When the NBA season ended with the Toronto Raptors beating the Golden State Warriors, many saw it as an opportunity. The Warriors were hobbled by injuries to stars Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, both of which were set to become unrestricted free agents. With Durant out for the following season and Thompson set to miss a good chink, it was like the scene from Rocky IV when Drago was cut. The machine was made human and looked vulnerable.
Enter Rockets GM Daryl Morey. He saw this as the opening he was looking for to finally take down the bully of the league. With rumors swirling of a Chris Paul/James Harden beef, Morey sought to improve the roster by any means necessary. More rumors circulated about who was/wasn't on the trade block when it was noted that the team was going after Jimmy Butler via sign and trade. Turns out, this was another swing and miss for Morey and the Rockets as Butler was dealt to the Miami Heat.
This was yet another big time talent that Morey failed to bring to Houston. Although his tenure has been an overall success, it has failed to yield an NBA title. That is the true and ultimate goal of anyone involved in pro sports who actually gives a damn. After watching Morey shoot his shot and consistently fall short, it got me to thinking: what does this remind me of?
The marriage proposal rejection guy
This has to be one of the worst feelings of rejection. Here you are poised to pop the question to the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with. You've bought the ring, planned everything about the evening out, and get down on one knee. You're the center of attention wherever you are. But when she says no, your world is crushed! You have to go back to the drawing board because there's no way you can continue a relationship with someone who feels that much differently from you. Some people never recover from this. Morey has been fortunate to recover, but he's damaged goods.
Woman left at the altar
It's finally here! it's your day! You have the ring, the dress, the venue, your bridesmaids, the cake, everything is all catered to you. That is until he fails to show up. You thought your fairy tale life was set to begin. However, he realized that hitching himself to you for eternity would be a mistake because he's not ready to settle down and have kids with someone who has as many commitment issues as you do. Morey sees players as assets instead of individuals. Until he can start to see the more human aspect of trades, he'll continue to get left at the altar.
For years you were the place to be when it came to spring/summer/fall fun in Houston. You could stay open for months on end because of the weather. Generations grew up knowing you were the go-to move when trying to pick up on or impress the opposite sex. But after years of the same ole same old, you failed to make the necessary changes and grew old and tired. Eventually, you had to close your doors and were forced to become a staging area for Rodeo temporary buildings until someone decides how and when you'll be developed. Morey is in danger of becoming old and stale if he can't give this team the proper facelift and wins a title.
Off brand products
Here you are on the shelf or stockroom of a random store or warehouse. You look very similar to the real Nike shoes, General Mills cereal, an Avenger action figure, or a Louis Vuitton purse. In reality, you're just a knock-off Air Max shoe, a box of Frosty Corn Flakes, a Revenger, or a pure imposter LV purse. You look really good in most cases. Sometimes, you can even pass for the real thing when unpackaged and compared to the real deal. But ultimately, you're notwhat most people look for when they want top of the line products. Morey has been the Great Value brand instead of the General Mills brand far too often. He's been the knock-off that people settle for because they've spent their money elsewhere, but they want to "look" like they can afford things they really can't. In other words: he hasn't had the money to sign or trade for top flight talent because he doesn't have the cap space or assets to make moves like that happen very often.
I'm so frustrated by the debacle that this team is in as far as roster flexibility is concerned. It'll take several years before the Rockets are in the position or draft or sign high end talent. Les Alexander told Morey he's not down for tanking and wanted to keep the team competitive while needing to rebuild. Tilman Fertitta bought the team when it was good enough to make the playoffs and already committed to Harden as a super max player. Morey has been known to wiggle his way in and out of sticky situations. He can recover from proposal rejection or being left at the altar. But can he avoid becoming an outdated relic or a knock-off version of the real deal? That is what Rockets fans want to see. For those who have stuck with this team so long and so deeply, I hope that Morey can turn this thing around enough to the point where he can be recognized as a viable brand and not a knock-off. this fanbase deserves as much. Will they get it from Morey is the ultimate question.
