Crane postures and promises, but are Astros’ fans buying?


Okay, let’s talk Jim Crane.

Yes, I realize only a few of you have an opinion about the Astros’ owner, but it’s the off season, so I’m thinking enough time has passed for a thought or two to coalesce about the man who has been in the news lately.

Crane inherited a mess of a situation, perhaps more of a mess than any other new owner previously has been asked to take on. He joined the Elite 30 already at a PR deficit. If the Astros had only been losing terribly, attendance was down and the organization was a shambles, it would have been horrific enough.

Add to that the move to the American League and Crane all but had one foot in the grave as far as a relationship with fans and the city.

Remember, he also inherited the Comcast deal. Would he have forged the same deal with the TV network had the decision been entirely his? Did Drayton McLane put together a paper tiger that dramatically increased the “value” of the team?

Crane’s been digging his way out of a deep hole since he signed on the dotted line.

Now, before you start typing, shouting or stop reading, hear me on this. At times, Crane has been his own worst enemy. He’s not made it easy to cheer for him. At one point, I wrote that he had taken the wind out of the sails of this Astros’ fan. In fact, he’s opened the door too many times to rant against him. Not only has he shot himself in both feet, he’s cut off his nose to spite his face as my dad used to say.

I’m as much annoyed at not being able to see my team on television as the next guy. It’s just as silly as a government shutdown. Just get in a room, order some pizzas, lock the door (from the outside) and don’t come out until there’s a deal.

Yes, it’s a business and Crane needs to protect his investment. No matter how you feel about the man or his business practices — and this is not a defense of him in any way — he should make the most of the deal. If the deal Comcast is offering doesn’t make business sense, he should make his case. Clearly, Comcast’s hands are not totally clean either, so just put everyone in that room.

On another matter, most fans believe Crane will not spend money. Frankly, there is absolutely no history or basis to believe he won’t spend next season, or in 2015 or any other season. Yes, he cut the budget this year. More importantly, he cleared the roster of players who didn’t want or need to be in Houston.

In black and white, he said the 2014 payroll could be in the $50-$60 million range, perhaps higher if the TV deal is completed.

But here’s the thing folks. It doesn’t matter if the payroll is $50 million, $20 million or $100 million. If the Astros aren’t signing the right players, it will leave the same empty feeling again and again.  Ask the Yankees. Or the Angels. Or any number of other teams.

I predicted earlier that the budget would increase and I believe it will. But Jeff Luhnow has his work cut out trying to find a free agent who will fit into the reconstruction mix and make a healthy contribution — on and off the field. It won’t be Robinson Cano or Brian McCann.

The Astros will probably take a calculated shot at mid-range free agents (We’ll look at some of those later). And, it’s a virtual guarantee that Luhnow will include a low-risk approach a la Rick Ankiel or Erik Bedard or Jose Veras. I would, wouldn’t you?

The key is not the budget, but the approach. In that realm, the Astros are right on target. The farm system is bristling with talent and another set of high draft picks awaits next June. Yes, it’s the silver lining in a dark set of clouds, but it is the Houston Astros.

So, as the playoffs roll on (are you watching, by the way?), here’s a set of questions for you today. As I mentioned earlier, I realize you have not formed opinions on Crane, but would appreciate you taking a moment to interact.

  • When you think of Jim Crane, what is your first thought (maybe 2-3 words will do).
  • Who’s more responsible for the current mess the Astros are in: Crane or McLane?
  • If you believe Crane will not stand by his comments and spend the $50-$60 million in 2014, what do you base that on?
  • If it turns out Comcast is the real bad guy and Crane does spend raise the payroll significantly, will it change your opinion of the Astros’ owner?
  • What should Crane do to win over Astros’ fans (no, “sell the team and move to Europe” isn’t an answer)?
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34 comments on “Crane postures and promises, but are Astros’ fans buying?

  1. -My first thought about Crane “he’s dumb when it comes to owning a baseball team”
    -50-50 Mclane was in with Selig from the beginning on everything and set Crane up on the AL thing. Crane made a mistake by not backing out and sticking McLane with this nightmare. If Crane had backed out, everyone would have found out how McLane had sold out to Selig and the rest of the owners to get his money.
    -Last year it was Luhnow who said he would spend money on FA’s and then didn’t. I think that is why Crane said it this year. He really expects Luhnow to make the team better and Luhnow better do it.
    -I don’t care about who to blame. the TV deal is a catastrophe and there is enough blame to go around for everyone concerned. Get the product televised or you will lose your shorts.
    -What should Crane do? Move the signs, Improve the product, Leave the hill. Get the TV deal done. Get off the air and let Reid Ryan do the job of running the team. Let Ryan revamp the ticket pricing structure to a fan friendly level. Get George Springer to Houston and get him involved with the fans. Pretend Springer is our center fielder.

