Five critical items: Astros’ sustainability

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?

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60 comments on “Five critical items: Astros’ sustainability

  1. Ask any surfer and they will tell you they know that staying on the wave forever is impossible. But this isn’t surfing and to keep this wave going you need the five things mentioned in the post and an owner and front office who have the vision to know how to add all those things up and use them at the right time.
    The secret is to be open to using these tools, and not to panic.
    It’s not just the players learning how to win. It’s the whole damn organization learning all the time how to build a winner and how to keep loading up today without ruining tomorrow.

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  2. Dan, baseball’s off season always seems to be my ‘on’ season. That has especially been the case this year. Thank you for offering us a diversion from the hard stuff!

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  3. “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.”

    Is there another team in baseball that can say that and is a contender? For some reason we are always the team rated in the second half of farm systems yet our products are winning WS MVPs and throwing WS no hitters. We produce stars, they leave, and we replace them with stars. You are not going to see ESPN do a piece on the genius of the Astros though.

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    • Not me. It’s a tough job to fill. Our guy is better than we give him credit for. Not everyone is going to post an .800 OPS or .350 OBP.

      I just hope our manager gives him a chance to own the job.

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  4. Today is the day for teams and players to exchange arbitration figures.
    Earlier this offseason – MLBtraderumors.com gave out their best guesses on arbitration numbers for each team…

    Astros (9)

    Phil Maton (5.047): $2.5MM
    Ryne Stanek (5.038): $3.1MM
    Framber Valdez (3.163): $7.4MM
    Josh James (3.110): $800K
    Kyle Tucker (3.079): $5.6MM
    Jose Urquidy (3.049): $3.2MM
    Cristian Javier (3.000): $3.3MM
    Blake Taylor (3.000): $800K
    Mauricio Dubon (2.162): $1.2MM

    Obviously, Josh James was released, but it is interesting to look at what is there. Quite a few raises here, but nothing that breaks the bank or exceeds what most of these guys bring back in value.

    And the Astros can forego the arbitration process by coming to agreement with any or all of these players. If they can agree on any extensions….that would add to the offseason interest.

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  5. *International free agents watch what the Astros are doing and have a desire to grow with the Astros player development.
    * Draft picks and international signees know that the Astros don’t block positions at the top level with 10 year deals!
    * Prospects see Hensley and Diaz and Brown added to the roster of a WS Champion and know they have a chance to make it. None of those 3 were acquired as a highly ranked prospect.
    * They see a guy like McCormick, a nobody, who exploded in AAA end up with a job, a ring and a half million dollar WS bonus in his pocket in his first full season as a major leaguer. There is no way young players don’t want to be part of that.
    * Pundits are begrudgingly starting to recognize the Astros plan to success.
    *Fans are begrudgingly starting to respect the Astros success.
    * Owners of other teams are collectively spending billions to try and beat the Astros.
    * Astros prospects see the Astros offering their young stars extensions that pay young players to stay here. They know right away where players playing their positions stand in the organization. They also know that the Astros allow players to increase their baseball value by playing different positions in the minors. They see a guy like JC Correa, who wasn’t even drafted, get a chance to shine and stand out.

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  6. The latest – 4 agreements shown on MLBTraderumors

    Astros (8)

    Phil Maton (5.047): $2.55MM agreement
    Ryne Stanek (5.038)
    Framber Valdez (3.163)
    Kyle Tucker (3.079)
    Jose Urquidy (3.049): $3.025MM agreement
    Cristian Javier (3.000)
    Blake Taylor (3.000): $830K agreement
    Mauricio Dubon (2.162): $1.4MM agreement

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  7. Have seen numerous reports that the Astros will sign Dominican SS German Ramirez on Sunday, making him the third highly regarded recruit.
    There are YouTube videos of Ramirez as far back as when scouts were impressed by him at age 13.

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    • Javier has had a tough job over the past two years, having to adjust numerous times between pen and starting. I can’t think of another guy in the league that has done so well in his role. And then when you get to things like hits per nine, he’s in rarified company. For him and Tucker both, I hope the arb process is a serene one.

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  8. Tucker and the Astros are 2.5 million apart. I sure hope this particular negotiation does not become contentious. Sure would like a quick settlement avoiding the arbitrators.

    Totally separately, I’m tired of snivelers whining about the Astros being disrespected. Who cares? We have more fun than anyone.

