Free Blog Weekend: Astros’ turning points are evident

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…



42 comments on “Free Blog Weekend: Astros’ turning points are evident

  1. Good stuff Chip I think with Aiken it proves that his agent and family took a calculated gamble and lost. It seems that Astro’s concerns were real. i would walk from Nix also we already paid him once fro nothing. MOVE ON. Aiken could recover from TJS or he could end up at Burger King who knows

    My jury still out On Lunhole. I think with the size of the Houston market we should be at #15. This spring it seems we have a a major upgrade in the Bullpen. Wojo and Hoyt are better than I imagined., and if Gattis stays healthy we are going score a lot more runs with this lineup. 81-81 may 83

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kevin, you’re correct that Aiken took a calculated gamble. However, I’d also guess that once they decided to turn the offer down, they also took out some type of insurance policy to guard against something like this happening. If he recovers fine between now and the June draft, it’s still quite possible he’d be a Top 15 pick.

    It certainly vindicates Luhnow to some degree. However, the replacement pick (#2 this June) is absolutely a can’t-miss for the organization. It was further seal his redemption if he gets a top notch college player who’s ready for Houston in 2017 a la Rodon, Bryant and others. He. Can. Not. Miss. On. That. Pick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t really paid much attention on that yet,.who are you talking about? To me on Aiken its like the adults in this got caught trying to be slick( hand in the cookie jar) hoping JR would get the big deal, sort of sad in a way,


  3. To me, the mile marker that will determine when the Astros are back is when our AAA club has the players on it that will make the Astros a playoff team. When Correa, Moran, Kemp, Tucker, Sclafani, Appel, Wojo, Velasquez, Hoyt, Shirley, Santana and Stassi are ready for the major leagues, tear up the PCL and add to the quality of the major league product, we will be back.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Let’s see
    – The Aiken injury makes me more confident in the decision making of the Astros.
    – I can’t see chasing either Aiken or Nix. Like calling up your old girl friend when she has moved on.
    – I agree with old pros thoughts – when the best players are one step away – we will be at a new place for the team.
    Gotta run – answer the rest later….


  5. I would not have taken Aiken, a high school standout, with the first pick. This team needed a more mature player, one that might provide an impact in the short term. The two for one concept seems to have worked with Correa/McCullers. But we sure lost a couple of real opportunities last draft by not wanting to pay retail.

    But yes, Luhnow is vindicated. I just wish he had not gone to Aiken in the first place.

    I don’t think we’ve reached any particular mile marker at this point. Until this club is playing meaningful games into September, we’re still not relevant. I’m still not sold on Jim Crane. I’m still not sold on Jeff Luhnow.

    Houston should certainly be a top 10 revenue team. It was not too long ago when 3 million plus fans would jam the park here. We are still the 4th largest city in America, and I think the fasting growing today. We’ll probably overtake Chicago in population within the next decade. We have potential markets in the Austin/Round Rock metro area and the San Antonio regain. We have significant potential markets in South Texas and Louisiana. We’ve just done a terrible job in marketing the product, as bad as it has been. I do not think the Crane led organization will create what is possible.

    I’m most encouraged this spring by Spring Training. It promises a new season if nothing else!

    I’ve never been a Luhnow (maybe except for the first year) fan and I’m still not.


    • In years long past, one of the best way’s to attract fans from fringe areas of your surrounding states was to draft good players from those areas.
      An example of that is Daniel Mengden, the Aggie pitcher. When Menden makes it to the Astros, Aggie baseball fans are going to come see him and they have a good chance to become Astros fans. If you have a choice of equal quality players in the draft, get the guy who’s going to add interest in your Texas based farm teams. This will be very true in the future when the AAA team is back in Texas.
      Be innovative! do an Altuve bobblehead night, or a Villar bobbleglove night, or a Gattis bobblehead with the body of a bear and his head bobbling on it.
      Have a Louisiana night with Cajun stuff and Cajun food.
      Have a San Antonio night!
      Have a Lone Star State Weekend series with giveaways and try to sell all three nights out. Have the Governor throw out the first pitch. Have the Mayor of Arlington throw out one of ’em. Have the mayor of Houston throw out one of ’em.
      Make it cool to be an Astros fan for young people to be involved with the team.
      Fill up the Stands
      Win baseball games
      Be the talk of the town for good reasons
      Market George Springer!
      Get good radio coverage in your home town!

