added 8/8/2011 by Bob Hulsey
It's been an odd few weeks for the Astros. It seems they can't even tear down a ballclub and start over without making some head-scratching moves. Among them is the exodus over the past 13 months of arguably the team's favorite players while leaving behind the overpriced and overvalued to soldier on towards possibly a 110-loss season.
When I was younger, I remember teams would try to unload their underperforming players and keep the good ones. The Astros do just the opposite. Carlos Lee is still here. Jason Michaels is still here. Clint Barmes is still here. Brett Myers is stiil here. All of them are older than the players the Astros so urgently traded away under the guise of a youth movement.
I don't disagree with dealing Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn if the goal was to get younger and dump salary. The problem I have is that they didn't trade away the players that are killing us. The same budget-busters are still on the payroll but the below-market stars in the primes of their careers have been shipped out.
"Buy low, sell high". I get that and I applaud Ed Wade for getting what he could get. But if anyone in the organization had the sense to eat Lee's contract and stop handing out multi-year deals to pitchers who are then turned around and put on the trading block, there would have been no need to trade Pence and Bourn while they were still under club control.
It's like trying to fix the leak under the kitchen sink by tearing up all the pipes in the bathroom because its cheaper to fix there than the plumbing in the kitchen. When you're finished, nothing has been done to correct the problem. You can argue all you want that the bathroom pipes needed to be replaced eventually but you still haven't addressed the leak in the kitchen. This is how the Astros have gone about shedding payroll.
Speaking of the payroll, it was an enormous gaffe for someone to leak that the Astros intended to have a $60 million payroll next year. Who gave that figure to SI's Jon Heyman during a critical point in trade talks? Was it Wade? Tal Smith? Drayton McLane? Incoming president George Postolos? Was it Jim Crane?
Whomever blabbed cut the knees right out from under Wade's bargaining position. Now teams knew this was more of a salary dump than it was a rebuilding effort and they adjusted their offers accordingly. Farewell to any chance of getting Atlanta's top four pitching prospects. In my mind, leaking that information was grounds for termination. It may have set this franchise back a few more years.
Like the nation's economy, the tale of the 2011 Astros seems to just get worse each day. Bush and Obama have put the nation in depression while McLane and Crane have done the same with the Astros. No need to argue who supposedly ran it into the ditch, whoever was left in charge has stubbornly kept spinning the wheels to make the situation much worse. It's going to take years to dig out from this now.
If there's a ray of optimism, it's that some of the early call-ups from the minors have been playing above expectations. Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez have quickly become fresh faces of hope while Jimmy Paredes and J.B. Shuck may also fill a void. It's too early to tell if any of them are as positive as the early returns suggest but don't be surprised if it becomes difficult to continue the momentum.
Unless these new kids can provide a spark that gets fans returning to the ballpark, it's hard to imagine what Crane will use to sell the Astros' new cable network, particularly if their NBA partners continue in lockout. Who exactly do the Astros plan to promote as a reason to watch or, indeed, a reason to subscribe?
Good thing Carlos Lee is still around for that. Yeah, right.