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.