      Liked by 1 person

      • All good stuff oldpro. I still like your earlier option most. A Nolan Ryan led ownership group. I’m still hoping for a day that the minority partners revolt. Who better than Ryan to take Crane’s seat? That would certainly bring renewed interest throughout the state and beyond. Crane will never be a Texan. Ryan personifies Texas.

        Liked by 1 person

    • OP and daveb, I know I should be ashamed, but following up on dave’s comment: How about the Gattis Bobble-Knee Night? You could have a special section for everyone with ailing knees (me included) and a Wobble Around the Bases post-game for those fans with Gattis himself high-fiving everyone as they “rounded” third base. Okay, okay, maybe I’ll come back in a few and delete this comment…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. – I feared the Correa pick was a repeat of Matt Bush or Bryan Bullington. It appears I was wrong.
    – I was happy with Appel over Gray. I would have been happy with Bryant, but was convinced they only looked at pitchers and feigned interest in Colin Moran as leverage.
    – You all know I wanted Rodon over any other pick in 2014 or 2015.

    1. The TJ surgery for Aiken troubles me. If he was healthy, why did he get shut down in May and not pitch competitively for eight months? Should I fault him for the actions and responses? My initial thought is no – that’s how the game has to be played. I can’t fault Luhnow for backing out or lowering the pick, but assume that either the scenario attempting to get Aiken/Nix/Marshall as a package deal was their goal following the physical OR Jim Crane dictated terms until the deadline. The $3.1m offer – more than a 50% reduction on agreed signing bonus had to be such an insult…
    2. Yes, I would be fine picking either of those guys. The problem, I think, is after getting those two to sign the waiver allowing it, the potential bonus values better be hard constraints that Luhnow doesn’t try to lower or it would look really bad and likely have major repercussions with all agents.
    3. Marquis free agent signing for fair or below market value.
    4. 10 by January 2017.
    5. I am most encouraged this spring by Valbuena. He looks like a quality hitter, appears to bring energy to the club, and certainly improves a position with woeful production in recent years.
    6. I’ve sometimes been a Luhnow fan, but can’t make up my mind due to egregious PR blunders. If he shows in 2015 that he understands the importance of that side of business relations, I’ll stop being so hard on him. Maybe.


  7. #1 – Aiken had TJ surgery as did Darvish. One does not make the Astros a genius nor the Rangers an idiot. The flaw is NO pre-draft physical. With it post draft, JL did what he though best for the team Had Aiken signed for $5 M and now had the surgery – Luhnow would not be a fool. You have to make those decisions base upon what you know at the time. #2 – The Astros need to bypass both or they will look vindictive. If you take them in the 20th /- round because no one want them – then do it. #3- My only mile marker is winning. Once they get over .500 (which can be this year) – then they need to retain their better players and prospects. #4 – they should be in the top 10 within the next 3 years -if you consider gate, concessions, and merchandise sales. In total revenue, the TV deals around the country need to level out – which could take a long time. #5 – Spring. A close to set roster. Not looking at 3-5 NRI to make the club. #6 – Luhnow. It is difficult to judge his actions when we do not know if his hands are tied by the budget. (Example: Would he have a closer if the budget were higher?)


    • Major league baseball has to begin a predraft practice such as the NFL has. Allow the players to get physicals for the interested teams, allow the in-depth interviews, “pro” days at campuses in geographical areas so the players can be assessed and accessed before being drafted.


  8. Listening to Luhnow on Astroline last night I gathered that:
    Jake Marisnick is the starting CF on this team.
    Luhnow knows the hangups of the tandem system because he mentioned that the young pitchers in our system “don’t like me a lot” because they are limited in their innings. He said that the tandem system has limited big injuries to big pitching prospects.
    Carlos Correa is closer than I thought and being in CC does not keep him farther away from being an Astro.
    Deduno is in the bullpen as long reliever/spot starter.
    Hoyt is close but has been given a couple of things to work on in the minors.
    Luhnow thinks The Hooks are going to be an incredible minor league team.
    Luhnow still thinks more highly of Andrew Aplin than others do.
    He thinks Gattis and the Crawford Boxes are a marriage and that Gattis is the third catcher on this team and a sometime LFer/DH. The 500 ABs is really important.
    The team strikeouts are not a concern if the runs are there and if players cut down on their swings to get a runner in from third w/ less than two outs. He used the words “choke up a little” and get that runner in.
    Villar still has a chance and that he thinks Villar has been one of the best players in camp this spring.


