Thoughts and questions: Can the Astros get back up?

Hello friends. I won’t say I’ve seen it all, but very little surprises me anymore.

As a chaplain and counselor to 2,500 employees, someone who has six kids with plenty of life experiences and someone who has witnessed many generational and cultural changes over the past 20 years, the jams that people get into are no longer shocking.

Honestly, with the dysfunctional state in Washington, the condition of our discourse and a growing entitlement and privilege of many who believe “it’s not my fault”, this downward spin has been coming for quite some time.

Chuck Swindoll says: “Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” The great Vince Lombardi said: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.”

While it is true that “IT” will continue to get in the way, as Dan suggested yesterday, it is also true that the Astros have 2-3 choices.

  1. Fold up the franchise, sell it off or move.
  2. Have a fire sale like ones we have seen in the past.
  3. Or, work with the hand you’ve been dealt.

Jim Crane seems to be working with the hand that he has been dealt. Seriously, if options #1 and #2 are not meaningful considerations for him, what other choice does he have?

But let’s be fair and reasonable: This is a major game-changer. MAJOR! It does not compare to the selloff in the latter Drayton McLane years, the forced move to the American League (remember how much of a bummer that was?) or even the selloff that Jeff Luhnow implemented with all the tanking implications that resulted in the run of great drafts from 2011-2016 (e.g. George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Kyle Tucker, Derek Fisher, A.J. Reed, Lance McCullers Jr. et al).

A person or an organization is not always remembered for the mess they encounter, but how they respond to it. (When is the last time you heard about DeflateGate?) To wit, look at the difference between the responses from A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow. At this point in time, it’s reasonably clear that Hinch could possibly get back into baseball again down the road. Luhnow may have already disqualified himself just by his attempt to distance himself from his guys and blame everyone else.

All of that said, here are some thoughts and questions as Crane attempts to guide his organization back from the depths of oblivion.

  1. How hands-on will Crane be going forward, at least in 2020? For the past decade, he’s pretty much turned over the team to Luhnow. Now, his investment and potential financial return are on the line, though he’s doing pretty well regardless. Can you imagine his address to players when spring training kicks off? Can you say AWKWARD?
  2. As the roster stands today, the Astros are still quite competitive. But, is there another fire sale coming? Will the uncertainty cause other players to steer clear in free agency? George Springer, Josh Reddick, Brad Peacock and Michael Brantley are in the final year of their contracts in Houston. Could they be deadline trade candidates if Crane or a new GM doesn’t see them as part of the future? The Astros would obviously gain more return in a trade than by offering qualifying offers this fall and having them rejected, only to receive less-than-stellar picks in return.
  3. Don’t expect any major additions this year. We now know the reason behind a quiet Astros’ offseason and it’s now clear why the Astros weren’t involved to much degree on Cole and even Will Harris. Moreover, the farm system has been somewhat decimated in recent seasons with the trades for Justin Verlander, Zach Greinke, Gerrit Cole and a few others. Yes, there are some decent players left, but you can now bet good money that Forest Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez and other major prospects aren’t going anywhere soon.
  4. Forget the $5 million fine, that’s just a mediocre relief pitcher these days. Yet, with the loss of top draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and perhaps a new and lower budget ahead, the Astros will need to be thrifty and shrewd with their lower-round draft picks. Think Kenny Lofton (17th round pick), Roy Oswalt (Round 23), Darryl Kile (Round 30), or even Ken Forsch (Round 18)? And, we may be headed back to the days of under-the-radar waiver wire pickups and loading up on re-treads and journeymen for spring training.

And here are the questions for your already overwhelmed, exhausted mind:

  1. There is no question, there is another bottleneck approaching. The Astros must determine their core list of players going forward. That pool will shrink soon. Who do you try to extend now to join Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, both of whom are signed through 2024? If they aren’t extended, Verlander (now 37), Greinke (36) and McCullers can all leave after 2021.
  2. Is it really as bad as it seems now? Is this a 100-car pileup that will take a lifetime to clear up, is this a crossroads requiring a major detour or is this merely another bump in the road like the previous change in ownership and leagues in 2011?
  3. Here’s a thought: Would Crane entertain a caretaker manager this year (say, Craig Biggio) and wait out a manager like Bruce Bochy, who says he wants to sit out one season before considering a return? For my dollars and sense, I’m not in on Dusty Baker, Raul Ibanez, John Gibbons or Wil Venable. Anyone seen Mike Scioscia lately? Or how ’bout Brad Ausmus with a Jeff Bagwell as bench coach?
  4. And the Astros are doomed from the get-go, at least on the national stage. If they don’t win 100 games, skeptics will say “See, they won because they cheated.” If Bregman’s home run numbers dip or if Yuli Gurriel, Springer or Altuve don’t approach .300 again, the back-stabbing and mongering will grow. On the other hand, if Houston wins 100 games again and pushes its way through the playoffs toward the World Series, there will be a growing rumor mill groundswell and investigations will again be the norm of the day.

Finally, Dan is grumpy. I’m just befuddled and a little bit irritated by MLB in general. There’s an old saying that you should not complain about what you allow and MLB has allowed quite a bit of junk over the past decade or two.

Nothing happens overnight, it’s generally a slow erosion process. That is not to exonerate Luhnow, Hinch and the Astros in general but methinks the game has been speeding down this road of chaos, calamity and carnage for quite some time.

Balancing act: To upgrade or not to upgrade (and where)?

Jon Morosi got everyone up in a tither on Wednesday when his announcement that the Astros had acquired Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh.

Since the story hit the fan, Morosi and others have indicated that the trade indeed was close, but hit a snag in the details. Alyson Footer even wondered out loud what may have happened in those last seconds before one of the teams got cold feet.

From Alyson Footer: “I’d love to know what suddenly came up that changed things so much. When I worked for the Astros I saw deals that were signed sealed and delivered only to see it squashed with a failed medical report. Or a team backs out at last millisecond with no warning. Crazy business.”

Whether it’s Cole or perhaps Yu Darvish, whose narrowed-down list includes Houston, or someone else, the Astros appear to be serious candidates for a rotation addition. What that means for the rest of the rotation (e.g. Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock) remains to be seen, but a major addition could mean a shakeup.

The advancement toward a major move has Astros’ fans skiddish of the cost, especially in prized prospects, which has already taken a few hits over the past year or so. How many Whitleys or Tuckers or Fishers can the system afford to lose before the organization’s own feeder is diminished or even depleted?

Apparently, Houston was also in on Jay Bruce, considering the Fisher-to-Pittsburgh possibility may be close to happening.

Nonetheless, fans, speculators and even uninterested onlookers are also wondering if the rotation is the place for a major off-season upgrade. Yes, the bullpen has been addressed, but is the remake complete?

Left field is still a question, there are concerns about DH and backup catcher and many wonder if Ken Giles is still the answer to the long-term closer question. Who is the next Alex Bregman to manifest from the minor league system? Is Brian McCann the next Carlos Beltran, reaching his age limit?

Easy questions today:

  • What is your biggest concern facing the Astros in 2018?
  • If you have one major move left before the season starts, what/who do you add?
  • From your vantage point, why are the Astros so determined to add another quality starter? Does this portend other moves?
  • For some of the more advanced followers: How do you rate the minors? That is, how many sure-fire prospects does Houston have in the Top 30?