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    • Like you say – they are offering $5 MM and he wants $7.5 MM
      It is reportedly the biggest gap for any arbitration case not settled
      I truly believe he should get somewhere in the $6 MMS somewhere
      However if they go all the way to arbitration where it’s one number or the other – I think he will win

      It makes you feel like they certainly have not offered an extension that is anywhere near what he wants

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      • Dan, I think Tucker is a three year man for us. And I agree, 5 sounds low. I would have hoped something around 6.5 would have kept everyone happy.

        And Reptile did some remarkable things this year. I’m sure 3.4 would be a done deal.

        Move on!

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      • My wonderings on Tuck, when Luhnow told him to come win a spot on Dec. 10, 2018, then proceeded to sign Brantley. That was the offseason most here said Tucker looked lost in his previous call up. I thought he looked nervous but his exit velos were, and remained very high in AAA that year. Could he have played if we weren’t strapped with 2 more seasons of Reddick? We’ll never know, but that is a few yrs that he was under Super 2 status and we maintain control over him–

        Does he see himself as “out $20M because of the delay, and want Astros to show more appreciation”? I can see that more so because the windows of players is smaller these days, and he already has to give 30% to agent taxes. And for what? So the Astros can pay an extra million to an amateur or international draft, in effect?

        I would have thought the gesture to Montero was indication Crane would pay Javier Tucker Framber extensions, but then the question is Bregman Altuve? Perhaps, I need to read Dan’s sustainability to see how we’ll end up affording to NOT start exceeding the tax tiers.

        I don’t think Tucker will stay here, much like Springer (Straw McCormick), Correa (Pena), JV (Brown), who saw this org was built to sustain FA losses.

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    • Mark,

      We’ll find out in the next 2 to 5 years. But if Tucker goes, we might already have a replacement in house. Alvarez will be here for awhile. Framber took his first offer. I think we’ll be solid behind the plate. How many more years of Pena? Bregman and Altuve will tell us alot soon.

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      • Right, but we’re talking about sustainability. The starting pitching that just won the WS were all signed under Luhnow, scouted by Oz, and coached by Stromm (Verlander excluded). To be sustainable, we need a system that continues to find and develop guys like Framber and Javier.

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      • Mark, let me help you to focus on what personnel actually did the work and continue to this day.

        Oz’s right hand man was Roman Ocumarez, and the famous story now of David Brito who took him after seeing nothing of note, turning on car lights to watch, Framber Valdez. Your very own oldpro1 believed in Framber when nobody did–during his loss of control days. Charlie Gonzales heads up the int’l group, and of course *he is the one who insisted Luhnow get Yordan even after LAD signed him.

        It’s not hard to see the men who have catapulted up the ranks. Did you hear Strom’s own words a year before he left? “Josh Miller is going to be a star in this league.” Strom left because he said knew Bill Murphy and Miller would be taken by another org (like Elias Medjal Stearns).

        Or, how about Fundamentals Coordinator, Jason Bell who wrote his thesis on the same subject around the same time as Reiter’s, Astroball? Another name moving quickly is Dicky Thon’s son, Joe.

        Next, for a team that hasn’t produced many hitters, we were named 2nd best. That’s because we have Rene Rojas (a name mentioned by Pujols), and recently Rafael Pena was named the Hitting Coordinator.

        Who has survived on GM front? Not Click, or Putila — two very smart personnel guys. Instead, it is Bill Firkus who gets the nod as chief strategist, probably in-wait for Stearns again, if Crane has his way.

        Going back to Oz Ocampo. He and Eve Rosenbaum left at the same time, and Oz came back a few yrs ago. Ocumarez & Ocampo are now at MIA (good luck!), and the Astros have hand picked their development staff which is definitely a T3 org in that regard. Jeff Luhnow is still running a soccer team, while Cora Hinch Goldstein Hudgens all have baseball jobs. That should tell you Jeff’s avail & ability.

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    • Mark – I think the answer is – we really don’t know who has driven the sustainability – but I guess we will see.
      They have kept things together through their losses – who knows what may be the loss that is the tipping point

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      • Thanks for the education GoStros1. I hope you’re right. Yes, Dan and even if the entire front office was the same, there’s no guarantee they’d be able to repeat this amazing feat. To have your entire rotation essentially developed in-house is incredible.

