August 11, 2017
How Many Rings are the Astros Trying to Win?
The blackboards, you’d imagine, all look the same. Maybe they’re buried in some dark corner of every spring training facility in Florida and Arizona. Maybe they pock the underbellies of rookie-ball parks. Like a scene out of a '90s movie about mischievous boarding school students, they are covered in a single line, repeated in the wearying handwriting of those submitting to the mantra: We’re taking it one game at a time.
Surely this is the only way a single thought could become so pervasive in the ballplayer and general Baseball Man culture—systematic indoctrination. And just as surely as that bit of language endures in the baseball-bred players and managers, it has become less resonant in increasingly Ivy League-educated front offices.
This isn’t any huge surprise, and there are bigger reasons than the demographics. More information on minor leaguers and amateurs means a better, or at least better-seeming, ability to plan. The shifting of the game’s aging curve means a greater priority is placed on younger players who have to be identified and acquired further in advance. Thus, the contemporary tear-down strategy.
No one took this route more stridently than the Astros and general manager Jeff Luhnow. And in 2015, when the first fruits of that ugly rebuild suddenly appeared, they bought Carlos Gomez from the Brewers after the tearful Mets saga. And they got burned by that deal and the pinball-style machinations of postseason play. It happens.
Now, in what you’d assume was already a Year of Contention in the grand Astros plan, with a young hitting core over-delivering on even the wildest of rebuild dreams, Luhnow and company are drawing fire for doing little at the trade deadline to supplement a pitching staff that started off questionable and has recently looked quite thin. Why would this Astros team behave differently than the recent Cubs and Indians teams or the present Dodgers—young clubs with legitimate World Series aspirations that moved urgently, sacrificing some future value, to capitalize?
What with the Gomez trade, and the Astros’ famously process-oriented modus operandi, it’s easy to see it as Luhnow shying away from another potential busted move. But compare the thought processes to the title-parched Cubs and Indians or the highly scrutinized Dodgers, and the recent decision-making reads less like timidity and more like oversized ambition.