Thursday, February 28, 2013

Business vs. Baseball

Jim Crane has been the owner of the the Houston Astros for over a year now. He has now had one full season and offseason to remake the Astros in his vision. And remake them he did. Nearly everything about the Houston Astros has changed, from the GM to the uniform, as well as the majority of the players. But there seems to me to be an ever growing disconnect between the changes made in the Astros' baseball side and the Astros' business side. One is giving us great hope for the future, and the other often leaves us scratching our heads.

On the baseball side, Crane hired Jeff Luhnow and gave him free rein to rebuild the franchise. Luhnow came over from the Cardinals, where he was integral to the success that franchise experienced, both in the majors and on the farm. Luhnow's hand-picked team has focused on the Astros' minor league system, which was universally ranked among the worst when he took over. The results have been astounding. Through a fantastic draft and many savvy trades, the farm system has improved by leaps and bounds in just a short time. Nearly every national expert now rates the system in the top 10. You might disagree with his vision, but I don't think there is any question that he has been enacting his vision efficiently and effectively.

On the business side, can anyone really tell what is going on? The flubs and head scratchers have been fairly constant from the beginning. They started with the 70 million dollar discount for the move to the AL. There have been ugly billboards blocking the view of the downtown, twitter gaffes, the loss of a beloved broadcaster and questionable claims of poverty. The ongoing negotiations with CSN Houston are threatening to leave a large portion of Houston and the surrounding area unable to watch the Astros.  Recently, people looking for tickets on opening day noticed the ticket prices doubled. The unifying vision of the business side, if there is one, seems to be money. And that is not sitting well.

A lot of these can be viewed as perception problems. There are valid defenses for each one of these moves, and those defenses have been offered. But that misses point. The direction of the baseball side will require patience and faith. In the meantime, we want to know that the Astros care about us, as a fan. We want to know that our loyalty is not being taken for granted. If the Astros have a perception problem with the fans now, whatever the reasons, it could be devastating. A fan lost now might not be regained when the baseball side finally sees results.

For now, the baseball side is still winning over my loyalty. I am still seeing this new ownership as a positive for the Houston Astros, because it is fixing what was broken on the field. But I want to see a unified front. I want to see the baseball side saying be patient, we are working on the future, and the business side saying, we will do everything we can to help you along the way. Right now, those messages seem crossed.