The Astros and the Grand Experiment
The Houston Astros are a grand academic exercise. Blow up the major league roster and start all over again. Stock the minor league system with as many talented players as possible. Dump aging, over-priced veterans. It's a noble gesture, destroying to rebuild, attempting to accelerate a project that had been stagnant for many, many years.
But though this is only the end of year two of the Jeff Luhnow experiment, this marks the third year of 100-plus losses. And the Astros were last a competitive baseball team in 2008. That's a lot of imploding closers. And of strikeout machines who aren't fit to carry Rob Deer's jock. Of starting pitchers who can't make it past the second inning or small second basemen who have not yet learned how to properly run the bases.
It's time for the Luhnow experiment to start showing some results on the major league level. It's nice to see winning on the minor league level. It's time to start seeing at least 70 wins a season on the major league level.
Jim Crane said the right things earlier this week. That he's willing to spend money to improve the ball club. He wants the team to have a legitimate bullpen, and that would be a nice start, though as many teams have shown, it's not necessary to spend big dollars to have a legitimate bullpen; the money just has to be spent smartly. He wants some power bats, and he wants to fill some of the team's many holes -- it's expected minor leaguers George Springer and Jonathan Singleton will be able to fill some of the holes, but it's also been hoped for several years that Brett Wallace would fill some of the holes, and we all know how that's turned out.
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Crane talks about competing with the likes of the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers. But the real competition in the division is the Oakland A's. A micro-budget team playing in a decrepit stadium with no huge, big-money stars, but with an incredibly intelligent front office, bright managers, a young, talented roster, and a good minor league system that keeps finding ways to make the playoffs while the big-money Rangers and Angels miss out.
The Astros right now can only hope to turn into the A's. The Astros front office is full of supposedly smart people, but until the guys in the minors start performing in the majors, just how smart they actually are just won't be known. They can make the trades and they cycle through players, but are they the new Billy Beanes, like in Oakland, or are they the new Dayton Moores, like in Kansas City, who supposedly know talent but can't get a decent major league club -- and no, the Royals actually coming close this season is not yet actually a reason to celebrate Moore's Kansas City tenure.
And the Astros dismissed several coaches this week, talking about how they weren't satisfied with the development of players once they reached the majors. Seemingly absent from criticism was manager Bo Porter, who, one would think, should have some responsibility over the development of players under his command. And while it's nice that they want to get an infield coach who will help make Jose Altuve and Jonathan Villar better players, it would also be nice to see the team finally invest in a coach who can teach the team how to run the bases -- why is it not surprising that Dave Clark was supposedly in charge of base running.
As of now, one can only continue to have faith that Luhnow and his group know what they're doing. It's been painful watching the Astros, and the only way to get through the pain is hoping the assembled talent in the minors is actually able to play in the majors -- in other words, the Astros have to hope the system produced more Jason Castros than it does Brett Wallaces.
The promise seems to be that the Astros will be better next season. Though that's not really saying much seeing as how it's hard to believe they can be much worse. The Astros do not have to be a playoff team next season. They don't need to challenge the Rangers or A's, but it would be nice to see the Astros record get a bit closer to Seattle's. And no matter what, it would be nice to see the team actually lose fewer than 90 games.