherwise, apparently it's just "adjusting the team." (MUST LISTEN)
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.