added 8/2/2012 by Bob Hulsey
Back before Ed Wade became the general manager in Houston, I used to routinely compare the Astros with the Philadelphia Phillies. They are similar in media market size, similar in close-but-not-quite finishes, similar in fan base expectations.
At least this all used to be the case. Somehow the two franchises went in dramatically different directions. The Phillies became a model National League franchise with talent, particularly pitching talent, galore while the Astros kept sinking further and further under the weight of contractual obligations and poor personnel decisions.
The Phillies won it all in 2008 and came close a few other times. They signed homegrown stars like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley to large contracts and made major deals to bring in pitching titans Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt to add to Cole Hamels.
Contrast those Phillies with the 2004 Astros who had monster contracts with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, Craig Biggio and wooed Carlos Beltran on top of all of that.
The Astros tried to stay on top by signing Carlos Lee and Woody Williams. Then Kaz Matsui. Then Mike Hampton. Then Bill Hall. The 2011 Phillies tried the same thing by trading for Hunter Pence. Then they signed Jonathan Papelbon.
After expecting to be a playoff team in 2012, the Phillies went to the trade deadline and chose to unload stars like Pence and Shane Victorino. Their key infield stars all lost major time to injuries and the bullpen has been loosely stitched now for several years. Their next generation of stars like Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. haven't panned out.
But the Phillies had also been unloading minor league talent for the past few years trying to sustain life at the big league level. They are probably now regretting letting guys like Kyle Drabek, Anthony Gose and Jonathan Singleton get away.
This isn't to say that a few years from now the Phillies will be as terrible as the Astros are now. Nobody is this bad. The Astros decided to go "all in" on destroying their major league franchise in hopes that the infusion in minor league talent will get them back in contention by 2015. They are fielding a ballclub that, seriously, belongs in Oklahoma City, not Houston.
If you compared the Astros' big league roster with a healthy major league organization, I think Jed Lowrie, Bud Norris and Wilton Lopez might be the only ones who would be in the major leagues today. The others would be getting more development time in the minors or would be designated for assignment. The Astros aren't just bad, they are - by design - historically bad.
Jeff Luhnow cannot be surprised by this. If you consistently trade major leaguers for minor leaguers, what you have left is a team suitable for the minor leagues. That's what Houston fans should expect for the next few years, particularly against unrelenting American League lineups. They can't expect to get it done with waiver claims, prospects and bottom feeders.
Phillie fans are experiencing the Astros' 2006 season and they'll probably live through a few more like it before they unload more stars and get serious about rebuilding. If they don't, what happened to the Astros ought to be a warning sign about what happens when you try too long to hold onto the glory years. In the current economic times, mid-market teams like Philadelphia and Houston need to compete, purge and repeat. The window of pennant contention lasts but a few years.
Houston fans thinking about future dynasties must realize it will never happen. At best, the Astros can hope to make occasional runs for a pennant before falling back like the Minnesota Twins do. Their market cannot sustain success the way the Yankees can.
The Phillies are only now discovering this. Hopefully, they will learn from what the Astros have suffered.