Have you ever looked forward to something so much that you wish you could fall asleep and wake up on that day?
That’s how I feel about the upcoming Houston Astros season. The Astros are hosting the New York Yankees on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on March 28. Astros v. Yankees! Does it get any better than that?
Let’s get this out of the way now. The Astros better beat the Yankees that day — otherwise they won’t be able to sell beer the rest of the season. Why? They will have lost the opener. (Credit: Highlights Magazine in my dentist’s office.)
Why am I so excited and optimistic about the Astros in 2024? Plenty of reasons …
Mostly it’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Manager Joe Espada is not shy about taking the Astros on a different course. The names on the back of the jerseys will be the same as last year, but this is Espada’s team and they’ll be playing an exciting, whole different style.
It seems like Espada may have been a yes man standing next to former manager Dusty Baker the past few years, but things will change now. The Astros will be playing Espada ball.
First the Astros will run more, they’ll take extra bases more aggressively. Last year the Astros finished dead last in “extra bases taken percentage,” meaning the runner on first held up at second when the batter hit a single, or the runner didn’t advance more than two bases on a double. This year Astros baserunners will have their butts in gear. Coaches Gary Pettis and Dave Clark have the Astros practicing base running down in West Palm Beach like it’s back to Baseball 101.
Oh, and pitchers can’t pick their boutique catcher anymore. Last year divas Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez insisted that Martin Maldonado be behind the plate. Maldonado with his .191 batting average and horrible defensive performance. Astros management asked/told Baker that rookie Yanier Diaz needed to be the primary catcher, or at least play more. Baker dug in his heels and Maldonado caught practically every game the last couple of months.
And that’s why Maldonado is gone. And a big reason that Baker is gone, too. The question is, if Baker had made Diaz the starting catcher, would Baker be managing the Astros in 2024? The Maldonado thing really did become that contentious between Baker and Astros management, particularly general manager Dana Brown.
Espada has created a bit of a ruckus by announcing that he plans to bat slugger Yordan Alvarez second in the batting order. Some fans argue, no, the best power hitter belongs batting third or fourth. That’s how baseball has been played since Babe Ruth batted third and Lou Gehrig hit cleanup for the Yankees’ Murderers Row in the 1920s.
Espada’s current vision for the batting order has Jose Altuve leading off, followed by Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. I’d go to war in the American League West with that top of the order.
Alvarez batting second makes a whole lot of sense. Baseball is a numbers game today. The leadoff hitter gets 19 more plate appearances than the 2-hole hitter. And so on down the line. Each position gets about 19 more plate appearances than the next batter in the order.
You don’t think Yordan Alvarez getting 30-40 more plate appearances than if he hits fourth would help the Astros? Heck, the Astros missed the World Series by one stinking home game in the ALCS last year. The more Yordan, the more homers, the better.
It’s not like Espada has stumbled on the secret to the universe. According to MLB nerd boys, statistically the No. 2 hitter was the most productive bat in the lineup in 2023.
Mike Trout bats second for the Angels. Shohei Ohtani batted near the top of the lineup last year. Freddie Freeman bats second for the Dodgers. Ronald Acuna Jr., maybe the best all-around hitter in baseball, bats leadoff for the Braves. Remember when George Springer led off for the Astros? As Larry David would say, that worked out pretty, pretty, pretty good. It’s not like Altuve is a Punch and Judy slap hitter, either.
The Yankees’ Aaron Judge batted leadoff down the stretch in 2022, the year he broke the all-time American League single season home run record.
The Astros have sold more season tickets than any year before. The food has been upgraded on the concourse. The Astros will stretch doubles into triples. We have the best bullpen in the league. All the regulars are back from last year’s American League West championship team. And new manager Joe Espada has the right players on the field.
It’s going to be a fun season. If the season would just get here already.