Hating on the Astros is trendy. But it’s also rather silly.

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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?

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.

 

 

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.