    • Interesting comments sir.

      Here are some follow up thoughts on your comments.
      * Marisnick has been the man to beat in CF for a couple of weeks, or ever since Hinch said publicly he’d like to start playing his regular lineup-to-be more. Marisnick has been in CF often since.
      * The restructure of the tandem is a good indication that Luhnow is learning as he goes and doesn’t mind adjusting if he sees his “plan” needs tweaking. That is a good sign.
      * Deduno may be Luhnow’s long relief guy, but Hinch says he’ll wait until next week to make that determination/announcement.
      * The Hooks may be an incredible minor league team…until they start promoting their stars at mid-season (or earlier). In the mean time, they should be fun to watch!
      * Followup thought…wondering if Correa, Moran and Appel may have started at AAA if the AAA franchise was actually in Round Rock?
      * So, it’s Gattis in LF, Marisnick in CF and Springer in RF? Where is the $8 million man (Rasmus)? Would the Astros dare release him? Probably not this early. Right?
      * “…choke up a little…”? Sounds like what I used to tell our travel team kids: “Choke and poke!”

      I honestly believe Correa could be in Houston this season. Sure, there are some spotty parts of his game, but he seems to be a quick learner and quick adapter. He should absolutely rip AA pitching.

      As I suggested yesterday, is it possible that Villar is an Alfonso Soriano, who started in the Yankees system as a second baseman, then moved to the OF? Could he have possibly “found” his game? Wouldn’t that be a development if Jonathan Villar was actually the (ahem) Astros’ CF of the future!?


    • Chip, in regards to the $8M man, I am reading into it that Big Jon is going to start the season in Fresno, Carter at 1B, Gattis at DH and an OF of Rasmus, Marisnick and Springer from LF to RF.


  9. Great article Chip.

    As a die-hard fan, I, along with Luhnow, feel vindicated about Aiken. My team wasn’t as bad as everyone made them out to be. And after reading the latest entry by the chronicle (spit!), I feel like I might have to change my (spit!) to (puke!). Someone over there, who wouldn’t even put their name on the article, made a weak attempt to play “National Enquirer” and smear the Astros by quoting Fox Sports analyst C.J. Nitkowski’s translation of Aiken’s remarks after his surgery. It was very cheap journalism by both parties. I wish the Aiken well, but am glad he’s not a part of our team.

    On the TV deal – I don’t have Direct TV, so I’m hoping that they follow up the TV deal by getting a new radio deal with 740 am. It might not be a big revenue source, but it will enhance and solidify their market.

    I’m afraid I have to admit that, following the last few spring trainings, I’m holding back quite a bit on getting excited about spring training being any sort of indicator of the Astros’ potential. Call me calloused in that regard, but nonetheless, I think I’m a bit more hopeful this year than most. But I’m gonna hold off till about late May to decide whether the Astros have actually turned a corner.

    On your questions –
    I would love it if we could get Brady Nix and he could blossom into a top 30 prospect.
    As far as revenue, I think the Astros should be around 8th or so. But I think it will take about 4 years of great baseball to get there.

    I’ve got a couple of questions.

    Do you think the Cosart scandal is for real?

    What will it take in the regular season to be confident of Singleton?


  10. I don’t feel the same “vindication” for Luhnow when it comes to Aiken. The correct end result came in that he didn’t sign the guy, but he did offer 3.1 million. If Aiken had accepted would he look only 60% foolish? If the Astros felt strongly there were issues with the elbow, which now looks correct, they should have simply failed the physical and withdrawn any offer.

    I think starting Marisnick in CF is the right decision. Rasmus has been less than Rasmus-y. Marisnick is not only the better defensive option, he looks like the better offensive option at this point. I would think they are leaning towards Carter being a near full time 1B with Singleton starting to scuffle again. I think Rasmus opens in LF because he is making 8 million, but Grossman deserves the nod.

    OP – we spent the entire offseason arguing about Grossman/Marisnick, and I am starting to think there is a chance that by July they will both be starters.

