It’s spring training. Get a full perspective with new entries from the chipalatta team.
- Chip Bailey: Lots to watch as Astros’ hope springs eternal.
- Dan Peschong: Spring training really matters, except when it doesn’t.
• •• ••• •• •
By Brian Todd
The orange rental car pulls off the side of a lonely highway in the late Florida night, gravel crunching beneath the tires. Inside, the figure cuts the engine, emerges from the car and checks the GPS on his cell phone. He’s been here before, but a place like this, well, maps and memories can be a bit foggy. He ducks into the back seat of the midsized sedan, picking up an old box with the words “Property of Terry Puhl” written on the side. Laden with his burdens, the man heads down a dirt path into the swamp. In the distance, an alligator croaks its deadly cry.
The dust and dirt has collected on his wingtips by the time he reaches the small shack among the cypress and mangrove trees. Before he can climb the rickety steps to the ramshackle building, a voice calls out from inside. “You be late.” It’s a woman’s voice, but bitter and hissing like an angry snake. “Get in here. We’ve work to do.”
Each step groans its complaint as he climbs to the door and slowly pulls it open. “Madam Skulls, I’m so sorry,” he says. “There was a conference call. I was trying to make a trade. Any trade.”
She pats the crystal ball in the middle of the table at which she sits. “You think I don’t know? Now sit down.”
He plops the box on the table. Like the stairs and the door, it creaks a protest at the added burden to its life.
“You bring it all?” she asks.
“Hair, toenails, blood. Everything,” he says. “I’ve got the doll and the string. And, well, the …”
“Don’t go sayin’ its name!” The hiss in Madam Skulls’ voice grows insistent. “If you name it all, the spells, well, we could see a repeat of the last time.”
“About that,” he says. “I wanted to lose enough that people wouldn’t start clamoring for me to acquire veteran players at the deadline. I wanted to be bad enough to keep ‘the plan’ on track. But you … I mean 111 games?”
A smile creases her face. It does not reassure the man. “You play with the black arts,” she says, “and sometimes things not go your way. You must be specific on what the spirits do for you. Don’t go leavin’ your prayers to chance.”
He shakes his head. “Not this time. I thought it all out. I got plans.”
“Hmm, we see.”
He reaches into the box, pulling a splinter of wood and a box with a doll. “This might be the most important spell,” he says. “Can we start with this and get it right?”
“You bring his blood too?”
He nods and hands over a vial of deep red fluid. “Now this spell will be tricky,” he says as Madam Skulls takes the doll—a Ken doll—from its packaging then begins to tape the chunk of wood, taken from a broken bat in Oklahoma City, to the doll’s hands. “I just want him to stop hitting in the last week or so of spring training. I need an excuse to send him down to AAA. But after that, I need the spell lifted. This cannot be permanent.”
Madam Skulls shakes her head. “Why you do this to the boy?”
“It’s all about arbitration eligibility in three years and saving money for the 2017 season.”
“And they says I work the dark arts. Ha!”
“Look,” he says, “if you can’t guarantee he’ll get his swing back once he gets to Oklahoma City, I don’t want this spell done at all.”
She takes the small sample of blood and pours it over the doll’s head then sprinkles a gray powder onto the doll. Suddenly a flash of light mushrooms into the air above the doll, but amazingly it is not burnt. “Like the flash, his bat miss the balls for a fortnight. Nothing more,” she says. “But I keep the doll, just to be safe.”
“I don’t know if I want you to keep the …”
“You not trust Madam Skulls!” she screams. “Get out. Go to your green diamond and pray to God for a miracle.”
“No, no. I trust you, but I worry that, well, the doll might fall into the wrong hands.”
“It leave my home, the doll lose its power,” she says. “You trust me or you don’t.” The old woman crossed her bare arms, waiting for the man to come to a decision.
“I trust you. I do. I just, crap, well, here’s the next spell.”
And on they went. A lock of hair and a lump of soil from a city across the Gulf, and she cast a spell of patience for the short man. A vial of blood drained into a bowl, and the powdered brains of a crow to give wisdom to a fleet-footed young man who played too foolishly before. The macabre concoction then lit aflame by a white powder and “the spirits.” Spells of strength and health for the one who squats and the one who will run up and down a hill.
