Turning points are critical to any organization. It’s the only way forward, whether the sports team is good or bad. Good teams adjust and rarely see the bottom of the barrel. Others are forced to scramble regularly, due to bad management, changes in the market, changes in ownership or other outside factors.
The Astros are no different and, while some would say the ship has run aground or is destined for a Titanic-like ending, it’s becoming clear that the organization has a game plan and is prepared to walk it out.
Indeed, most signs point to the fact that the organization has turned several corners in the last year.
The TV Deal.
So, the Astros are indeed one of the poorest teams in all of baseball. Jim Crane is apparently acting fiscally responsible with his low payrolls the past few seasons. According to Forbes, Houston had the lowest revenue stream and the highest debt value while increasing the overall value of the team to $800 million in 2014.
Bottom line, as most will easily recognize, baseball rides on television revenue and the Astros have had limited resources since Crane took over from Drayton McLane. No team in baseball had a smaller revenue stream in 2014 — $175 million — than the Houston Astros. And, it shouldn’t come as a major surprise to learn the Houston Astros had the highest debt value (34%).
Accordingly, low revenue, high debt generally results in low payroll. Check.
That said, Forbes indicates that the average value of MLB teams increased 48% between 2013 and 2014. That’s good news for Houston, which is still ranked only 26th in value.
The increased television revenue should help the Astros move up over the next year, but it remains to be seen how Crane positions his organization to succeed. The evolution and ultimate success of the TV deal, which still needs upgrade and tweaking, will determine the success of the on-field product. It already has.
The Brady Aiken Affair
Yes, it appears the Astros and Jeff Luhnow have been somewhat vindicated with the announcement this week that, indeed, Aiken’s left elbow was problematic, resulting in Tommy John surgery. Of course, many pitchers have returned successfully from TJ, and Aiken even referenced that in his post-surgery commentary.
However, while the Astros may — repeat may — have dodged a bullet by not signing Aiken and taking this year’s second pick instead, but Aiken is also the second player (remember Ryan Vogelsong?) who has raised issues about negotiating with Houston.
To be sure, Luhnow appears to be a shrewd negotiator and he seems to regularly have the facts on his side. For that, he already has great admiration from many in the business. However, his bedside manner has occasionally been called into question. As I’ve penned earlier, there seems to have been marked improvement there too as the first-time GM has learned along the way.
The 2015 spring.
Indeed, as many have pointed out already, Houston’s spring has been different. Good different. No doubt, the Astros have turned the corner with its roster. It’s been years since the Astros have had solid picks to choose from this late into spring training. The fact that Houston will send good players to Fresno or can entertain trade options into the last week of March is telling.
You can argue, debate and discuss all day the merits of trades or acquisitions, but the fact of the matter is undeniable: This is a better roster — at least on paper — than any spring in recent memory. Yet, turning this particular corner into a better roster is just another step towards respectability and contention.
While the Astros may never invest in a $150 million player, there are plenty of options for Luhnow to upgrade, even this summer. Those small steps may be more tedious than gigantic, but the key, as I’ve often said, is adding to the nucleus, one player by one player.
Other thoughts and questions.
- Up or down: Was Aiken’s TJ surgery a vindication for Luhnow and the Astros handling of the #1 draft pick?
- Up or down: Would you even consider taking Aiken or Brady Nix with either of the first round picks? The #37 pick?
- The Astros have passed a few mile markers in what they’ve called the reconstruction. Other than a winning record, what particular mile marker — either already passed or upcoming — will tell you the organization is “back”?
- Houston may never be a top 10 revenue team, but it shouldn’t rank 26th either. Right? Where should the Astros settle into over the next few years? In other words, Houston should be #____ (or in this range) by (this date).
- Complete the sentence: I am most encouraged this spring by …
- Complete this sentence: I’ve never/always been a Luhnow fan, but now…