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?