Jul 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman J. Altuve (27) and shortstop C. Correa (1) celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Angels 6-3 at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Colorado Rockies could learn a thing or two from the Houston Astros if they want to win games in the next few seasons.
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The secret is out (was there ever a secret?) — I wish the Colorado Rockies had really blown things up at the trade deadline and done more than just trade Troy Tulowitzki.
Hey man, don’t get me wrong, the move was unfortunately necessary. But so was trading Carlos Gonzalez, and so was trading a few other aging veterans who weren’t going to factor into the club’s plans beyond this season. None of that happened — just Tulo — which is really puzzling, to say the least.
It got me thinking, though… since I want the Rockies to re-build after blowing it up completely, is there some kind of case study we can look to for success? Why YES! The Houston Astros! (But you already knew that based on the title of this post.)
The Astros are not the perfect example, because they aren’t the perfect parallel for the Rockies (after all, it’s really tough to parallel two teams), and I’m not going to dive into 10,000 words about the recent history of the Astros (because this isn’t an Astros blog!). But there are a couple things the Astros did from 2011-2014 that are already paying dividends in 2015 — probably a little sooner than even they expected!
One was a money-conscious, penny-pinching owner who didn’t want to spend money. The Astros’ payroll was laughably bad for several years, and the club relied on minimum salary call-ups rather than choosing to pay veterans to at least keep games competitive. It got so bad some years the the Houston Chronicle was putting disclaimers on its posts to stop fans from pulling their hair out after reading.
But you know what that got the Astros? A winning team. Well… eventually. The Astros went 56-106 in 2011, 55-107 in 2012, 51-111 in 2013, and 70-92 in 2014. Now, please, just for fun, check out where they are in the AL West Standings just one year after their fourth straight 90+ loss debacle!
That happened, in part, because awful seasons netted them draft picks coupled with smart development of players already in the organization.
Before their tank job in 2010, the Astros had chosen Delino DeShields (since traded), Vincent Velasquez, and Mike Foltynewicz (since traded). In 2011, the Astros chose George Springer and Nick Tropeano (since traded). In 2012, they chose Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, and Preston Tucker.
While the last few drafts’ players are still on the way (Mark Appel in 2013) and there were some misses (Brady Aiken in 2014), the Astros have very generally speaking drafted quite well after tanking for three straight years to get those great draft slots — and all the guys listed above that are still with the organization are going to have a big impact on the team’s success.
And now, once they’re in contention, the Astros are able to go trade for actual pieces that will help them win games, like Scott Kazmir and Carlos Gomez, while picking up free agents over the winter that are smart veteran buys, like Pat Neshek. And all this comes together knowing the Astros are very progressive in their use of sabermetrics.
What can the Rockies learn from this? Well, it’s that blowing it up is sometimes the right move. That limbo area — losing 90-ish games every year, never really getting any better, but also not getting worse, and surely never contending — is what happens when you let a few young guys (Nolan Arenado, Ben Paulsen, Chad Bettis, Scott Oberg, Tommy Kahnle, maybe one day soon Jon Gray) take their lumps in the bigs… while signing/keeping enough veterans to lie to yourself about contention.
The Rockies could learn something from the Astros. Getting bad — really bad — is better than middling at pretty bad every year. Blow it up, Colorado. Maybe in three or four years, you’ll actually be the toast of your division. The Astros were the joke of the league, laughably bad for more than three very recent years. Who’s laughing now?