Monday, July 29, 2013

(Not So) quick thoughts on the weeping and gnashing of teeth surrounding the rebuild.

I think part of the problem people are having with seeing the upside of this rebuild is that, for years, the Drayton-led FO was feeding us lines of bull about guys that were "top prospects". Guys with huge holes in their game like TJ Steele, Colin DeLome, and Jon Gaston were in the top 5-10 who wouldn't even sniff the top 40 if they were in the system now. Our #1 prospects from 2004-2006 are all out of baseball already. 2008's (Towles, whose ranking was based on one stinking game, however great that game was) probably will be soon. 2010's #8-10, all out of organized ball already. Looking back, these guys were like the best dressed at a 70's prom. Even then if you had any sense you knew it was gimmicky.

 In 2011, with the Astros finishing 56-106, the Astros had the 26th ranked farm system. They were bad at every. single. level. Because of Drayton, and Tal, and Tim Purpura. That's what trying to patch the major league roster will do to an organization over time, unless you can support a $200M+ payroll, which the Astros can't. Now, they're on pace for about the same record, but by many accounts have a top 5 system. Some have even said the best in baseball. That's progress, no matter how you try to spin it. Let's look at what having the top farm system has meant for other teams in the past, looking at their major league record that year and what it meant for the club going forward:

2003: Cleveland Indians, 68-94, 93 wins 2005, Playoffs 2007
2004: Milwaukee Brewers, 67-94, Playoffs 2008
2005: Los Angeles Angels, 95-67, Playoffs 2007, 2008, 2009
2006: Arizona Diamondback, 76-86, Playoffs 2007
2007: Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 66-96, Playoffs 2008, 2010, 2011
2008: Tampa Bay Rays, see above. See how perennially ranked farm systems can sustain success?
2009: Texas Rangers, 87-75, Playoffs 2010, 2011, 2012
2010: Tampa Bay Rays, do I really need to make this point much more?
2011: Kansas City Royals, 71-91, currently at .500 for 2013 (ok, they're not helping my point here)
2012: Texas Rangers, yep...again.

So many well-respected people who make a living off of knowing these things continue to praise the talent Luhnow the Astros are now collecting in the minors. He has the track record, whether you want to believe it or not. From Grantland"According to Baseball America, more players on Opening Day rosters this year were signed by Luhnow than by any other scouting director."

The word from those who see the inside of the clubhouse is that Porter is doing a good job keeping these kids invested in the team, despite the constant flow of losses. Outside of Harrell, the attitudes of these players is largely positive and they're building a team atmosphere.

I know it's hard to look a little deeper than the current stats and standings, but have patience. The milk was spilled several years ago. It's time to quit crying about it and accept that it's time to clean it up.


Anonymous said...

I don't like to post negatively here since I really appreciate what y'all do, BUT this argument (and most of its related predecessors) are basically strawmen.

I read your arguments as follows (of course, I obviously may be wrong): If someone disagrees with the complete teardown process, they obviously don't understand how teams are built. They must feel teams are built through free agency. In fact, they probably want Crane to be like the Dodgers and have a 200 million payroll.

Personally, that is insulting. A team can rebuild without a complete teardown. That might involve spending money on interim free agents, or it might simply mean not unloading every decent player drawing a breath. Heaven forbid that they either kept some players, or added a few and had a bottom-tier payroll of 50 million. While this might have not raised them to playoff caliber team (the often stated threshold needed to apparently even try to win - another insulting argument, btw), it would have least given their young players a better environment to develop. I won't even get into the business-side benefits of increased fan good will and demand to watch them (the primary failing behind CSN's failings).

Blinutne said...

Everyone gets to form their own opinion of things, and that's fair, but I don't feel like the above commenter at all.

I'm all on board. Yeah, the big league club is terrible, but I have a reason to believe the future will be bright. Where I live, there are very few Astros fans, and people who do follow baseball usually root for the popular teams. When I tell them I'm an Astros fan, they always ask "why?" or talk about how much it must suck. But they just don't get it. I feel so positive about the direction of the club that the W/L record doesn't even matter to me right now. I hope more Astros fans can stick it out and feel good that, for once, our franchise is at least TRYING to do it right.

The Batguy said...

Anon...I don't find your comment negative at all. It's thought out and unemotional. I love disagreeing with rational fans, because it usually leads to better understanding of both side's points. We may never agree, but I love a fan who's invested in their team enough to think beyond the soundbites.

That said, I would find it more insulting if the team signed some stop-gap free agents who might get us over 70 wins in an effort to appease the fans. Maybe that means I put my style of fandom on a higher pedestal than the average guy, but that's how I see it. Every trade that's been made has improved the chances of viability of the club for the long-term, yes at the expense of the short term.

The only real examples I can think of for rebuilding on the fly are Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and those were excruciatingly long efforts that have yet to truly pay off.

Anonymous said...