One by one, she blesses the clipped fingernails from the right hands of nearly twenty young men, and the nails from the left hands of nearly ten more.
“Now this something special I make for you. Only a little extra money,” the old woman says, a sweetness entering her tone.
“Look, I’m not made of money, Madam Skulls.”
“True?” she asks. It came out like an accusation. “You got $10 million in your budget. You think Madam Skulls not read ESPN or Crawfish Boxes?”
“That’s for my players,” he complains.
“This for players,” she says. “Powdered horn of bull, burned with eye of newt …”
“That’s a real thing?”
“Do not interrupt!” she demands. “Eye of newt and skin from baseball belonged to Dave Smith. Burned at midnight when full moon comes. You take these ashes and sprinkle them into bullpen on the floor.”
“Even on the road?”
“Every day of game. You do this yourself, or by the power of Tony Eusebio’s hitting streak leads be slippin’ away like snakes in water.”
“Every day! I swear!”
“Good,” she says, and finally the old woman seems satisfied. “Now you remind Mister Crane, he bring a piece of judge’s robe and TV Guide turned to page with CSN Houston listings. I fix his cable contract problem.”
He nods his head. “I’ll tell him.”
Now, Madam Skulls got a question for you:
* If you play with Dark Art, what you be asking the spirits to help you with? And don’t be asking for a World Series! If it that easy, Madam Skulls make everyone a winner.
Well, we made a lot of changes this offseason. I’m thinking we are going to count on those improvements we have made to see us through the year.I would be satisfied if we forgot about 2017 for the time being and put our best 25 players on the team. I’m more of an “Our Father, who art…” kinda guy. But I will admit to being tempted to stick some pins in a Selig bobblehead.
I think you’ve seen the whole point of the above story — a point I didn’t even see when writing it.
The Luhnow Plan, Springer’s super two status, playing the guys you pay the most, bringing guys along slowly: I’m tired of it all. Put the guys on the field who can win. Move guys through the system faster. I want to win as many games as possible. If that’s 65 then it’s 65. If it’s 72, let’s win 72.
One of my least favorite parts of this voodoo is the idea of sending Carlos Correa to Lancaster. Last year he dominated in Quad Cities. So if he moves up to the Cal League and all the pitchers he faced move up to the Cal League or pitchers just like them from other organizations, all we’re going to see if Cal League inflated numbers from Correa.
Enough! I want to see him start in AA. Heck, that’s his own stated goal. And if he rakes in Corpus, don’t be afraid to send him to OKC or, if Villar goes down, all the way to Houston. I don’t care if he’s 19. Come mid June, if he’s our best shortstop ( not an unreasonable idea) then bring him up.
Start Springer in right field against the Yankees (spit) on April 1.
If Williams is not one of the five best starters after spring training, start someone else and make Williams your long reliever.
Play to win. Now.
Brian T – love the writing dude – can I meet the voodoo princess to help me with my finances?
I’m totally in with the comments above. It is time to shove the talent to the top of the minors and into the big club. If we improve by 20 games this season we are still only 71-91 and picking in the top 7.
I want to feel some excitement about the kids – I want to see them knocking on the door and being allowed in.
It is time.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the Luhnow Plan anymore, I just think it’s time for the pipeline to start supplying us with goods.
This is a transition year, I think. We have a real chance to go from the laughing stock to a team on the rise. And if that happens, we could be looking at .500 in 2015 and competing for a playoff spot in 2016.
Let the wild rumpus begin!
I’ve said this before. If Springer gets held back now, assuming he has a quality spring, he will remember taking that Southwest flight back to OKC to start the season. And his agent will make certain to remind him every step of the way towards eventual free agency. Springer has exceeded expectations at every level. He’s a mature, model citizen by all accounts. Never has been caught saying the wrong thing. Everything is about team. And most essentially, we don’t have a guy as good as him to play right field. If this club does not recognize him on opening day, it will tell me more than I want to know about Crane, and indeed, Luhnow. They can save a few bucks today, by holding Springer back. But there will be no hometown discount from Springer down the road a few years. Why should the guy show any loyalty to a club that seems, to me, so far anyway, to be concerned only about the business side of the game? I hope I’m wrong about this six weeks from now.