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  9. Unless Javier or Tucker are unhappy, I don’t see this as a big deal. We have been through hundreds of arbitration battles over the years. Compared to big-time players leaving in free agency, this is like a game of Name That Tune. Lets get on with international signing day and see what we got.

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  10. 2025 Astro roster pieces under team control.

    Pena Arb 1
    Perez Pre Arb
    Hensley Pre Arb
    Jose Abreu

    Lee Pre Arb
    Diaz Pre Arb

    Yordan
    Chas Arb 2
    Jake Arb 1
    Tucker Arb 3

    Lance
    Brown Pre Arb
    Garcia Arb 2
    Javier Arb 3
    Urquidy Arb 3
    Framber Arb 4

    Pressly
    Montero
    B. Abreu Arb 2
    Taylor Arb 3
    Seth Martinez Pre Arb

    That’s some pretty good talent. Some will choose to leave. Some guys will stick around. And we know new talent from within the organization will force their way on to the field. I did not even mention Bregman and Altuve. I think we’ll know more about them this year.

    Looking at our talent on the 26, the 40 and beyond, I’m optimistic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Looks like we paid more for Valencia and Diaz than Kenny Van Doren reported a few days ago, and that’s why the Menes deal fell through, as he signed with Cards today.

      I was lucky to interview Elvis Rodriguez (hitting coach at 2022 DSL Blue last yr), and he said guys who really impressed him were the obvious ones Kenni Gomez & Luis Baez, but also “The Bull” Sandro Gaston, and have you heard, Yainer Diaz’ little brother Viktor? Pitchers Jose Fleurys, Jose Guedez, Amilcar Chirinos big time but coming off TJS.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Here are some condensed comments on the internationals..

    One interesting note is the coaches I talk to don’t know much about the new crop coming in. They’re so immersed in getting the present guys pushed thru to appropriate levels, and often have a good idea of the ones who will make some noise. Otherwise, looking back to when Garcia was taken, 2017, not much to show for the money spent–amounts to a race horse owner, so many misses! Mier, Lorenzo, Nova…

    I do like Ullola, Tamarez and Jaime Melendez to breakthrough eventually.

    Leon Gomez Baez should all be in a ML outfield, along with Gilbert Melton Barber, maybe even Dirden, Loperfido, Daniels, Clifford by 2025-26

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Drafting and signing talented players is good, but I think the key to sustainability is developing whatever talent we have, especially pitching. Keuchel, Framber, Javier, Garcia, Urquidy, Bryan Abreu were all nobodies when we signed them. McHugh, Harris, Peacock, Morton, JV, Cole, Pressly, Montero and Stanek all improved when they came here. I think our analytics guys have been the industry leaders as far as identifying what pitches our players should be throwing and changing their arm slots, grips, pitch location, etc.

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    • It is a great point, Astro Nut – some of those guys like McHugh and Peacock and Montero had had little success before they came here. JV and Cole had had some big seasons but were coming off so-so performances. Getting guys like McHugh and Harris for nothing and all those international talents for peanuts is how you get an edge on the other teams.

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    • What surprises me about the chatter on this topic (elsewhere) is that people act like the GM is the only one capable of making decisions or signing deals in an organization. Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment for more than a couple years has likely experienced turnover where a C-level left and their responsibilities were divided among their direct reports for some period of time until a new person was hired/promoted to fill the void. We have a strong indication from past years that Crane wants to have a cushion in the budget to allow moves during the year. We don’t know if he wants to actively pursue any extensions with players right now. A lot of teams entered the offseason with serious issues. The Astros, quite frankly, did not. No reason to rush and make a bad hire.

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  13. Sustainability for the Astros:
    2023- The Players who were here last season need to continue to perform near their level of 2022 and players like Hunter Brown and Lance McCullers, Jr need to contribute innings and wins to the pitching staff. Michael Brantley needs to be healthy and be able to contribute more than he did last season.
    2024- Two catchers from the system need to be in place to start the year. At least two pitchers from the system need to be ready to step in and take the place of Stanek and Maton, who will be free agents. Someone from the system needs to be ready step in for Brantley at LF/DH. A reliever will need to be ready to take Pressly’s spot at closer sometime during the year, as he will be 36. The Astros need to extend Bregman, hopefully something like 5/150. At least one pitcher from the system needs to be ready to step into the starting rotation.
    2025 and 2026 later, unless Dan has plans to introduce something else.

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