Astros find themselves at familiar crossroads
A year ago Astros’ fans were left fuming at Bud Selig. After all, it was Selig who sent the Astros to play crucial ‘home games’ against the Cubs in Milwaukee following Hurricane Ike.’ Five straight losses later, and the Astros’ playoffs hopes lay in ruins and the damaged city was in an uproar.
Fans are still upset today, but now they’ve set their sights on owner Drayton McLane and general manager Ed Wade ‘- architects of baseball’s 27th ranked offense, 24th ranked pitching staff and a team that would be in last place if not for the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates.
Perhaps more disheartening is that this season laid no foundation on which the team could build for next year.’ Marquee stars Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt took a visible decline this year. Miguel Tejada and Jose Valderde are unlikely to return next year. Manager Cecil Cooper lost the clubhouse and then got fired. What’s worse is that no prospects who made it to the big leagues showed potential for longevity.
No one can say that McLane isn’t trying, though. He spent a team record $103 million this year despite the downturn in the economy. The expenditures rank 8th in MLB history and are more than playoff teams like the Cardinals, Rockies and playoff-hopeful Twins.’
But 60 percent of payroll is going to four players ‘- Carlos Lee, Berkman, Oswalt and Tejada. Good players for sure, but none at this point in their careers can be considered a franchise savior.
Ed Wade didn’t sign most of those guys, but he did think trading for Tejada would keep the team competitive and pitchers Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler would be able to man the rotation. Alas, neither pipe dream worked out.
Wade may yet be worth his salt if his draft picks pan out. He’s worked tirelessly the last two years to stock a farm system that was running bare.
This places high hopes and pressure on candidates like 2008 first-round pick Jason Castro and shortstop ’09 first-rounder Jiovanni Mier. They may or may not pan out, but the Astros will certainly continue to build from the ground up, meaning less splashy free agent deals.
As for Cecil Cooper, it’s hard to see him as anything but a scapegoat. Yes, at times it seemed like some of his players didn’t respect him, and that hurt his case.
He also made some poor judgment calls. One particular instance involved intentionally walking Nick Johnson to pitch to Hanley Ramirez, one of the game’s best hitters, a decision that ended up costing his team the game and fans who didn’t see eye-to-eye with his logic.’
But it wasn’t Cooper who threw pitches on the mound or hacked at bad pitches in the batter’s box. Changing the manager won’t help a team sorely in need of new talent.
This brings us back to McLane and Wade. This is their team, and their decisions will dictate what it will look like next year and in the near future.
If they get it right, all will be forgiven; if they get it wrong, they’d best not host a pitchfork night at Minute Maid anytime soon.