Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Alright, Buster Olney, you're next

I'm not going to do this all throughout the season, but we need to think pretty seriously about Buster Olney's latest (Insider-only) column on ESPN. And while I don't like to pull from sites where you have to pay, there is a very troubling insinuation here put forward by Olney that is flat-out reckless. The paragraph in question:

Baseball has kicked legends Joe Jackson and Pete Rose out of the sport, along with others, because of gambling scandals, out of a fear that the fans' confidence -- the customers' confidence -- in the integrity of the competition might be eroded. There must be a basic integrity to the games: There must be at least the perception that the players involved need to try to win...And the same standard must always apply to the work of the front offices.

If I'm reading this right, and after about forty reads I think I am, Buster Olney is referring to the Astros' rebuild in the same sentence as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose: they damaged the integrity of the game. (Shoeless Joe might not actually be guilty of anything other than knowing about the Black Sox Scandal - he hit.375/.394/.563 in the 1919 World Series, which doesn't sound like tanking to me, but whatever). Pete Rose did the one thing that has been prohibited by baseball since the 1880s.

How does Olney make the jump from the poster boys of bad baseball behavior to what the Astros are doing? PAYROLLLLLLLLL! As Trostel wrote in an email to me, he's just regurgitating what he wrote a few weeks ago (and I'm not in the mood to go find a link for you) about, "BUT! MONEY! INTEGRITY!"

My favorite part of the piece is the very next line:

Privately, rival executives really like what the Astros are doing, in stripping down the organization and rebuilding from the ground up.

Let's think about that for just a quick second. Olney's pissed, because the integrity of the game has been sacrificed for the long-term health of the franchise. But Corportate MLB as well as "rival executives" don't seem to be too bothered by it. So what's Olney's problem? Draft picks, apparently:

But there is queasiness about the question of whether Houston is angling for better draft picks, in fielding a team on which the highest-paid player, Bud Norris, is set to make $3 million, or about what CC Sabathia makes in three weeks.

First of all, you get queasy from Captain D's, not about another team's rebuilding process. Secondly, paying a player a year's worth of Major League-average salary in three weeks sounds more like a Yankee problem, not an Astros problem.

Perhaps you think Olney would be impressed by the Astros taking this approach - building up their farm team through the draft (which is how it's supposed to work, by the by) the Rays and Nationals. Oh but the Rays and Nationals are different! How so?

But the failures that led to those top draft picks were long and organic.

He says this as though the Astros' failures that led to these top draft picks were short, and full of MSG. As though the Astros had pennant-winning teams and thought, "Screw winning now. Delayed gratification is WAY MORE FUN."

Let's look back to 2009, when the Astros should have been about where they hope to be in 2014. On that team, six of the eight position players were in their Age-33 seasons, or older. Carlos Lee made $19m, Miguel Tejada made $14.8m, Lance Berkman made $14.5m. Roy Oswalt made $14m. You can't tell me that a 74-win team with a $103m payroll and an average age of 31.5 is a better situation than the Astros' current one.

The 2009 model was and still is unsustainable, and yelling about integrity when MLB and other front offices "really like" what the Astros are doing means that the problem isn't the Astros', it's Olney's.


AGirlintheSouth said...

If the demise of the Astros had been intentional and contrived then I think Olney would have a fair point - speaking to the draft picks. But the Astros fell apart DESPITE their best (and misguided) intentions. To take a team that is doing things the right way and rebuilding for the long term - which, by the way, has a very beneficial impact on baseball - and accusing them of seedy behavior is downright irresponsible.

rnb said...

"short and full of MSG" That made me laugh.
It should be a 2013 rallying cry.
All these natl writers' memories are short and full of MSG. If they could stop preemptively awarding strausburg the '13,'14, '15 nl cy young and gushing over Bryce Harper long enough to remember how those two ended up on the same roster maybe I'd cut them a little more slack.

rnb said...


DanielRz said...

Check out how they flip flop in 3 years and say what a splendid job the Astros brass did back in 2012....

Anonymous said...

This ongoing "story" brings to mind the old "Can Michael Vick pass well enough to be a winning NFL QB ?" that was long the fallback story for lazy journalists that wanted to knock out a quick story and hit the bar or golf course by 3....the real story is pretty straightforward - old Astros management tried to "win on the fly" and botched it big-time, new Astros management realizes that spending money to get to the respectable "middle" is a self-defeating strategy under today's rules....any questions ?

Anonymous said...

Trout should not be allowed to play until the Angels decide he should be paid more. This sums up the Olney position. Because otherwise how are teams to find the next Trout?

Seth said...

So... 5 years ago everyone rips the Astros for not rebuilding...

Now they are ripped for rebuilding. I think the Astros are just mainstream writers favorite whipping boy.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great article. The 'stros are an easy whipping boy right now, and loads of cheap copy about why they are so bad is coming out at the moment.

That said, I love what the astros are doing. I have been a fan since 1998, and this is close to the most interested and excited I have been. The 2004 and 2005 'stros were flawed, having weak players at a number of positions, and no real attempts were every made to fix those gaping holes, aside from decrepit free agents.

What they are doing now is obvious. Build immediate depth through trades, and get a bunch of guys with a chance of succeeding. Then build impact through the draft. The only concern is that the players in the draft the next few years are no Strasbergs or Harpers. We may get a little unlucky by virtue of the weaker 2012 and 2013 draft classes.

And I don't think we will draft Mark Appel this year, either.

Anonymous said...

The Astros are throwing the season in order to get the first pick. They made no effort to sign quality talent and outside of Norris, Harrell and Altuve the team is full of minor league players. Giving players who have proved nothing a spot on a MLB rosters doesn't help their development it hurts it. They don't have to push a veteran they just have to play slightly better then the other average minor league player behind him.

If you notice never in the history of baseball have teams refused to sign players because they want to develop prospects because that is done in AA/AAA.

There is no integrity of the game when a team like the Astros makes no effort to try to win.