Astros are off to a 3-3 start, and if that doesn’t sound like much to you, it’s music to the ears of baseball fans in Houston
The thing about throwing a bunch of young guys on the field is that there’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen. That’s the thing that’s going on with the Astros at the moment. Once one of baseball’s smartest and most efficient franchises, the Astros fell victim to the cyclical nature of sports the last few years.
Now they’re pretty much starting over. When Jim Crane bought the franchise and began cleaning house last year, he was extremely honest with fans about where the Astros were at this point.
“We’ve got some work to do,” he said.
Speaking of Crane, he’s off to a pretty good start himself. In the five months since buying the Astros, he has done virtually everything right, from meeting with fans to ask them what they like and don’t like about the franchise to hiring a slew of smart people. He’s in the process of redesigning the uniforms and logo for 2013.
They were coming off a 106-loss season, and Crane didn’t try to spin a story that wasn’t there. He told his fans that the Rangers and Rays would be his model, and that while there might be some short-term pain, the Astros eventually would be back. Once they became good again, they intended to be good for a long, long time.
So in a sense, this season isn’t about winning. It’s about continuing to shift the franchise in the right direction. Former Astros GM Ed Wade inherited arguably the worst farm system in baseball when he was hired in 2007. He turned over a dramatically improved one–15th? 16th?–to Crane.
Crane hired Jeff Luhnow from the Cardinals to be his general manager, and Luhnow has begun to remake the baseball operation. His will be a Moneyball franchise, one in which decisions will be driven but the complex data-driven analysis used by at least half the teams. But it would be a mistake to say that this season’s W-L record is irrelevant. Winning is always important, the best measuring stick of a franchise.
In the case of the Astros, the absolute best measuring stick might be how their Double-A team at Corpus Christi performs, and how many of Wade’s four draft classes make strides toward the Major Leagues. That said, winning is never unimportant.
That’s why it has been so much fun to watch the Astros split their first six games. Maybe that’s nothing to get excited about, but they didn’t win their third game last season until they had eight losses. With the trades of Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt in 2010 and Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence in 2011, the Astros are going to turn their roster into a revolving door of young guys.
There’s a different dynamic with younger players. They’re thrilled to be in the Major Leagues and hungry to show they belong. The Astros are going to be fun to watch, and out of this group of players, there almost certainly going to be guys who stick around for the long haul.
For instance, they picked up right-hander Lucas Harrell on waivers from the White Sox. He had to pitch his way onto the club in Spring Training, and he did just that. Last weekend, he was tremendous in beating Jamie Moyer for his second Major League victory.
“Very impressive,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “He threw four pitches for strikes.”
Luhnow says the Astros have been exactly what he hoped they’d be: a young, high energy team that plays its tail off. The Astros have baseball’s third-lowest payroll at $61 million, and their starting lineup averages 25.9 years per man. Carlos Lee is the only member of the starting eight with more than two years of major league service time.
- Three waiver claims: Matt Downs, Lucas Harrell, Wilton Lopez.
- Two Rule 5 picks: SS Marwin Gonzalez, RHP Rhiner Cruz.
- Four players–Jose Altuve, Brian Bogusevic, Marwin Gonzalez and J.D. Martinez–have less than a year of service time.