The Astros plan on being buyers for some reason

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Following yesterday’s news that the White Sox were scouting Roy Oswalt — and that he was having none of it — comes two hope-springs-eternal stories from Houston.

First comes all sorts of optimistic rumblings from the Astros over at MLB.com:

As the Astros head into June on the heels of an 11-15 May, the
scuffling team conjures up memories of 2004, when Houston sat 20 1/2
games back on August 22. Or perhaps this year’s slow start is more
equatable to the 2005 squad, which went 19-32 out of the gate. Both of
those Astros teams dug themselves out of the hole — posting respective
runs of 36-10 and 74-33 — to punch a playoff ticket in the seasons’
final days. And while this year’s beleaguered squad has been beset with
injury and has underperformed, the Astros aren’t counting on their
history of second-half surges to guarantee October baseball.

Second, ESPN’s Bruce Levine quotes an anonymous insider who claims that that Astros’ owner Drayton McClane would rather add than subtract:

According to one of the top executives and most respected men in
baseball, the Astros are not in the mode to trade any of their players,
most notably Roy Oswalt. “The Astros owner, Drayton McLane, has always
been steadfast on his direction of the Astros,” the executive told me.
“Mr. McLane will be more prone to adding to his team rather than
trading his present players away.”

I’m of two minds here. I’m 85% that the Astros actually adding players
to make a run is lunacy. They’re eight games out and in last place
already, and that’s with Miguel Tejada playing way over his head, and
Carlos Lee, Ivan Rodriguez and Hunter Pence playing about as well as
they can expect to play. Lance Berkman could certainly do better than
he is, but even if he picks it up, those gains will likely be offset by
the losses when those other guys fall back to Earth. Same goes for the
pitching. Roy Oswalt is better than he has shown thus far, but Wandy
Rodriguez is probably not a 2.26 ERA pitcher. The rest of the rotation
is pretty much what one would expect them to be. The upshot is that
there isn’t any real upside to this team in 2009, and short of adding
several top players — which Houston couldn’t do even if it wanted to
given the poor state of its farm system — there can’t be any serious
expectation of competitiveness this year, can there?

The other 15% of my mind thinks like this: Lee, Berkman, Oswalt,
Tejada and Rodriguez are either old or getting there quickly. There is
nothing to replace them on the farm. In light of that, once the Astros
give up on the current core and actually try and rebuild, the fallow
period is going to be an extended one. So, if McClane doesn’t mind
wasting a bunch of money, why not trade whatever dreck can be scrounged
up for guys with big, unwieldy contracts and see if they can’t catch
lightning in a bottle? Odds of success if such a path were taken: very,
very low, though probably not technically zero. And unless you’re an
Astros fan, it would be really, really fun to watch, wouldn’t it?

The spectacle, I mean, not the actual baseball.

Derek Jeter calls Bryant Gumbel “mentally weak”

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Derek Jeter has not covered himself in glory since taking over the Miami Marlins. His reign atop the team’s baseball operations department has been characterized by the slashing of payroll in order to help his new ownership group make more money amid some pretty crushing debt service by virtue of what was, in effect, the leveraged buyout of the club. A club which is now 5-16 and seems destined for five months more and change of some pretty miserable baseball.

Jeter has nonetheless cast the moves the Marlins have made as good for fans in the long run. And, yes, I suppose it’s likely that things will be better in the long run, if for no other reason than they cannot be much worse. Still, such reasoning, while often accepted when a lesser light like, say, White Sox GM Rick Hahn employs it, isn’t accepted as easily when a guy who has been defined by his hand full of championship rings offers it. How can Derek Jeter, of all people, accept losing?

That’s the question HBO’s Bryant Gumbel asked of Jeter in an interview that aired over the weekend (see the video at the end of the post). How can he accept — and why should fans accept — a subpar baseball product which is not intended to win? Jeter’s response? To claim that the 2018 Marlins are totally expected to win and that Gumbel himself is “mentally weak” for not understanding it:

JETER: “We’re trying to win ball games every day.”

GUMBEL: “If you trade your best players in exchange for prospects it’s unlikely you’re going to win more games in the immediate future–”

JETER: “When you take the field, you have an opportunity to win each and every day. Each and every day. You never tell your team that they’re expected to lose. Never.”

GUMBEL: “Not in so–”

JETER: “Now, you can think — now– now, I can’t tell you how you think. Like, I see your mind. I see that’s how you think. I don’t think like that. That’s your mind working like that.”

. . .

DEREK JETER: “You don’t. We have two different mi– I can’t wait to get you on the golf course, man. We got– I mean, I can’t wait for this one.”

BRYANT GUMBEL: “No, I mean–”

DEREK JETER: “You’re mentally weak.”

I sort of get what Jeter was trying to do here. He was trying to take this out the realm of second guessing among people who know some stuff about sports and subtly make it an appeal to authority, implying that he was an athlete and that only he, unlike Gumbel, can understand that mindset and competitiveness of the athlete. That’s what the “get you on the golf course” jazz was about. Probably worth noting at this point that that tack has never worked for Michael Jordan as a basketball executive, even if his singular competitiveness made him the legend he was on the court. An executive makes decisions which can and should be second-guessed, and it seems Jeter cannot handle that.

That being said, Gumbel did sort of open the door for Jeter to do that. Suggesting that baseball players on the 2018 Marlins don’t expect to win is not the best angle for him here because, I am certain, if you ask those players, they would say much the same thing Jeter said. That’s what makes them athletes.

No, what Gumbel should have asked Jeter was “of COURSE you tell your players to win and of COURSE they try their hardest and think they can win every night. My question to you is this: did YOU try YOUR hardest to get the BEST players? And if not, why not?”

Question him like you’d question Rick Hahn. Not like you’d question Future Hall of Fame Shortstop, Derek Jeter.