The term sustainability normally is rattled around in the “Green” world. One definition is “Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”.
In the sports world, sustainability might better be stated as “Avoidance of the depletion of player resources or consistent replacement of resources in order to maintain a financial balance”.
In the Astros’ case, they have had a quality team in the eight seasons since turning the corner in 2015 that has ranged from good to great. It looks like this period should be able to extend for at least a few more seasons. Many individual moves have gone into this sustained excellence over almost a full decade, but if we were going to group them into five pillars, they would be the following:
1) Build position player core with draft picks
Building from within, if successful, is a very economical way to fill a player position for at least five seasons, depending on how out of control arbitration gets. The Astros used draft capital on the following players to fuel this recent surge – George Springer and Dallas Keuchel (before Luhnow), Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Lance McCullers Jr., Kyle Tucker, Chas McCormick, Jeremy Pena, and Hunter Brown. Think how much they might have had to spend in money or prospects to fill these folks’ shoes via free agency or trade.
2) As position players became more expensive, the Astros started filling in the rotation and bullpen with homegrown cheaper players
This evolved over time, but it includes players like Bryan Abreu, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy, Hunter Brown, Parker Mushinski, Brandon Bielak, and Enoli Paredes. Their top six starters headed into 2023 are all from their minor league system.
3) Reaping gold from the International market
Though Yordan Alvarez was not signed as an international free agent, it was the Astros’ knowledge of that market that allowed them to trade a solid major-league reliever for a player who had never played on U.S. soil. A chunk of the players in the previous point (Abreu, Valdez, Javier, Garcia, Urquidy) were brought in for $10K to 20K signing bonuses. Wow! And though Yuli Gurriel signed a 5 year / $47.5 MM contract straight out of Cuba, that was another excellent move by the team. It is now “ancient” history, but the signing of Jose Altuve so long ago is the best money this organization ever spent.
4) Brought in short-term veterans as free agents or by trade
The one place where the Astros did strategically spend additional dollars (outside the Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman extensions) was in bringing in veterans to supplement the base team. Whether it was the 2017 FA boost of Brian McCann and Josh Reddick (I’m skipping a guy who rhymes with Marlos Weltran) or trading for Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole or picking guys off the scrap heap (Collin McHugh, Will Harris, Charlie Morton) – the team has done a great job of bringing in value without making long term commitments.
5) Were not afraid to say goodbye.
A song from my youth written by actor Clifton Davis (That’s My Mama, Amen) best sums up where a lot of teams fall on this item – “Never Can Say Goodbye”.
But part of the Astros’ strategy has been to be able to say goodbye to some very good ballplayers who meant a lot to their success. To sustain the success of a team, you need to not be the team that gives out that contract that goes too long and goes too strong.
They have swallowed hard and said goodbye to Keuchel, McHugh, Morton, Verlander, McCann, Reddick, Springer, Cole, Correa, Brad Peacock, etc., etc…… They would probably like to Have Morton back, and they would have liked to keep Springer, but not at the expense of the long-term health of their team.
There are other things that this team has done in other areas, such as applying sabermetrics to the development of the team, but the five above are my top five list. How about yours?