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  2. Crane still lacks credibility. One thing is clear though. His organization has certainly made a big impact in resurrecting the minor league system. Crane deserves credit for that. He’s shown a willingness to spend on the system in infrastructure and personnel. We have been getting our picks signed. But his leadership has failed in most every other area. Really, what else has he done to help the average Astro fan buy into his organization? Okay, I’ll give him one more thing. The effort to build new baseball facilities throughout the city, in partnership with the Houston business community, is a profound one, even if most folks don’t seem the like the left center field glass wall any longer.

    At this point, McLane is long gone. He was a smart enough businessman to hoodwink Crane and his investor group into over paying for a barren franchise, one in which he had let the foundation crumble. I never liked Drayton McLane. Never thought he was the genuine article. Everything he did was calculated. And his ego, devoid of any baseball saavy, would not allow him to keep wise men running the operation.

    For me, the jury is still out. When the Astros start to win again, everyone will be happy again. It’s that simple. Crane might even become a popular guy.

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  3. – I don’t trust Crane. The PR bungling and poor product on the field in 2013 are the big reasons. I fully believe they wanted to get the 1st pick in the 2014 draft. Logically that’s the best outcome in a season where you know you can finish no higher than fourth place in the division. I don’t want to hear about how surprised I’ll be when they exceed expectations. Call a spade a spade.
    – McLane. The minor league system produced very little in his last five years. MLB has an article about the Cardinals getting 5 big time contributors on their 2013 team from the 2009 draft. Luhnow / Crane is on the clock though.
    – Spending $50-60M on what? The only way this happens is if they sign a couple vets for the bullpen (perhaps overpaying), gives extensions to Castro, Springer, Cosart, and a few others, and finds a few others willing to come to town.
    – I’m willing to keep an open mind here. It’s not so much about changing my opinion, though, and more about expecting people can learn from their mistakes.
    – Free tickets for kids on the honor roll. Allow outside food into the ballpark (can we do that yet?). Start a public feud with Mark Cuban over Houston being a far superior city than Dallas. Begin a huge media campaign for Biggio HOF ’14.

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  4. Crane suffers from the Obama syndrome – hey you inherited a shipwreck, but guess what, you are the captain now and you own it. Figure it out. The TV deal is like the wars, you didn’t start them, you didn’t even support them, but hey, you own them. Figure it out. The Astros should be back on TV.

    Now I am going back to my corner to sulk away the thought of a 4th 100 loss season.

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  5. Funny you should mention the shutdown. I am discovering that there are a lot of things that I can completely do without, like the “United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.” I found that I can also do without the Astros. In fact, much as my life would be so much better without at least a third of the federal government, my life has improved since last my television donned the image of MMP. I speak French like a three year old, (Ha! the Astros in French is, L’Astros), I’ve lost three inches on my waist, and for once I’ll be in shape for skiing. Oh, and Mrs. Flash has lost 45 lbs, and she is smokin’ hot. Yes, things are just fine at la maison de l’instantané without L’Astros.

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  6. I think Crane is treading water. That’s my first thought. And I think he’s in that (hot) water because Drayton pushed him in the deep end. The move to the AL, the lousy Comcast deal, the state of this team. These were all Drayton’s moves.

    That said, Crane’s honeymoon is coming to an end. I understand the plan, but two years of losing like you mean it is enough. I don’t expect 75 wins next year, but I expect more than 65. And to get there, I expect a competent bullpen and one outfield bat. That’s my minimum. You don’t have to go spending on starters. You don’t have to revamp the infield. Help is on the way at first base, so maybe limp along there a bit. Give Matty D a chance to improve at third as both a consistent fielder and a hitter.

    But we need a solid corner outfield bat. Not a “hope he gets his mojo back from 2009 or 2011” signing like we’ve had in the past.

    Am I buying what Crane is selling? If he’s buying what I listed above, then yes.

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    • You’re absolutely right about the honeymoon, Brian. It’s time for Crane, Ryan, Luhnow and Porter to take a big step forward in 2014. Another 100-loss season — which I can’t see coming under any circumstances — would be absolutely…well, I can’t even think of the appropriate word.

