added 12/4/2014 by Aaron Bell
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The Astros 2014 season has been filled with ups and downs. I'll highlight them briefly:
The CSN Houston disaster finally came to a close this fall, expanding coverage to millions of households. Jose Altuve won a Silver Slugger with the highest batting average (.341) in the majors. Dallas Keuchel had a breakout season and won a Gold Glove. Colin McHugh, a waiver claim who had washed out of two organizations, was in a similar statistical class to ROTY winner Jacob deGrom. Chris Carter belted a career-high 37 homers.
Another sub-.500 season. The publicly leaked insider information regarding potential trade candidates. The bad PR to Astros players that came from Mark Appel's promotion to AAA after a short and ineffective AA stint. A very public failure to sign overall first pick of the June draft, Brady Aiken. The ongoing grievance with the fifth round pick of the June draft, Jacob Nix (potentially sending a negative message to future signees). The Rule V debacle that failed to protect former top prospect Delino DeShields Jr., breakout RP Tommy Shirley and others.
As a fan, self-proclaimed analyst, and armchair GM, the past nine years (also known as the post-Hunsicker era) have been questionable at best. Beginning in 2010, the Astros appeared to have acknowledged their inefficiencies, went full rebuild, and decided to go heavy emphasis on the kids. As a result, they shipped fan favorites Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, and Roy Oswalt for prospects. Berkman and Pence went on to the World Series and won with their respective teams. Oswalt came very close.
Astros fans were basically force-fed a bill of goods that it had to be one way or the other. It didn't appear to sit too well with the majority of the fan base. The lousy ticket sales? Probably apathy towards a substandard supporting cast. Experiencing failure after failure affected attendance numbers, and subsequently, future payroll constraints.
The team was sold. I even thought there would be consideration of a location change. The Astros had historically low TV ratings on a network that couldn't even secure coverage to a major portion of the market. They were so bad they had become the butt of talk show comedians and game shows.
This can't be the only way, right? What about the 'Moneyball' philosophy? Doesn't that work? Teams like Atlanta, Oakland, and Florida have had financial constraints. They have rebuilt many times, and always seemed positioned for an October run. Former bottom dwellers like Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Pittsburgh implemented their own shrewd models and soon became playoff teams. The Cubs? It's true.
The good news? The market is there. Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. and growing. There is a way for the Astros to contend AND rebuild. It's more complex and relies heavily on scouting, shrewdly allocated resources, actually signing top draft picks, and taking a strategic and calculated risk on reclamation projects.
Tampa Bay relied heavily on Ben Zobrist, Matt Garza, Joaquin Benoit, and Fernando Rodney. Kansas City trusted in James Shields and Jason Vargas. Pittsburgh saw something in Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano while taking a flier on a struggling A.J. Burnett. Toronto acquired Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Following his own model, Oakland's Billy Beane continued to churn assets, signing Billy Butler while trading away Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie and prospects.
The bottom line? Those teams created their own plan and followed through with it. Houston needs to take an active position and implement its decision accordingly. Inaction only causes the core of Altuve, Carter, McHugh, Keuchel, and George Springer to inch closer to free agency.
Role players like Evan Gattis seem to be available. Heck, anybody's available for the right price. Downside relievers like Ryan Madsen, Joel Zumaya, or Heath Bell are potentially had on incentive deals. Wilton Lopez, seeing his numbers dip in Colorado, is a potential bounce-back candidate. What about heavily incentive-laden contracts for impact players like Josh Beckett and Adam Dunn? Dunn's numbers were insane at Minute Maid Park. Beckett (although injured), went to Spring Woods High School, and could potentially be coaxed into a homecoming. Dunn lived in New Caney. Wandy Rodriguez is even a free agent this year.
If the resources are allocated correctly, it can be done. As Roger Clemens stated, "It's time to take the kid gloves off. It's time for these guys to win. They should beat Pittsburgh or Kansas City; we have that much talent."