I Agree, Teams That Stopgap Rebuild To Win 70 Games Or Stick Around .500 Is Insulting To Fans. It Isn't Worth It Just To Stay Respectable In MLB. Playoffs Or Bust.

Anonymous said...

I'm conflicted about stop-gap free agents. I think 2-3 smart moves in the pen can go along way to moving down the road. It can be very deflating for a pitcher to keep losing W's after good outings. Another plus side is being able to move them at the dead line.

But the other side of my brain says spending money of free agents (10m+) is a waste of money.

Wilps said...

Without addressing the meat of this post, I only respond to give defense to Ed Wade, who I think is deserving of WAAAAY more credit than he gets here. Everyone is mancrushing hard on George Springer, for good reasons, but let's not forget which GM drafted him. Ed Wade. Foltynewicz? Another Ed Wade draftee. Delino DeShields, Jake Buchanan, Jack Armstrong, Nick Tropeano, Vincent Velasquez...? All drafted by Ed Wade. And oh yeah, the last I heard most Philly fans are still pretty pissed about losing Cosart, Domingo Santana, AND Jon Singleton for Hunter Pence. And do I need to even mention Castro and Lyles?

Can we please stop bashing Ed Wade for the failures of Drayton McLane?

Anonymous said...

Yes, "bust" has done wonders for the franchise. No attendance and no TV deal now or the immediate future, both of which lead to lower revenues now and in the future. People also discount the losing attitude that may not be so easily dispatched. There have been teams with well ranked MiLB who had trouble overcoming that losing mentality.

Personally, I doubt Luhnow even planned on this level of tear down. Originally, he mentioned a payroll of about 50 million, as he probably realized the potential downside of turning the team into complete crap. However something changed, and he now has less than 20 million to work with. More than likely, the change is simply the over-payment for the franchise, based on TV revenues which never materialized.

Alex Cohn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Cohn said...

The ultimate goal is the World Series. Luhnow and his team have a well thought-out blueprint, and I believe it will succeed.

It's only been a couple years, but let's remember that this front office was essentially given the WORST long-term product and/or plan in ANY sport.

Luhnow has more than deserved his grace period. Nearly every transaction he's made has been a good one. He reminds me of Daryl Morey.

Now, if we come across 2017, 2018, and we arent improving drastically..then I'd have more concern.

The truth is, we're lucky to have switched front office personnel. Luhnow was simply a great hire. He gives us the best chance, out of any team, to acquiring the best possible prospects--and lots of them.

Hence, like the author said--we're no longer kidding ourselves about prospects like J.R Towles and Max Sapp. We're not making bone-headed signings like WOODY WILLIAMS.

Have patience. Rome wasn't built in a day. Our GM is working to bring us the dynasty that he helped form in St. Louis

Anonymous said...

Like who is an impact player available in recent free agency?? None of the recent long term contracts have worked out recently, such as pujols, Hamilton, fielder and so forth. Perhaps Beltran is the best recent free agent contract and he carries significant injury risk. My point is this... Impact players are only possible thru high draft picks because of the changes to free agency and the end of the steroid era. Young is best. This is now the only way to rebuild. Free agency can be used to finish a ball club, but not build. Disagree with the first comment!!

The Batguy said...

I've gone back and looked at Ed Wade's transaction history with Houston, and he does deserve more credit than I've given him. He made some missteps, sure, but he had some good moves, too, particularly in the last couple years with the team. Looking back, most of the damage was done when Purpura was the GM. I'll edit the post accordingly. My apologies to Ed Wade.

Anonymous said...

Tim Pupura might be the worst GM of all time. Terrible (I.e non-existent) prospect development, HORRIBLE signing, and one-sided trades (of which we were on the wrong end) pretty much covers all the bases.

Anonymous said...

I wrote the first comment, and this discussion, as it has been all year, is fruitless. Part is an inability to properly communicate my argument and part is that people seem incapable of seeing any shades of gray. If I criticize the scope of the rebuild, even though I understand that some form of rebuild was necessary, then by god, I must be advocating signing Pujols or Hamilton. OK.

Many rebuilds avoid big names and they certainly avoid the Dodgers model, but they might add a small piece here or there, or retain some of what they have developed. They also actually consider winning to be a goal, and understand that it is not something one turns off and on (the typical world series or bust reply).

Additionally, as to the point that Luhnow inherited a historically bad team. That is debatable. In recent years, the Mets, Marlins and Cubs were all in similar straights. Two of those teams have done a better job of retaining their fanbase through the trying times, and are therefore better positioned financially for the future. All while rebuilding in similar fashion, without big name free agent aquisitions.

(Not Hank) Aaron said...

Sorry, Anon - that is not debatable. The Mets have David Wright, a young incredibly talented player to build around - some talent in the upper minors and some actual assets to trade. The Marlins have Giancarlo Stanton - and again, their spending binge provided actual assets to trade. Cubs are the closest - but even they had more talent in the majors and high minors than the Astros when Luhnow took over.