“If this club does not recognize him on opening day, it will tell me more than I want to know about Crane, and indeed, Luhnow.”
However, you shouldn’t expect him to get the nod on opening day, even if GSpring tears up ST. In the long run, it makes fiscal sense to wait for two measly weeks, THEN bring him up.
If they wait until mid June, so as to insure he won’t become a super-two candidate, then that just smacks of overt cheapness.
The reality of the issue is that no matter what they do, they’ve already smacked us all with overt cheapness.
I bet you recant come April 12 when he gets the call-up.
What would I recant? If Springer proves in Spring Training to be one of the best three outfielders in this organization, he should be in the Opening Day lineup. Bopert, only very occasionally will I recant anything I’ve said here, and generally speaking, that happens following some foolish post after enjoying too much good, aged rum. And I have not had any good, aged rum to this point today. Maybe after dinner.
I think you will NOT suddenly realize “all you need to know about Crane…”. For once that day comes (4-5 years), you will cease the koolaid consumption.
Until then, I think you WILL still drink the koolaid, realizing that it makes reasonable sense to forestall GSpring’s promotion for 11 some-odd days.
You may even add a splash of rum to deaden the rancid aftertaste present in Crane’s concoction.
Bopert, I’m not a koolaid guy. I think that’s pretty obvious to most people who read my posts here. That’s your stock answer when you don’t have a relevant response. I’m pretty critical. And the caps thing, no worries, I can get the jest of your posts without them.
By the way, you might try sipping some 21 year old El Dorado rum from Guyana. Specs in town usually has it in stock. It might mellow you a bit.
Guyanan rum?!? I’m in!
I’ll pass. Meanwhile, jot down April 1 on your calendar , and I’ll jot down April 12 on mine. Let’s see when Springer gets the call…
DanP…….doesn’t Madam Skulls twin sister-witch run the Astroholics asylum???? I think I remember seeing her the last time I did a stint in that place!! Calm down you guys……Springer will be breaking camp with the Astros…..I doubt Crane wants any more bad publicity about Springer.
The only reason I can think of that he gets sent to OKC, is if he completely falls on his face this spring. As DanP said…..if the kids are knocking on the door………let ’em in.
Yes, the family is into rehab for us A’holics – they look at things holistically using traditional and (ahem – as Chip would say) more controverial methods.
Paul McCartney was right when he was with Wings – “Someone’s knocking at the door, somebody’s ringing the bell – do me a favor – open the door and let ’em in.”
WOW…..hadn’t thought of that song in YEARS! What are we gonna do when Paul McCartney goes to rock ‘n roll heaven??!! I agree…….if the kids are playing well, let ’em in!
Becky, do you know if there is an Astroholics Support group in East Texas? I need to attend a couple times a week. Without a TV deal, we could even have a sub-group of “Deaf and Bind Astroholics”. I am really excited about this team and the improvements this year and next and next. A true Astroholic, and NO – I am not in denial.
🙂 🙂 🙂 :)!!!!!!!
Like all addicts, y’all are in denial.
With Crane at the helm, and whilst “competing” in the ALWest, this franchise is going nowhere slow.
What is so magical about the AL West? Seattle is usually inept. The Angels of some Southern California town are littered with bloated contracts. The A’s never spend money and are stuck in a stadium not where they can’t make money. And the Rangers seem to be slowly slipping toward mediocrity. So, when the Astros’ pipeline is fully flowing by 2016, why won’t they be able to compete. And please don’t blame the TV deal. A) I’m sure it’ll be a decent revenue source by then. And B) money and winning are two different things. See the Angels, Yankees and Phillies from 2013 as just a few examples.
BrianT — what can I say that hasn’t been said a bazillion times? The Astros don’t have the fan support, they are dominated in their market region by the Rangers, and thus won’t have the resources to compete. The biggest nail in the coffin is coming soon — a lousy TV deal — if it comes at all.
I admit the outrageously bad teams three years running will eventually get better. They might become mediocre one day. And a few upstart youngsters will be fun to watch. (Provided the games actually are available for viewing, that is.)
