A good friend of the blog, Old pro, threw out a number of ideas for blog posts the other day and so here is the first idea that we will address here.
“If you are James Click, what is your long term plan to keep the Astros competitive? Does he have enough info on the players who are going to be free agents in the next couple of years to formulate a plan?”
The first point here is that this should have been a Jeff Luhnow post. Luhnow, who proved so adept at guiding the Astros through the depths of despair to a dominating team is of course out of the picture. Right around now he would have been the guy who would be facing what new GM James Click is facing, which is creating a plan to bridge to a successful future. But, of course, we will never know if and how Luhnow would have handled this situation.
The Astros have been one of the most successful teams of the last half-decade. They have been to the playoffs four of the five seasons (with the fifth season being a winning one). They have won one World Series, came within a handful of outs of winning a second, lost to the eventual WS champion Red Sox in an ALCS and lost to eventual WS Champion Royals (who they also came so close to beating) in an ALDS. They have won 100+ games three seasons in a row. They have had an MVP and a couple Cy Youngs and a Rookie of the Year in the last five seasons.
In 2015 their position players were the youngest in the majors at 26.3 years old, while their pitching staff was the 4th oldest at 29.4 y.o. In 2019 their position players were now the second oldest in the majors at 29 y.o. and their pitchers the fifth oldest at 29.9 y.o. So, suddenly a team that had been one of the majors youngest for the everydays had aged quite a bit.
There are multiple sites that rank MLB teams minor league systems, but MLB Pipeline (Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Mike Rosenbaum) seems to align with the thoughts of many out there when it ranks the Astros minor league organization as 28th heading into 2020 or 2021 depending on how things work out. Now how much of that drop in rankings (they were 6th before the 2019 season) is based on true losses through trades and call-ups and how much is based on psychologically wanting to punish the garbage can beating men is not clear. But there can be no doubt that the trades for Justin Verlander (Daz Cameron, Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers), Gerrit Cole (Michael Feliz, Joe Musgrove, Jason Martin, Colin Moran) and Zack Greinke (Seth Beer, J.B. Bukauskas, Corbin Martin, Josh Rojas) plus some other moves along the way have drained a lot of talent from the organization.
The scandal punishment took away a 1st and 2nd round pick from each of the 2020 and 2021 drafts for the Astros. Picking later in drafts due to great seasons has affected the talent that the Astros can pull in and having to wait even longer to make those picks also affects that ability to grab talent.
On top of this, the team has over the last couple of seasons started to lose free agents, and is facing even more losses in the next couple seasons. The largest of these have included Charlie Morton (15-3 in 2018), Gerrit Cole (20-5 in 2019), Wade Miley (14-6 in 2019), Collin McHugh (58-35 over 6 seasons) and Will Harris (1.50 ERA in 2019).
If the 2020 season never happens the Astros may never see George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel and Brad Peacock play another game in their home uniforms. By the end of 2021, the Astros could also lose Verlander, Greinke, Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna and Lance McCullers Jr. to free agency.
In other words, the “Situation” is one that feels like moving from solid footing out onto black ice. And James Click is the man who must figure out how to bridge over the black ice to a good if not better tomorrow.
The Good News
The plus side to all this is that the team is not bereft of a base. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and even Carlos Correa (at least through 2022) give the team a base to build off of and they do have some young arms (Josh James, Jose Urquidy, Bryan Abreu, Rogelio Armenteros, Forrest Whitley, who will probably be made to change his first name since it is the same as a Civil War general, Cristian Javier and many others) ready to step up in the next few seasons.
Building the Bridge
So, what can James Click do to build a bridge from previous success to future sustainable success?
- Well, he has started to do some of it. Along with what looks like a solid draft, the team has also gone out and grabbed up some interesting talent from the great mass of undrafted college players.
- He needs to continue the Astros focus on bringing in or trading for International talent. This has been the way that the team has built a strong base. https://chipalatta.com/2020/03/18/astros-international-emphasis/
- He needs to continue his ability (honed with a smaller budget in Tampa) on developing talent from inside the organization. This especially applies to pitching which has been a “perceived” weakness of the current Astros.
- He needs to work on making the right types of extensions for the free agents who will continue to bring value as they age.
- He needs to use money freed up by free agents leaving to spend on our own or to bring other players in as needed.
- He may need to make some decisions on whether he needs to help beef up the minor league system by trading someone, who has value, but who may not be long term signable.
- He needs to show an ability to make reasonable trades that bring value to his team.
- He needs to continue the Astros innate ability to pick talent off the scrap heap (Collin McHugh, Will Harris, Tony Sipp, etc.) and turn lemon Pledge into lemonade.
- He needs to follow the rules, make sure those around him follow the rules and frankly needs to be a better human being towards his players, his direct reports, the media and to his peers around baseball than his predecessor was.