This could sound a bit familiar. A respected national sports magazine does a feature on a woebegone baseball team. The team's coming back from the depths. The farm system's been rebuilt and is now the best in baseball after having invested huge amounts of time and money. The GM was hired after having helped to build one of baseball's most consistently winning franchises, and he raids that franchise for his staff. There's not a lot of TV money coming in, but it doesn't matter because the team's building the right way. It sucks really badly right now, but just hang on a few years because, that magazine predicts, the team will win the World Series and all will be right with the world.
This is not Sports Illustrated touting the Astros as 2017 World Series champs just a few weeks ago. This is Sports Illustrated in March of 2011 trumpeting the Kansas City Royals as the future of baseball.
The Royals would make the playoffs by 2013 and win the first of many World Series titles by 2015. The Royals were a laughingstock, multiple l00-plus-loss seasons. Star assets traded away. A major league roster consisting of castoffs.
But, said SI, the Royals were now doing things the right way. The incompetent Allard Baird had been fired and Dayton Moore was his replacement as GM. Moore was the director of player development for the Atlanta Braves, and before that he'd been scouting director, thus playing a huge role in shaping the Braves into perennial pennant contenders. He jettisoned Kansas City's marquee names so as to rebuild the farm system because it was only when the minor league system was good that the Royals would again be good. And in March 2011, the Royals system was stacked with the best and the brightest of baseball.
The Royals did not make the playoffs in 2013. The fantastic farm system hasn't exactly yielded results for the Royals on the major league level. Dayton Moore is seen as more of a bumbler than he is as a revolutionary genius, and the Royals aren't really seen as World Series contenders for the foreseeable future. That Sports Illustrated article has kind of been forgotten.
The Astros are now the team of the Sports Illustrated future. They're supposed to win the World Series in 2017. The GM is revolutionizing the game, making up for the errors of the bumbling GM he replaced. Jeff Luhnow, like Dayton Moore, comes from a team with a deep farm system built on the input of Luhnow, and that farm system has been the key to the success of the St. Louis Cardinals. He's traded away what marquee players were left on the team. He's stocked the farm system, turning what was regarded as the worst minor league system in baseball into the best. The future's bright if the fans can just remain patient.
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Sure, there have been a few hiccups. There's the hacking of the team's Ground Control database and the leaking of notes and thoughts regarding proposed trades and deals with other major league teams. And there's the issue with Brady Aiken, the team's number one draft choice -- the SI article detailed the team's discussions regarding whether to draft Aiken or somebody else -- who has yet to sign a contract and about which there are now rumors being floated around that Aiken failed his physical.
The kids are beginning to reach the majors. George Springer's a blast to watch. Jon Singleton's struggling, but then again, Springer struggled after finally reaching the majors. The rotation's improved. Jose Altuve's hitting just about everything he can get his bat on. Sure, the bullpen's disappointed, again. And with J.D. Martinez succeeding with Detroit, there have to be thoughts about whether the team was patient enough with him, and yes, the Astros once again are battling for the worst record in the majors.
There's always a team of the future just over the horizon. But not all of those teams make the leap to the team of the now. The team of the future is now the Astros, but the Astros are now playing in the same division as another former team of the future, the Oakland A's, a team that has proven it knows how to make smart major league decisions, a team run by a really smart man in GM Billy Beane, who has demonstrated time and time again that he can stay ahead of the trend curve while working on a really small budget.
Astros fans are hoping that Jeff Luhnow is more Billy Beane than he is Dayton Moore, and they're also hoping that Sports Illustrated's prediction about the Astros is more accurate than its prediction about the Kansas City Royals was. But who knows. Maybe, if Sports Illustrated is wrong, come 2018, there will be another Sports Illustrated about how the Astros, under new owner Nolan Ryan and with Ryan's newly installed GM at the helm, are the new team of the future and will win the World Series in 2021. The fans will just have to be a little patient.