There’s nothing magical in the AL West except for 1) quality rosters, 2) better upper management, 3) better TV deals, 4) better fan support, 5) better revenues, and, you got it — better overall baseball teams year in and year out.
I guess it will take another 5-6 years of mediocrity before it finally dawns on you that you’ve been played.
Meanwhile, those who actually enjoy AL baseball will get their fill watching the Rangers consistently beat the snot out of the Astros year after year after year after….
Fan support? How many did they draw last year despite being horrible? How badly are people clamoring for a TV deal?
The Comcast and Time Warner merger will eventually put the Astros into homes all throughout what is now considered Ranger territory.
Only a few youngsters will help this team? Heck, if three become All-Stars I’ll take it. No team–none–is loaded with .300 hitters and home run mashers. Anyway, the key to winning is pitching. Look at what Luhnow has assembled in the minor leagues. Plus we get Rodon in the draft. How deep is our pitching? Jonas Dufek, who was unhittable in a short stint in AA plus the AFL didn’t make the list of top 15 pitching candidates. Most other farm systems, he’d be top five. Maybe he makes it, maybe he doesn’t. But that’s the depth of our system.
Which is why your list is irrelevant in the long term. Better rosters? Sure, this year and next. By 2016, no team will have more YOUNG, CONTROLLABLE talent than Houston. By then, we’re making TV money. And the brain trust that assembled the best minor league system in baseball is still hard at work feeding the pipeline.
This team is on the rise. Slowly but surely. And what’s left to say that hasn’t been said before? The facts before us once again haven’t deterred your illogical rant.
Oh, I forgot, Crane is evil. An we know this because he bought a baseball team and accepted it’s preordained move to the AL. Then he hired smart people to run his baseball team and told them to tear down a sick and impotent organization and build it for long term success.
That bastard! (Sarcasm font.)
Interesting article about Wojo in the Houston Chronicle this morning.
You guys should take the time to read it………unless you’re Bopert.
Maybe especially if you’re bopert.
I couldn’t find it. What article?
OK – I guess I’ll dazzle folks with facts (of course these will not dazzle certain people).
Tampa Bay since 2008, has won 97, 84, 96, 91, 90 and 92 games while spending between $44 million and 71 million.
In the AL West since 2008, The Rangers won 87 and 90 games in 2008 and 2009 spending 67 and 68 million. The A’s have spent $55 and 61 million the last two years and cashed in on 94 and 96 wins.
It is not how much you spend, but how you spend it that matters the most and the key to all 3 of those teams is having a great farm system and trading people at the right time.
There are other examples, the Twins come to mind, but the point does not vary. It can be done and is done quite often these days.
Meanwhile, Seattle (Cano) and Southern California Suburb of LA (Pujols) have contracts with aging stars that will become an albatross around their necks long before those high-priced deals run out. And those are just the deals I can think of off the top of my head.
BrianT……EXACTLY. Their farm system is a mess, and the cupboard
is empty. The upside of the Astros, is they are stocked with prospects….
who will be making a name for themselves in 2015-2016. The bulk of our really GOOD players are in high A, and Corpus Christi Hooks!
I keep up with them on Jane Hanson’s blog. By the way, this was a HOOT with The Voodoo Princes Madam Skulls!! FUNNY……..
Cano will NOT be an albatross. He’ll be a HUGE impact player, which will create a monster advantage at a non-power position. And they have tons of young talent, almost as much as the Lastros.
I agree that the Pujols deal will hamper the Halos in the last years. But they are so filthy rich that they can buy their way out of their mess.
Could they actually have 3X the TV revenue as the Lastros? 5X??
Bopert is just a jilted fan who is spewing negativity in order to protect himself if the Astros don’t improve. However, he, like most fans who have jumped off the bandwagon, will return when the Astros start wining again (and they will start winning again soon). Winning cures all ills.
Winning does cure all, and will cure bopert’s negativity. But I’ll say this for bopert, he is no bandwagon fan. Whether I agree with his take or not, he’s here year around advocating for a better team.
