added 6/15/2014 by Bob Hulsey
No, this isn't one of those stupid slideshow pieces designed to drive up the hit counts on websites. We're not for profit. We don't care how often you click us but we're glad you're here.
Now that the Astros finally appear to be creeping back into respectability as a baseball team, I felt it was time to give the new ownership both their due and their don'ts. 2-1/2 years after taking over, what has Jim Crane and his front office done right and wrong in their management of the team? First the good news:
1 ) Restoring the team colors.
The Astros made three decades of history dressed in orange and navy blue. It's wonderful to see the Astros return to that as well as the caps with the star and the "H" on them. Some feel the new uniforms are bland, others say they look classic. Put me down for classic. These are the type of uniforms that one could still see in style 50 years from now and, if you haven't noticed, the franchises with most of the titles don't change their wardrobes very often.
2 ) Moving the corporate contributor billboards out of the downtown view.
I don't even recall which owner threw up that ugly sign board but Crane deserves credit for listening to the fans and tearing it down, lining the left field wall with those billboards instead. Less obstructive and the ads are more likely to show up in game highlights this way. A win-win.
3 ) Keeping Bill Brown behind the microphone.
Brown now works mostly home games because travel demands were affecting his health but he is now the spokesperson linking the Astros' past with the present. His voice is an assurance that the Astros haven't totally forgotten where they came from. I hope he is allowed to call games as long as he wants to, the way Milo Hamilton did and the way Gene Elston should have.
4 ) Signing Jose Altuve to a contract extension.
The little infielder is so easy to root for and he energizes everyone around him. If he were an English-speaking Anglo, he would probably be a media darling by now. But Jose doesn't mind. All he does is hit and the Astros were smart to lock him up for several years with a contract extension, demonstrating they will keep some of their stars.
The front office does deserve some credit for keeping together the top prospects instead of trading them away for quick fixes. The payoff is only now starting to arrive.
5 ) Bringing the Ryans back into the fold.
Signing Reid Ryan and coaxing his father Nolan away from the Rangers was a magnificent stroke. Reid has demonstrated he can run a minor league team and could apply a lot of the same marketing skills that were so successful in Round Rock and Corpus Christi to the Astros. That would have been smart by itself but leveraging that to return his Hall-of-Fame father back to the organization was just the cherry on top.
Nolan brings the on-field common sense to balance some of the number-crunching craziness that has been the bent of the front office. I still don't know what will happen the first time Nolan and Jeff Luhnow have a serious conversation about pitch counts and letting starting pitchers work deeper into games.
Okay, so there's the positive. Now comes the negative:
1 ) The Comcast fiasco.
Yes, Crane had this handed to him by Drayton McLane but Crane should have known what he was getting into or received some financial guarantees as part of the arrangement. I don't have Crane's business sense but even I knew what a disaster this was likely to become. That this has gone on now for 1-1/2 seasons without a deal so that subscribers outside of Comcast can watch the Astros is just inexcusable. Tying it all up in court is only going to lengthen the wait for fans who have already suffered enough.
2 ) George Postolos.
I can't say as I know everything that went on behind closed doors after the sale but the word on the street was that Postolos was cold, arrogant and abrasive in processing the transition, firing almost everyone who had a longtime connection with the organization. We got it that the owner has the right to bring in his own people and certainly that's going to include the General Manager and other top men but the way it was handled seemed to be vindictive and mean.
Pink-slipping guys like Stretch Suba who had been with the team before McLane was the boss, seemed petty. Plus, there were several PR gaffes the first year which made it seem like the Astros didn't care who they alienated, including battered women. Reid Ryan's credit is how quickly we've forgotten how tone deaf Postolos' team was.
3 ) Tanking the first two seasons.
It's going to be an open question for several more years to come. Will Mark Appel and Brady Aiken be worth all the losses that fans had to endure? The 2012 class of Correa, McCullers et al was due to a draft position handed down from the previous regime but the 107 and 111 losses that led to the top overall picks the next two years were on Crane and Luhnow.
They not only made sure of it by trading away every veteran on the club but then insured it would be worse by replacing them with washed up vets like Carlos Pena, Rick Ankiel, Philip Humber and Erik Bedard. Could we have preserved our dignity and done okay with, say, Jonathan Gray and Aaron Nola lower in the draft order?
4 ) Dynamic pricing.
If you have a good team that constantly sells out and you want to raise the prices for premium contests against the Red Sox and the Yankees, that seems okay to me. If you have a crappy team that isn't even on television in most homes and you raise the prices for those games, it just looks tacky and greedy. Crane should have waited until the team was good again before using this revenue generator.
5 ) Trying to buy minor league teams.
Fix the team you have first. That seems elementary to most of us.
I know some of you will say I've overlooked the best thing the Astros have done which is to rebuild the farm system. Maybe later you can say that but none of the Houston players drafted by Luhnow and the decision scientists have made it to the majors yet so you can't call that a success unless your favorite teams are Oklahoma City, Corpus Christi and Lancaster. Nice for you if you are, but minor league titles mean nothing if they aren't replicated on the big stage. So far, that hasn't happened.