I’ve noticed a pretty marked trend in Astros hate the past couple of days. Yesterday Buster Olney wrote at length about how bad the Astros are, how low their payroll is and how they are being rewarded for it in the form of profitability and draft picks. Buster basically accused the Astros of tanking the season. This morning Peter Gammons tweeted out the same, couching it as the Astros being “rewarded for losing.”
There are no factual inaccuracies in any of that. Yes, the Astros stink. Yes their payroll is low. Yes, they are being “rewarded” insofar as the worst team in baseball has been given the top draft pick since the advent of the draft nearly 50 years ago. But the critics seem to have it in for the Astros way more than your typical not-very-good major league team and I don’t really get it.
The Astros’ previous owners totally strip-mined that team. They left the minor league cupboard more than bare, in large part because they tried to squeeze way too much out of the Biggio-Bagwell years and put off rebuilding far too long. With the team in the gutter and Houston being about as low on the free agent-desirability list as it comes what, exactly, should the Astros have done differently than they have? Signed Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton? That woulda been swell. They may have challenged for 60 wins in such an event and raised their TV ratings from 0.0 to 0.2 maybe.
The talk that Jeff Luhnow and his team of forward-thinking scouts and executives are geniuses poised to usher in a decade of Astros dominance can get a bit much at times — smarts are important and they have them but results are never guaranteed — but I am struggling to think of what else the Astros could have or should have done differently than they have. It is essential that they rebuild the farm system. It is essential that they not waste money on things that will not make the Astros better and put all efforts into things that will. Yes, that makes for a bad major league product at the moment, but there is no obvious way for them to have changed that while still rebuilding the franchise. This was not a 75-win franchise with some diamonds in the rough or otherwise good but injured players who needed a little boost to get back into contention. This was a tire fire.
And, if the system, rather than the Astros, is the problem, what changes do Olney and Gammons suggest we make to it? A salary floor? Neither of them have ever advocated for that to my knowledge and both stop short of doing so now. Changing the draft to a “make it take it” system in which the best teams in baseball draft first? Of course not. The system of talent distribution/development/payroll is the only one we have, is the best that anyone has come up with and it has been in place forever. Why is it now such a problem that the Astros are taking advantage of it? That’s the entire point of it.
Is it so galling to see a team lose 100 games multiple years in a row and to see them ending the season so poorly? Is it all the more galling to see a team losing because it simply lacks talent rather than because it lacks money and talent? Maybe that’s what the Astros’ critics are on about. I have no idea. All I do know is that nothing that the Astros are doing suggests that they particularly enjoy losing or want to continue losing. They simply stink and are doing what they can to get better while the system’s chips fall where they are designed to fall.
Or am I missing something?
It seems early, but this is when it happens: Major League Baseball announcing the early results for All-Star Game voting. Voting started in April which makes it kind of hard to weigh-in with any sort of certainty about how anyone is doing, but it probably doesn’t matter much. It doesn’t matter much for a lot of reason. Among them:
- There are different schools of thoughts about who should be an All-Star. Some people think the biggest stars should always make it. Others think it’s a reward for a good first half of the season. I really don’t care either way, but if you’re a “biggest stars” person, April is fine for voting. Famous stars are no less famous because they’ve had a bad couple of months.
- Despite the fact that the All-Star Game “counts” for home field advantage, the way it is played ensures that who starts is not super critical. Starters will be gone after a couple of innings. No matter the vote totals, the same general bunch of players will decided the game one way or the other, early or late. It’s the All-Star Game. It’s kind of a circus regardless.
- Major League Baseball does not really care about the integrity of voting. They encourage you to vote a gabillion times, and it’s all very clearly aimed at getting people to visit lucratively-sponsored web pages in order to do it. Which, hey, good for them for making money, but that’s not how you run a tight voting operation.
That last bit is sort of key. I don’t want to overstate how important this is because, again, it’s just the All-Star Game, but there is laughably obvious fraud going on with the votes. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten emails from MLB.com and Royals.com thanking me for my maximum five votes that day. Stuff like this:
That was from a while back. Last I checked it thinks I’ve voted, like, 60 times or something. I haven’t voted once and, obviously, I haven’t listed the Royals as my favorite team. Someone is using my email address or ID or whatever. In my case it’s for Royals players. Maybe people from 29 other teams are hacking other people in their team’s favor too, but the point of this isn’t the specific votes. It’s that this isn’t exactly a high-integrity operation.
Because it’s just All-Star votes I sort of don’t care too much, but it’s at least smart to take the vote totals, especially the early ones, with a grain of salt, sit back and wait for the Home Run Derby and just remember that the All-Star Game is kind of a crazy non-serious event, no matter what people say about home field advantage. For now, here are the voting leaders:
This isn’t quite as risky as that (phony) story about the guy betting his life savings on the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. But it’s still a gamble, both in objective, statistical terms and in terms of the Cubs and their overall karma and luck and stuff. But you gotta have hope, man. Hope is the best thing. Or at least that’s what an escaped ex-con once said.
This got tweeted out in March, but WGN and other media outlets are just picking it up now. I most appreciate the comma after the indeterminate 201_ year, which assumes they may win more than one.
Tattoo experts: what’s the easiest fix here assuming nothing happens for the Cubbies by 2020?
For years the central fact of life of the New York Mets has been that their owners, the Wilpon family and Saul Katz, lost a ton of money after investing it with friend and business partner Bernard Madoff, perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. It has hampered their payroll and led to huge amounts of borrowing and restructuring that, before last year’s pennant run, seemed like it’d be a millstone on the Mets competitive prospects for years to come.
In addition to losing money, it was later determined that Katz and the Wilpons unfairly gained in some other respects and thus they ended up having their phony earnings clawed back via a settlement with the trustee managing the fallout of the Madoff scandal. The upshot: the Wilpons and Katz, in addition to their losses, were ordered to pay nearly $60 million dollars back, half payable this week, half payable next year. That’s a lot of money for anyone to fork over and this week’s payment loomed large.
Now, however, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Wilpons and Katz will get some breathing room. Specifically, they have modified their agreement with the trustee and some of the owed money has been deferred. Instead of some $29 million payable this week, they will only have to pay $16 million. The remainder will be paid in four installments — from 2017 through 2020 — with an interest rate of 3.5 percent on the unpaid balance, Rubin says.
Now, there obviously was no promise that the $13 million saved this week be invested in the baseball team, but it’s probably a good thing overall for the Mets if their owners’ debt payments are reduced a bit.
Last night a fan named Kathi Heintzelman showed up at Progressive Field in Cleveland with a sign asking Indians first baseman Mike Napoli to hit a home run for her and to give her a hug. But there was a reason beyond her love for Mike Napoli. She’s starting chemotherapy today and the hug and homer would be a nice thing. Hard to disagree with that, even if everyone knows that ballplayers can’t hit homers on demand.
Well, most players can’t. Mike Napoli did the easy part before the game, giving her a hug. Then in the sixth inning, he went yard:
Whether you believe that such things can be fated or if you merely acknowledge that Heintzelman asked Napoli for a homer at a good time — he’s on a hot streak right now and has hit bombs in four of his last 11 games — it’s a great story.