The bandwagon folks aren’t even reading stories on Chron or TCB. So I say keep up the kvetching, bopert I may think you’re insane half the time (I’m sure you think the same about me), but you are a fan. No bandwagon necessary. And frankly, anyone on the site is a capital F Fan.
To be more precise, I am a jilted fan who honestly, in my heart of hearts, does NOT think the team will (or can) return to consistent competitiveness.
I am still interested in watching the team. I am interested in the plight of the upstart future studs-in-the-making. But beyond that, I will not become emotionally invested in this franchise.
I do not like the AL. I do not like Crane. And if this team does miraculously return to year-in-and-year-out competiveness, I’ll be shocked beyond words… except for my humble apologies.
But that’s not going to happen. Just watch the mediocrity unfold.
PS — how many of you predicted back in 2012 that 2014 will be the year the team returns to respectibilty? Now y’all are all pointing to 2016…
I have long — since Luhnow took over — pointed toward 2015 as a return to respectability. Now what does that mean? To me, respectability means not being picked by everyone to finish last. Winning more than 75 games. Being part of the divisional race late (say August) into the season.
Ok, let’s all root for the team to not finish last year over year. Fun!
It is a process Bo. If you follow baseball and re-read Dan’s comments above about how winning organizations like Oakland, TB and Texas have done it. They built up the farm system and have smart people in management. You may not like Crane, and so far I am not fond of him either, but his plan is working and he knows baseball. Luhnow is very bright and has rebuilt the farm system very quickly. They are following the path of other successful franchises and I like what I have seen so far.
Also, we all want a better team, but I don’t want to sacrifice the long-term success of this franchise by over-spending on free agents just to get an extra 5-10 wins and then be hamstrung by bad contracts (Carlos Lee, anyone?). If the farm system was still ranked near the bottom and the major league team was bad also I would be very frustrated, but I see the future and it is bright.
We all–well, almost all–see it as a process. We get to 65-70 wins this year, hover a game or two on either side of .500 in 2015, and truly compete for a playoff spot in 2016.
We improve our bullpen and outfield this year. First base and maybe shortstop take strides in 2015. And our rotation is solidified by 2016. I could name the players who will make this happen, but we all know the names.
But Bo can only see failure. That’s fine. We will all serve him healthy helpings of crow in two years.
You know, unless the Angels, because the spend money on aging stars, beat us with their higher payroll. Same with Seattle. Frankly, by 2016 only Oakland has me concerned … because Oakland always has me concerned.
The Mariners and Rangers will pound the young Astros into submission in 2016, and the A’s and Angels will get in their jabs as well. They’ll be lucky to finish at .500.
You are just flat wrong about your near-term prognosis for the Mariners. Write it down. They will smash the Lastros in 2016.
Bo, you are flat wrong. Once the Astros start winning they will continue winning and compete for the division year after year. Jeff Luhnow is one of the best GMs in the game and once this CSNH issue is resolved and the TV money is flowing in I have no doubt that ownership will spend on the right free agents. You are a pessimist, but deep down, even you know the Astros are going to be very good and stay that way for a long time.
Tim, to add to that, you only need look at this offseason. The Astros could easily have kept Barnes and Lyles, but traded the pair for a multi-million dollar centerfielder. A cheap owner and GM would have said they thought Barnes–a fan favorite and defensive wizard–was ready for a breakout season. That would have been a simple argument to make. Instead, they made the trade at a net cost of $6 million or so a year.
Similarly, they could have talked and talked about their young pitching depth, then picked up Jerome Williams as a “veteran leader” on the cheap. Instead, they committed $30 million to a No. 2 starter (at best) in Feldman.
The bullpen–a luxury for a bad team–became a major investment this winter. They chased a multitude of first basemen before having to settle for Guzman.
It’s commitment. Pundits across baseball have complimented Houston on the body of its offseason work.
But Bopert sees nothing beyond how evil Crane is for buying a team that Selig was determined to move to the AL. He sees nothing but an owner who inherited a mess from his predessor and decided to the smart — but publicly unpopular — thing to do was rebuild it from scratch under the guiding hand of an acknowledged baseball guru.
Arguing with bopert is like arguing with a tree. The force of your voice won’t make it bow. Only time will teach it a lesson.