The Astros' offseason gets off to a pathetic start

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Manny Acta was drafted by the Houston Astros when he was 17 years old, spent six years toiling in their system, then spent nearly a decade coaching and managing in their system as well.  Mere weeks ago, he called the possibility of managing the Astros “too good to be true.”

And now we learn that the Astros lost out on him, not because the Indians were quicker on the draw, but because they weren’t as cheap:

Astros general manager Ed Wade confirmed on Sunday that the team made an offer to Manny Acta to be its next manager before he opted to fill the same position with Cleveland, and Wade said he was confident the club would be able to hire a quality manager.

According to sources close to the negotiations, Acta turned down the Astros’ offer of a two-year deal plus a one-year option to manage the team in favor of Cleveland’s three-year deal with a one-year option for 2013. Acta said Sunday he wouldn’t comment on contract negotiations, but Wade confirmed with he and president of baseball operations Tal Smith met with Acta on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

Maybe Manny Acta isn’t the alpha and omega of managerial candidates, but given that Acta was clearly the guy the Astros wanted, why on Earth wouldn’t they match the three years Cleveland was offering? The only possible explanation that doesn’t make the Astros look bad here is that Acta didn’t give Houston a chance to match the Indians’ offer. But that flies in the face of Acta’s previous comments regarding his desire for the Astros’ job and his reputation as a standup guy.  It’s also worth noting that, at present, no one has said that Acta didn’t give them a chance, and under these circumstances, someone probably would have said so by now if it was true.

As Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle notes, why now, after giving all kinds of money to the Carlos Lees and Mike Hamptons of the world, would the Astros draw the line at paying a manager an extra year at roughly the same rate of a middle reliever?  Does it gall them that they’re still on the hook for Cecil Cooper for $800K next year?  Why wouldn’t they do what they needed to do in order to get the man they obviously wanted?

An even bigger question: What’s the biggest problem facing the Astros these days? The lack of young talent, or the lack of front office sense?

The international draft is all about MLB making money and the union selling out non-members

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 13:  A fan flies the Dominican Republic flag during the game against Cuba during Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic on March 13, 2006 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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On Monday we passed along a report that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are negotiating over an international draft. That report — from ESPN’s Buster Olney — cited competitive balance and the well-being of international free agents as the reasons why they’re pushing for the draft.

We have long doubted those stated motivations and said so again in our post on Monday. But we’re just armchair skeptics when it comes to this. Ben Badler of Baseball America is an expert. Perhaps the foremost expert on international baseball, international signings and the like. Today he writes about a would-be international draft and he tears MLB, the MLBPA and their surrogates in the media to shreds with respect to their talking points.

Of course Badler is a nice guy so “tearing to shreds” is probably putting it too harshly. Maybe it’s better to say that he systematically dismantles the stated rationale for the international draft and makes plan what’s really going on: MLB is looking to save money and the players are looking to sell out non-union members to further their own bargaining position:

Major League Baseball has long wanted an international draft. The driving force behind implementing an international draft is for owners to control their labor costs by paying less money to international amateur players, allowing owners to keep more of that money . . . the players’ association doesn’t care about international amateur players as anything more than a bargaining chip. It’s nothing discriminatory against foreign players, it’s just that the union looks out for players on 40-man rosters. So international players, draft picks in the United States and minor leaguers who make less than $10,000 in annual salary get their rights sold out by the union, which in exchange can negotiate items like a higher major league minimum salary, adjustments to the Super 2 rules or modifying draft pick compensation attached to free agent signings.

Badler then walks through the process of how players are discovered, scouted and signed in Latin America and explains, quite convincingly, how MLB’s international draft and, indeed, its fundamental approach to amateurs in Latin America is lacking.

Read this. Then, every time a U.S.-based writer with MLB sources talks about the international draft, ask whether they know something Ben Badler doesn’t or, alternatively, whether they’re carrying water for either the league or the union.

President Bill Murray speaks about the Cubs from the White House

CHICAGO - APRIL 12:  Celebrity Bill Murray clowns around with Chicago media before the opening day game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 12, 2004 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 13-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I don’t know why Bill Murray is in Washington today. I don’t know why he’s at the White House. But I do know that he was there in Chicago Cubs gear, standing at the lectern in the press briefing room, voicing his full confidence in the Cubs prevailing in the NLCS, despite the fact that Clayton Kershaw is going for the Dodgers tomorrow night.

“Too many sticks,” president Murray said of the Cubs lineup. And something about better trees in Illinois.

Four. More. Years.