Thursday, May 29, 2014

My quick take on the Popularity Contest...

I really can't do better that the Constable's take on the Drellich article that is around five days old.  I also notice that our friends at Crawfish have written a rebuttal duo, expressing their discontent with the whole controversy, and defending the Front Office.  But the Constable sums it up really, really well.

That said, I want to make two points.  The first point is a comment on Drellich's article, and a comment on the various rebuttal articles.  The second point is mine, and may or may not hit the mark.

Drellich quoted Bud Norris and Jed Lowrie - two players that know a fair bit about the Astros, with the former's association spanning the two regimes - quoting directly on the Astros.  

"They are definitely the outcast of major league baseball right now, and it's kind of frustrating for everyone else to have to watch it," said former Astros pitcher Bud Norris, now with Baltimore. "When you talk to agents, when you talk to other players and you talk amongst the league, yeah, there's going to be some opinions about it, and they're not always pretty."  
"If you look at every organization, I think the trend is going toward sheer statistical-driven analysis, and I think that (the Astros) are certainly on the front lines of that," said former Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie, now with Oakland. "Baseball is kind of going through this tectonic shift, and there are people out there banging on tables saying, 'This is not the way the game's supposed to be played or evaluated.' But from a business standpoint, I get it. 
"It is a purely statistical analysis. I think you can't have that approach and expect to have good personal relations. That seems like a hard balance to strike, when you're judging someone strictly on numbers and nothing else, and I'm not talking about whether it's a good guy or a bad guy. But there are certain intangibles, and the perception is the numbers are trying to drive out (the importance of) those intangibles."
My impression is that those quotes are measured, mature quotes from two players who should know enough to comment. The Astros have had their fair share of difficulties with both players, and I think that either player would have the right to be bitter and twisted.  But neither of the quotes seem to belay any kind of unreasonable negative emotion.  Norris merely expresses frustration (my interpretation) on behalf of his former teammates, and comments on the gossip (and, in such a closed a wealthy industry, people will gossip - the gossip is there).  Lowrie points out that numbers are great, but ultimately, it is a human sport, and relationships are going to matter.  And that is an excellent point.

Lets put it another way.  If you told me that Drellich was going to write an article critical of the way the Front Office runs player relations, and Norris and Lowrie were going to be quoted, I would have run straight to my lead-lined panic room, and not emerged until this all blew over.  Probably, about the same amount of time as it took for Chernobyl to become habitable.  These quotes are a very reasonable, even slightly positive, outcome.  They both acknowledge the plan, recent progress, and an understanding of why this needed to occur.  They both warn against being dicks in negotiations, and indicate that some chatter has occurred between players, about how the Astros are doing things.

Drellich goes on to talk about negotiations, leading to my second point.

Without going into details, I have played competitive sport at a pretty decent amateur level.  At times I have played on some bad teams.  I know what it is like to lose.  I especially know what it is like to lose because you just aren't as talented as the opposition.  It is frustrating, and literally the only thing you can do is outwork them.  Warm up when it is pouring with rain??  Done that.  Exercised meticulously during competition weeks, despite the fact that tomorrow's opposition are sitting comfortably having a few drinks?  Yep, been there.  You have to try twice as hard to compete.

And the rewards are rarely there through results, because the results are largely out of your control.  Because, if the opposition has any kind of good day, you, and the team, are toast.  It can get really frustrating.  I know what Bo means when he talks about "sticking to the process".

I can only imagine being George Springer, who is nearly singlehandedly bringing excitement and interest back to the Astros franchise.  I have said this during recent game recaps - this is a young, exciting team when they are playing well.  George is a big part of that.  Altuve is having a great offensive season.  Fowler is as-advertised - on-base threat with some pop.  Villar is intermittently fantastic, but also forehead-slappingly frustrating at times.  Now, the hope is kind-of at the Major League level, with much more to come later in 2014.

But imagine being Springer sitting down with your agent and the Front Office prior to the season.

FO:  Hey, George, welcome, sit down.  Coffee??  No?  Ok, our computer says that you are worth $7 million guaranteed, options can take it to $23.  Interested? 
George's Agent:  Um, can we negotiate? 
FO:  No, the computer says that this is right.*
* - Mucho paraphrasing.  But the leaked information seems to indicate that this approximates what happened.  But who really knows.  My point is, if this happened, it sucks.  Read on.

Then, George leaves the room.  He logs on to Astros County on his mobile phone, and sees articles from fawning nerds like Batguy, myself and the Constable.  He logs on to  He likely sees his image on promotional material - George is coming, donchaknow.  He leaves MMP and sees himself on a billboard.  Or something.  Regardless, the Astros think enough of him to pump him up publicly, use him for marketing, create conversations about hit, sponsor a website (ok, they didn't do that), but they won't even talk turkey with regards to numbers.

And he is being asked to play in a losing team, having to work twice as hard and be twice a mature and when the opposition, the media, the baseball insiders and others make disparaging remarks and jokes about your team, and you don't get rewarded through winning, then it double-sucks.

As a kicker, after May 2014, the reported counter-offer of 7/42M seems waaaay too low.

That said, I would be surprised if the Front Office didn't have a business plan too.  Overpaying for Springer, or at least fairly purchasing his arbitration years, essentially buying the risk ('cause he isn't a sure thing) may not be what they want to do.  That could lead to difficult conversations with Folty, Correa, Appel, Santana et al.  Springer's negotiations aren't happening in a vacuum, and there are many other things to consider here.

But still, this is a team with no albatross contracts, no one they need to pay down (aside from Wandy), in one of the largest media markets in the States (if they are ever able to, like, broadcast to their home city).  I would have done backflips if they had signed Springer to 7/42.  If nothing else, it would have indicated a belief, a commitment.  A belief in a guy.  A human guy.  Screw the digits, lets take a chance!  Because the fan base, and the other players, and the poor nearby bloggers are all waiting for a sign that it is go-time.

My point is this.  Gosh, I hope that these statements from Norris and Lowrie are wrong.  I hope that the Grossman and Dominguez negotiations aren't as alluded to in the article.  I hope that the Astros didn't immediately turn down 7/42 for Springer, but at least made a counter-offer, or moved on the guaranteed money thing, or did something to sweeten the deal.  Because that is not a way to run any business that has human beings in it.

Because, as Robert Ford's voices says in the radio ad in the radio feed: "Have you ever heard of a bat hitting a grand slam??"  At the core of this huge business are a bunch of people.  And where there are people, relationships matter.  And reputations.  And narratives.  And gossip.

God forbid if the Astros are treating the players like they have treated the fans.

Winning may not fix that damage until it is too late.  Because, hopefully soon, the Astros will want to sign that one free agent who can push them over the top.