Astros president Reid Ryan reveals rare behind-the-scenes view of World Series winners

Reid Ryan (center) offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Houston Astros. J. Thomas Ford

Steven Devadanam is editor of CultureMap/Houston. This article originally appeared there. 


Is Justin Verlander headed to the Hall of Fame? Will Jose Altuve break Pete Rose’s record? And will the Houston Astros get back to the World Series?

These were the burning questions on the minds of a select group of guests at a recent panel discussion featuring Astros vice president of business operations Reid Ryan. The son of Texas  legend Nolan Ryan (Reid was actually once a young batboy for the Astros when his father played in the Astrodome), Reid Ryan is one of Major League Baseball’s youngest executives. He is widely credited for spearheading one of the best fan experiences in baseball. 

As the founder and CEO of both the Corpus Christi Hooks and the Round Rock Express minor league franchises, Ryan was lauded for running two of the top franchises in minor league attendance, stadium satisfaction and franchise value. Now celebrating his fifth year as Astros president, Ryan was frank about the team’s never settle attitude as he chatted with ESPN 97.5 host John Granato in a talk at the Houston Country Club that was sponsored by Park Towers and TPMC Realty Corporation, and Gow Media.

“We know we’re not a perfect team — we weren’t a perfect team last year,” Ryan told the audience. “We could’ve easily lost to the Red Sox, that was a heck of a series. We could’ve easily lost to the Dodgers. But we found a way to win.”

As a regular presence at team events, Ryan says fan excitement is at a fever pitch after a World Series win. “With this young team, everybody sees that we’re going to be together for at least a couple more years. They see that we’ve locked Altuve up and we’ve made some moves. We feel like we’re in a great spot. But you’re not gonna see us stand still,” he promised.

Ryan offered a rare glimpse into the off-the-diamond challenges facing the team, such as how the Astros compete with the big markets like Los Angeles and New York. Breaking down the financial elements of the major leagues, Ryan cited “three pots” of money available to teams, the first being national money that all MLB teams split, such as jersey sales, the MLB app, XM radio and other packages. “All that money is shared,” Ryan explained. He added that individual teams keep what they create at the respective ballparks, and finally, they generate revenue via local media rights.

The Astros president pointed out a wide chasm in resources: The Astros have a budget of $30 million less than their peers in the American West division and more than $100 million less than “the big boys” in baseball.

“So we have to be really good at creating a great experience at the ballpark,” he said, “and making sure that we’re priced appropriately, and making sure that every dollar that someone is paying to go to an Astros game is being funneled back into the players’ payroll.”

He acknowledged that those financial challenges become more apparent when renegotiating player contracts. “If it comes down to money, and someone wants more money, there’s a chance they can go somewhere else,” he noted. “Jose Altuve could’ve gotten more somewhere else, but he loves this organization and Houston. So we hope we can do that with some of the other guys.”

Ryan added that while the team does its best to provide GM (and metrics whiz) Jeff Luhnow an ample budget, the team won’t break the bank: “We’re not the team that’s going to go out and overspend in free agency,” Ryan added. “We’re the team that’s going to draft and grow from within.”

Talk then turned to stars Verlander and Altuve. Ryan pointed out that Verlander, who now has his 2,500 strikeouts and 200 wins, has an incentive to stay with a contending team and earn another World Series ring — and possibly a Hall of Fame induction.

And Altuve, who his current age of 28 has more hits than Rose, has a chance to break Pete Rose’s batting record, according to Ryan. He promised the crowd that the Astros are ready for the long part of the season. “We’re in the marathon business right now. We can beat you with starting pitching, home runs, steals, defense, and good relief pitching. This club has a lot of flexibility,” he said.

He echoed the popular #NeverSettle team slogan in closing, which starts with owner Jim Crane. “Jim Crane is not satisfied with us having a good team, he wants us to have a great team,” said Ryan. “The ownership group is committed to building something we can sustain for a long time.”

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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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