    Marisnick swings at too many pitches out of the zone, but he does swing a hard bat, and a lot of times that can help make up for hitting the pitchers pitch. If he can manage to hit .270 he will survive as a starting CF’er. He certainly has the defense for it. If the Astros give him 130 starts in CF he should win a gold glove. He will probably save 25 runs or so the average CFer wont. He will have enough power I think, maybe around 10-12 HR, he will steal some bases, but it’s going to be a CJ type season where he has to maintain some BABIP to keep his average high because he won’t walk near enough. From what I have seen this spring though his bat speed is maybe not quit CJ level but close – and that should help his cause. Also, unlike CJ, he seems to have the right attitude, is athletic, and can defend.


    • Steven, please, one more time: The Astros had to submit an offer of at least $3.1 in order to get the #2 draft pick this year. That is in the CBA.
      They were still going to have to settle with Nix.
      They would still have gotten the bad publicity.
      Close and the Aikens would still have hidden what they knew and fooled the public.
      The Astros would not have the #2 pick this year.
      Luhnow protected the Astros and their fans by getting that draft pick instead of nothing.
      I prefer to think you are right about Grossman and I was right about JFSF and we can toast each other that the Astros are better off having both of them. Luhnow said last night that if Marisnick can hit .260 and between 15-20 home runs, he will be a center fielder they can be happy with. I have been watching baseball for almost 60 years and in all that time I have seen a maybe 3 or 4 center fielders who are Marisnick’s equal defensively. That includes any of the great center fielders you can name. Watching him cover ground out there is absolutely remarkable. When he missed that ball in right center field last week I darn near fainted until I realized he had covered all that ground to get to it and then couldn’t see it with the sun in his eyes. The most amazing thing to me is that he has covered ten yards of ground on the ball before Fowler ever figured out the line. He picks up the ball off the bat as fast as any player I’ve ever seen and then he also has a cannon for an arm.


    • Yes, Steven, I think you are in the very few minority who think the correct thing to do regarding Aiken was to completely withdraw the offer. That would have been a disastrous move, especially in light of the recent fact that Aiken is having TJ surgery. Now, if the Astros had knowledge (medical records) before the draft and still did this then your argument has merit. Otherwise, it would have been absolutely foolish to completely withdraw the offer and get nothing in return, including the #2 pick this year and Jacob Nix. I think you are going to find very few Astros fans who agree with you. You can stick to your guns on this, and I have done the same in the past even though I know I am wrong (yes, I can be stubborn that way), but it would not have been a smart business move and the PR hit is lessened by Aiken’s recent inury surfacing.


      • I don’t work in the front office either.

        What if he took the offer? You have Nix and Aiken at 4.6 mil and a PR disaster when your number 1 pick goes under the knife.

        Luhnow didn’t outsmart it. He got lucky. Sometimes you need that too though.

        My thoughts on withdrawing the offer softened when OP explained it – the offer was basically mandatory or lose the pick. Like I said, I don’t work in the front office.

        In hindsight, and actually in a LOT of people’s mind before the draft (some on this very blog), the best move was to draft Rodon. I almost feel like the move after Aiken was a “yea I know he doesn’t have a choice or condemn himself to 2 years of college so we can low ball him to draft someone over slot later,” like Nix. He ended up with none of Aiken, Nix or Rodon. So, no, I don’t feel like Luhnow is vindicated, he now has the number 2 pick in what appears to be a weaker draft.


      • First, Aiken was the consensus top pick from most scouts. You may have wanted Rodon, but that doesn’t mean he was the best choice at number one. Most scouts felt a healthy Aiken had the most upside of any player in the draft as did Luhnow. Second, agreeing with a player at below slot to get other players who are considered unsignable is smart business. That is how we got Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz.

        Whether you agree or not, Luhnow has received some vindication for his handling of the Aiken situation. We an argue all day on whether MLB should allow for pre-draft physicals on high end talent, and I think they should, but unfortunately, they are not allowed now and with the information available at the time of the draft I think Luhnow chose the right player and then made the correct decision to not pay Aiken the original, agreed upon offer. The physical revealed a potential problem, which has come to fruition.