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  7. Just a note, I keep reading comments about the CSN mess being caused by DMac. I read several sources saying that Crane et. al. walked a $1.2 Billion (10 year) Fox Sports Southwest Offer. If that is true (which I have no way of knowing) then how does this past year’s fiasco fall on McLain?

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    • There is no way Crane could have passed on that supposed FSSW offer as the Comcast deal was signed and agreed upon before Crane took ownership. Once Crane took ownership he couldn’t cancel the Comcast deal to accept the FSSW offer as the contract was already signed.

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  8. What is your first thought of Crane – PR Stupid (arrogant?)

    Who’s more responsible for the current mess – Right now I would say 40% Crane / 60% McLane – by the end of 2014 – 60% Crane / 40% McLane

    If you believe Crane will not stand by his comments and spend the $50-$60 million in 2014, what do you base that on? – I think he will spend more than 2013 – but not 50-60 million – I think less will be based on who they actually should sign and who will actually sign with them and… he will moan and groan if the Comcast is not agreed to his liking and claim the money is not there.

    If it turns out Comcast is the real bad guy and Crane does spend raise the payroll significantly, will it change your opinion of the Astros’ owner? Not really – I think he will spend more as things pick up with the team.

    What should Crane do to win over Astros’ fans (no, “sell the team and move to Europe” isn’t an answer)? Never speak in public again….Bring in the rest of the Ryan family to help (Heard that Nolan almost got into blows with his GM) …. Spend big bucks when (not if) he replaces Porter and on coaches…. Sign someone significant for 2014.

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  9. Alright, I’m out of the playoffs now that Oakland and Pittsburgh are eliminated. The only scenarios where I can root for the Cardinals involved them playing the Yankees or Red Sox, but it would be tough.

    As such, what does everyone think about David Price? Is Crane hinting that they’ll make a run at some acquisitions such as a former Cy Young poised to make $13-15M in arbitration this winter? Are there any other salary dumps people could foresee them making a run at? My personal opinion is there aren’t enough prospects in the system to get the guys we would want.

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  10. Ha – Dan, you made me have a flashback to when I had condoned trading a then fairly young RF named Pence to Arizona for a rookie that had yet to debut named Scherzer, and the entire blog demonstrated some skepticism.

    I think it’s safe to say that we will see where Crane is when he is serious about addressing the rotation. Your starting 5 is the most important thing, you have to start with that. Having guys that consistently go out and get you 6-7 innings while giving up only a few runs, keeping you in every game, is vital. Think back to the White Sox team that beat us in the WS, no superstarts, no Cy Youngs, but 5 guys that were consistent.

    Having Lyles go out and throw 7 innings with 1 run, get a win, then watch him get blasted in his next two starts, thats how you lose 100 games. Dont want to pick on Lyles personally, the whole staff is in that state right now, and maybe he finds some consistency, but it could be seen early on that he didn’t have it right now, yet they kept trotting him out there.

    The only guy that I am comfortable with right now is Cosart, and he should be the 5th starter getting skipped a few times next year. If he is serious he calls Tampa, offers Singleton and a combination of 2 starters (like Buchanan – great stats, great hook, and maybe one stuff guy like Folty or McCullers) for Price. Then he signs him to the deal necessary to make him the Ace of this club for the next 5 years. Those are hard names to give up, but Price is a generational talent – and Tampa can’t pay him.

    After the Price trade I am overpaying for Nolasco, if that is what it takes to get him. I think its likely Nolasco stays in LA, or maybe ends up a Yankee, but I match their offers toe to toe and try to sale the tax incentive.

    Do I think any of this is possible under current management – NO. But it is what I would do.

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    • I don’t think you should forget Peacock. Upon his return to the Astros he was 4-3 in August and September. That is pitching for a team that lost twice as many games as it won in the same period and didn’t have a closer.
      Peacock just turned 25 and got better because he got a 4th pitch he had confidence in. He has good mph on his FB so he starts with that in his favor. If he learns how to pitch he can be a decent starter in this league. Remember that he was hit as a starter, hit as a reliever and then went to AAA and found his groove. If you get a couple of decent years out of him as a starter, then he could really fit in and be a valuable player to use or trade in a couple of years if Appel, Folty, McCullers, Cosart, Rodon, Feliz, and Velasquez are ready.
      I think Peacock has found it and will push for a starting rotation job in ST.

