by Joe Giglio
Rebuilding a baseball organization can be an arduous, long-winded effort. Unlike in the NBA, NFL, or NHL it can’t be done overnight. The presence of a LeBron James , Andrew Luck, or Sidney Crosby in the draft can change a franchise forever. Due to the relatively small impact -- compared to other sports -- a franchise changing player in baseball is merely a building block to a foundation of success in an organization. Ultimately, patience is key. When it comes to Astros fans, patience is becoming a rallying cry.
Led by general manager Jeff Luhnow, Houston is embarking on a rebuilding effort rarely implemented or executed in modern baseball: Completely trading in the present for the future. Since coming over from St. Louis in December 2011, Luhnow embarked on a philosophical change from his predecessor, Ed Wade. Instead of piecing together a team with remnants of the foundational success enjoyed from ‘01-05 -- 89 wins per season, three postseason trips, and a World Series berth -- the new path would be to start anew. No longer would the Houston Astros -- playing in the 10th biggest media market in the country -- attempt to make the postseason on a yearly basis.
Many teams attempt to rebuild and take into account the win-curve for their roster based on current players, farm system depth, and money to spend. Rarely, though, does a team go all-in like this. After losing 106 games in 2011 and 107 in 2012, some believe the 2013 team could be even worse. Don’t let the failure of now fool you. Houston is being praised around baseball for the farm system under construction, scouting department prowess, and a bright future.
They just simply don’t care about the present. It won’t help television ratings or attendance in 2013, but the franchise is betting on the moniker that “winning cures all” down the line. If this works, people will come back. Alienating some fans is a possibility, but it’s more than likely that fans will ultimately understand this: The difference between winning 55 and 75 games is woefully unimportant. Neither will get Houston to the postseason this year. Allocating payroll, time, and funds to keep a team close to mediocre takes away from the greater good.
That’s why Jed Lowrie is now a member of the Oakland Athletics and why Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Lee were shipped out of town last summer. It’s why Bud Norris -- a highly underrated strikeout machine who has a chance to break out -- despite being under club control through 2015, could be next to leave. Most organizations won’t admit out loud that they probably won’t be competitive until 2016, but that’s the signal Houston is sending loud and clear.
Lowrie is a good player. Rodriguez is a good pitcher. Lee was once a cornerstone hitter. Norris is a candidate to improve as he matures. None will be worth the money or the time when 2016 rolls around. As Brian McDonald of Crawfish Boxes points out, the return for Lowrie -- Brad Peacock, Chris Carter, Max Stassi -- isn’t enough to “print the over .500 tickets,” but it’s another step in the right direction. Considering that Houston jumped from 27th to 4th in Keith Law’s annual organization rankings during Luhnow’s first year on the job, it’s not hard to see the leaps in the right direction. Between Carlos Correa, Jonathan Singleton, George Springer, Delino DeShields, Mike Foltynewicz, and the upcoming #1 pick in the 2013 Draft, a foundation is in place.
Did moving from the weak NL Central to the powerhouse AL West contribute to the shift in philosophy? Perhaps. Was this a mandate from ownership to spend less in the present? Maybe. Is this the vision Luhnow, the former St. Louis Cardinals Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, had all along when interviewing for the job? It’s possible.
Unlike some rebuilding efforts that hit a snag due to criticism or early failure, expect this Astros project to be completed. It’s not just smart, it’s believed in from the top. Earlier this week, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com asked Luhnow about the criticim surrounding the process and his 2013 team.
"I think people are focusing on what the Major League payroll is, and I think the reality is we're making a huge investment in our people," Luhnow said. "We're going to spend close to $20 million acquiring prospects through the amateur draft and international process. We're investing in our teachers at the Minor League level, we're investing in our capabilities to develop young talent and we're staying consistent with our strategy, which is to develop the best young talent in baseball and be as consistently competitive as soon as possible.”
If this works, Houston may have changed the rebuilding game forever. 75 wins are a waste of time if they don’t put you on the path to 95. Being bad never seemed so good.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WFAN in New York, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.