  11. Holy Cow! David Rollins suspended 80 games for testing positive for PEDs.
    Aiken! Cosart! Rollins! What the Heck! Shut Up, Grampa!


      • Thing is, Rollins was set to make over $500,000 this year as an MLB rookie. Now he loses about half of that salary as a result of his suspension. And, of course, he said he was sorry that what he did resulted in his suspension, which is a lot different than saying he was sorry that he broke the rules and cheated his teammates by using a banned substance that might have caused a fellow member of his team a spot on that 25-man roster, taking money away from that guy. If the guy getting cut was a veteran, losing his job to a guy who cheated might have cost that guy a lot of money or maybe his last chance at a major league job.
        Taking PEDs is not a personal matter. It’s a damn big deal! It deserves a suspension and a real apology!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Hey folks,

    Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Ugh, I hate getting a cold. Fever, sleepiness, a cough, runny nose. Why did I move to Minnesota? Oh, so I could get MLB on my computer last year and not be blacked out. (Not the real reason.)

    Good stuff, Chip. Here are some thoughts.

    This has been a good week for Luhnow’s decision making skills. Cosart and his stupidity. Aiken and his achin’ elbow. The rule 5 guy with the PEDs. I have always trusted in Luhnow’s plan even if I didn’t agree with every move he’s made (ah, Folty, we hardly knew ye). This offseason has also been a big boost in my trust of Luhnow, though, again, some moves were head scratchers

    I’m done with Aiken and Nix. Wish them both well, but I’d rather see someone else.

    A winning record would tell me the Astros are back, It would also add to Luhnow’s vindication.

    Houston should be a top 10-12 revenue team. That would make them competitive. Getting there by 2017 (with all that World Series swag for sale) would help.

    I am most encouraged this spring by the progress of the Astros as an organization. Correa is raking in spring training, and while it’s only spring training, he looks like he could step into this lineup sometime in August and hold his own. By next year he’ll be ready for prime time. I think we’ll have a lot of talent at AA and AAA, and that bodes well for the future. Add to that what SHOULD be a bumper harvest for the farm in this June’s draft, and I think we’re looking at a pipeline that’ll be stocked for years to come.

    I’ve always been a Luhnow fan, but I think the Conger and Gattis trades could bite us. Conger is a slightly better version of Corporan. Certainly not worth Nick Tropeano. And Gattis, while a solid bat, might be like the odd man out. Again, he’s a good player, but at what cost? Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll start finding out in 10 days.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. – Some of the arguments that Luhnow was manipulating the system have evaporated but the perception that he treats players as assets and not people seems to be solidifying.

    – TCB mentioned that a waiver from the players involved would be required before either could be selected. I don’t think one will be forthcoming from either and I think both go after 5 but before 37.

    – Maybe attendance?

    – The Forbes list is yearly and it showed the Astros at 186 in March 2014 versus 175 in March 2015. If you add a reported 60 million for the TV deal then we are in the area of 15. This should happen whenever the TV revenue is accounted for.

    – I am most encouraged this spring by the depth in the club.

    I have always been a Luhnow fan but it was not based on his performance to this point. He has a different approach than previous GMs and I think a non-standard approach is a requirement for long term success with mid-level revenues. We need another year and a half before we can start to evaluate results based on his emphasis on a long term plan.

    So, I am a fan because…
    He does not appear to be a “replacement level” GM, with playoff appearances 1 every 5 years or longer.
    He does not appear to be a Hunsicker type GM, who are difficult to identify and given the revenue situation would be difficult to implement (i.e. sign free agents) and who would be difficult to keep from moving to bigger clubs.

    Perhaps the value of him being able to do things his way, which is clearly a priority, may keep him here if he is successful. I guess, he qualifies as a decent chance to be a sustainable Houston GM, so the remaining question for me is …

    Can he deliver the consistent success that his process promises?


  14. MLB recently had a column where they listed 10 guys who they think will have breakout years in 2015.
    So you might think that ten teams would be lucky enough to have a guy on this list. How About one team having two of them!
    George Springer
    Luis Valbuena


  15. Top OBP numbers this Spring?

    Marwin 583
    Springer 583
    Correa 577
    GOMEZ 705

    MarGo leads HR’S
    Springer w/the lone triple
    The Captain has a 30% K rate
    CarGo 7 walks in 17 AB’s!


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