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  11. Chip I wanted to wait and re-read your post before commenting. First, I don’t want a “cuss fight” because we have a difference of opinion, and I respect your opinion highly. But, the article contains items that I have a different view – at least appear to have a different view. First my opinion, Crane did not inherit a mess. He purchased a mess. So he bought it. Second, he inherited the Comcast deal. It appears to me that it was in place, but Crane executed the order to move from Fox. As to the money, there is no history showing he will or he won’t spend money. As of today, he has not spent on the MLB roster. He HAS spent on the minors, but so have most other teams. Has the minors improved, Yes dramatically, but when you have a MLB roster and you are willing to trade players for prospects – you will improve the minors. (Well we did get Francisco Cordero and Ben Francisco.) But when you have the worst record in baseball, you get high picks – so that would improve the farm system. But at the expense of making the MLB team worse. (Again, my opinion). As to signing low risk FAs, when I look at what was received for Veras, Bedard, Greene, Cedeno, Ankiel, etc — it appears to me that 2013 FAs were a waste of time and money. So my conclusion is that for the 2nd Winter in a row, the Astros have an opportunity to sign a couple or three FAs in their early 30’s that would improve the MLB roster. If we give up a 2nd round pick, for a MLB player – that seems cheap to me. All that these signings would do is “shorten” the painful plan, but it could be shortened. Right now, Luhnow has to stay the course, but he does have options. Not sure if Crane has the money, but time will tell. Again, we see it differently. And finally, I have no idea about the character or business practices of Crane. But he has not improved the MLB roster YET. Also, I would be hard pressed to see why he SHOULD go to $50-60 Million, but yes, more than 2013 year end. At this point in the plan, Crane/Luhnow have a few options, but only a few. Time will tell what is in his basket – and then we will all know.

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    • Do you have any links or evidence that Crane executed the order for the Comcast deal? This is the first time I have heard this. I thought this was executed long before an agreement was in place between McLane and Crane.

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      • Tim, I am no expert on this deal or any of the others. In reading multiple articles, they talk about the 2003-5 court battle with Fox & Astros with a settlement of $600 Million but allowing the Astros to get out of the deal if they chose to do so. Then articles talk about the CSN Houston agreement, yet there was an “offer” for the $1.2 Billion for 10 years. If true, that is a better deal than the Rangers received. There is no question the original agreements started with McLane. Now it is evident that the partners are in court, the deal is not what Crane or Comcast expected. Forbes has a few articles over the years, and then Sports Day DFW puts Houston in a bad light as would be expected.

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      • Yeah Buddy, depending on what you call “high” — and we can debate that — the Astros will theoretically have three picks in the top 40 or so. Obviously, they have the first pick. After that, they’ll also have the 33rd pick, a competitive balance pick they got in the Bud Norris trade from Baltimore. Add in the first pick of the second round, which should fall in around #40, depending on possible compensation selections as a result of free agent signings. For reference, Houston got Lance McCullers Jr this summer with pick #41.

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    • Astro45, I don’t believe we differ dramatically on our views. Whether Crane “executed” the agreement to leave Fox or not, the new Comcast deal was in place when he bought the team.

      Yes, he purchased a mess, but if I’d had $600 million at my disposal, I’d have purchased the mess too since it’s one of only 30 “messes” in the world. Most businessmen, good or bad, believe they can take a mess and make it better. I’m sure Crane is no different.

      On free agents, I can make a strong argument that the Astros will actually be better in 2014, even if they didn’t sign a single FA. Let Cosart, Oberholtzer, Villar and others settle in for a full season and add in Folty or Springer and Houston should see improvement. Still, you know that Luhnow will take a swing at some free agents (wait for it, the new entry is coming shortly).

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  12. Jim Crane is a man who *hates* to lose….
    He inherited this CSN mess from Drayton, and could do nothing about it.
    Crane hired a law firm Kirkland& Ellis representing the lawsuit against CSN.
    These guys are GOOD, and VERY expensive…….so if he’s gonna pay THAT kind
    of money in a civil suit, I think he will spend some green on the Astros for 2014.
    Just how much is up to the rest of his investors, and I assume he has their blessings. I’ve been watching the play-offs, and I stand by my earlier comment:
    I *HATE* the Cards. There…….I feel better. Signing a few free agents over the Winter sounds good, but getting a few good veteran guys to sign here will be
    interesting. Would YOU want to play for a club who is probably going to stink
    next year? On a positive note, I’m glad to see a few ex Astros on contending
    teams. If the Tigers win the WS, Veras will get a ring, I think that is VERY cool!
    Who shuts down the OCEAN??????? Good LORD 😦

    P.S. My prediction is somewhere around $45 million for next year.

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  13. The Cards are arguably the best organization in baseball. We should be so lucky. And Carlos Beltran might be the best post season guy ever.

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