The Houston Astros
The Houston Asros should be a great deal better than they are, or have ever been. Since the year 2000, the Astros have been to the post season a mere 3 times (2001, 2004, 2005) and while they advanced to the World Series in 2005, the White Sox easily tossed them aside for the Championship. For most teams, these accomplishments would actually be considered, for lack of a better word, accomplishments. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you take this) the Astros have to take a look at what they’ve done in recent years regarding payroll, and what they’ve done with their Minor Leagues, and make a decision as to where they want to focus their efforts upon in these coming years in order to win.
Market Size and Monetary Flexibility
The fact that the Astros play in Houston is very important, in that they have the ability to draw a crowd, and draw a crowd they do. The Astros have fan attendance that ranks 9th overall in MLB in 2007, and as such they receive a good level of monetary return compared to the other teams in MLB. This is an important fact because it raises an important question. Why is a team that makes this much money, and spends that money on payroll of players (the Astros ranked 4th in all of baseball in 2006 with a payroll of 107.7 million) not a consistently successful franchise? Would it not make sense to use the money earned in order to group together a team that has the ability to win either now, 0r in the future? As it is, the Astros are not set up for either of these possibilities. Their current roster is comprised mainly of aging veteran players who are merely clinging onto the skills that they once had, and middle-aged players who hit in the .270’s range or throw with an ERA upwards of 4.50. (Obvious exceptions: Carlos Lee nad Hunter Pence). Furthermore, the Minor League situation can only be described as a travesty, but more on that later.
There are no real quick fixes in baseball, and that is evident enough with the Roger Clemens/Andy Pettite debacle. Sure they advanced to the playoffs, and Clemens won another Cy Young, but that means absolutley nothing. They spent over $40 million dollars on Clemens for his 2 1/2 years of work, and $31.5 million on Pettite in his injury-plagued 3 year stint. When you break it down, that comes to almost 25% of the entire payroll spent on 2 pitchers. Could that money have been better spent? I think so. It was a short lived affair that cost the Astros huge sums of money, that could have been spent on players with a FUTURE, and not simply a PRESENT. The amount of money being spent by the Astros is confusing, as is what they’re spending that money on.
A Step in the right direction?
The signing of Carlos Lee, and his production this year in the Cracker-Jack box that is Minute Maid Park, represents a form of hope for Astros fans. While they did spend a ludicrous amount of money on him, that’s what it takes to acquire a player of Lee’s caliber. Lee’s production offensively has been excellent in 2007 and his defensive shortcomings aren’t near as evident as he plays in what is perhaps the easiest stadium for Left Fielder’s in all of baseball.
The Lee signing was a step in the right direction, but I have to wonder why the drop from a 4th ranked payroll of $107.7 million in 2006 to a mere $88 million in 2007? Unfortunately, this shows a lack of planning on the part of the Houston Astros player personnel team. They were obviously holding out on the hope that they could resign Roger Clemens once again, and for what? A 44 year old that costs a ridiculous amount of money for half a season? I don’t understand.
Player Development and Player Personnel
The Houston Farm System is simply barren. Since 2002, when the Astros organization ranked 3rd in Major League Baseball, they’ve dropped to dismal 23rd, 29th, 22nd, 20th, and 22nd place rankings respectively from 2003-2007. A drop off in minor league talent can sometimes be attributed to lower draft picks upon having successful seasons. But a drop off of this magnitude? It’s ridiculous. The Astros minor leagues boast no true hitting threat that has the possibility of reaching the majors anytime soon, and the pitching can be described as mediocre at best.
Houston sent away their top minor league, and major-league-ready talent in the past year or so. They’ve dealt Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist for Aubrey Huff (you’ll notice he’s no longer a part of the Astros, and that’s not much of a loss), as well as Willy Taveras, Jason Hirsch (who WAS the Astros top pitching prospect) and Taylor Buchholz for Jason Jennings (2-7 with a 6.11 ERA this season). These trades leave me in a state of awe, and something needs to be changed.
The Astros have come to (and delayed dealing with) somewhat of a fork in the road. Drayton McClane, Tim Purpura and those in charge of the decision making with the Astros must decide between these two choices. 1) Spend Yankee-like money to acquire new players and win now, or 2) Concede the next few seasons as rebuilding, and do their best to focus on player development.
Currently, they’ve decided to do neither, and they are suffering on both ends. The Major League club sports a horrid 49-63 record, (just one game better than the Royals and Rangers, and 2 games worse than the lowly Nationals) while the minor leagues are developing prospects with very little upside.
I myself believe that the Astros have to do their best to focus on player development in the upcoming years. They need to stop trying to depend on players like Jason Lane, Eric Bruntlett, Adam Everett, and Brad Ausmus. Instead of playing Craig Biggio, focus efforts on seasoning Chris Burke, who with consistent time playing at 2B, can develop into a player that fans will love, with his good combination of Speed, Defense, and Power at the 2B position. Whatever you believe on this issue, one thing is clear, the current course that the Astros have taken is not a successful one, and must be changed.