Luhnow, on the other hand, inherited the worst major league team in baseball, with all the real assets already gone - sorry - Altuve is not in the same class as Wright and Stanton. He's been left dealing mid rotation starters and scrap heap signings, and doing very well at it. He also inherited a farm system with zero talent in the upper minors, and still very thin in the lower minors, despite some very real progress in the last few years of Wade. When he took over there were too many holes for him to try to fill through free agency. He needed to find a stop gap for nearly every single position - and it simply was not worth it yet - not when the minors were in such a state of disrepair.

Think of this analogy. A house has a horrendous foundation, and as a result collapses in on itself. A new owner takes over - does he start to build again - or does he bulldoze everything and fix the foundation first - really fix it, not patch it? If he starts to build without taking care of the foundation first - he risks having the whole thing cave in again.

That's the position Luhnow found himself in. Owner of a building with a foundation rotted to the core. He is rebuilding the right way.

Unknown said...

Anon who is against a 100% tear down,
I respectfully critique your argument in two manners. First, I believe that you mischaracterize the author’s commentary to create a strawman (similar to your assertion against the post). You state that the author posits: “If someone disagrees with the complete teardown process, they obviously don't understand how teams are built.” I believe that this is an incorrect reading of the article. The author has is presenting evidence that the Luhnow-chosen method of rebuilding (i.e., build the best possible farm system) has proven successful in the past. He doesn’t state that this is the ONLY manner of properly rebuilding; he just gives evidence that the chosen method has previously been successful.
Secondly, I believe that you do not factually support your assertion that the Astros would be better off with stopgap players. The given support of this proposition is that: “[your proposed course of action] would have least given their young players a better environment to develop.” (Note: you also passingly refer to other support for your proposition, but you do not set it out.) In contrast to your belief, I believe that the value of stopgap players and a better environment is significantly outweighed by the fact that such actions preclude management from taking flyers on high upside players who have been cast aside by other organizations or giving playing time to young players to determine if they are any good. For instance, we would not have seen Krauss, Grossman, Villar, Cisnero, Barnes, Lo, Zeid etc. this season if their roster spots were filled by stopgap players. If one or two of these players (who probably wouldn’t have gotten much playing time with stopgap players) establishes themself as a legit major-leaguer through this opportunity, then my point is proven (or at least I like to think it is!!).
Anyways, please feel free to disagree and thanks for being one of the few who still cares about our lowly Astros. Better times await!

Anonymous said...

First off, Luhnow inherited a minor league system with Springer, Singleton, Cosart, Deshields, Folty , Villar, Velasquez. Probably many more I am forgetting. He also inherited the most money for the draft in the new system. He also inherited Lyles, Keuchel, and Altuve who would have been in the minors in most systems. He also had Wandy, Happ, Myers, Johnson to either keep, resign or trade. Many assets. He was hardly in some historically bad situation. That is revisionist history, usually employed to justify decisions the club made, AFTER Luhnow arrived.

In sum, it was not a house which had collapsed upon itself, but a rundown house in a rundown neighborhood which included the Mets, Cubs and Marlins.

I am not slamming Luhnow, mainly because I don't think he has any choices, given the financial problems of the ownership. My general beef is with the idea that Luhnow had choices, ranging from minor teardown to complete annihilation, and he chose complete annihilation because that is clearly the optimum strategy. I obviously don't think it is, neither from a baseball standpoint, or from an ovarall health of the franchise standpoint (a factor which advocates of this argument conveniently ignore).

Anonymous said...


Agreed that I didn't factually support my assertion, as it is just an assertion afterall. However, I don't think it is out there, as Luhnow targeted a "veteran presence" to teach the youngsters. I am just taking it a step further by saying a veteran presence to both mentor and shoulder some of the load. But, you are correct, that is merely an assertion.

By the way, I am a big supporter of building the minor leagues, but at this point, the questions becomes "how much?' Do we really need another Domingo Santana at the expense of a dependable bullpen arm with a club option for next year?

Marginal depth at the minors has a diminishing return, especially since most of what that depth will likely become is at a level which can easily be obtained in the open market.

(Not Hank) Aaron said...

Anon - Revisionist history is stating that "Springer, Singleton, Cosart, Deshields, Folty , Villar, Velasquez" were usable assets for Luhnow at the time he took over. Springer had just been drafted, and was playing rookie ball. Folty and Deshields were billed as disappointments. Villar and Cosart were struggling in AA. Velasquez had just missed an entire season with TJ. They were all seen as several years away.

And what Johnson, Wandy, Happ and Myers all had in common is that they were not very good. Sure, they were the best players on the 106 loss Astros team, but they were not something to build around. They were certainly not Starlin Castro, Ginacarlo Stanton, David Wright