Jermaine Every: Astros tide is turning...for the better
Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced that Justin Verlander, not Dallas Keuchel, will be the Opening Day starter. Keuchel had started the previous three Opening Days for the Astros, all three were wins. Keuchel debuted with the team in 2012 and has been around for the lowest lows and the highest high of winning the World Series last season. The fact that Hinch decided to go with Verlander instead of Keuchel is a sign of a turning tide for the Astros, and I don’t care about who’s feelings were hurt because of it.
Typically when a team wins a World Series, it’s done a couple of ways. One way is the New York Yankees model. This is when the team “buys” a trophy by spending obscene amounts of money on free agents to field the best team the owner’s checkbook will allow. Given the loose salary cap structure in MLB, teams can spend as much as they want with little to no penalty. Losing draft picks by signing high dollar free agents can decimate a team’s farm system, but who cares when you can write a check and replenish your talent?
The other way to build a winner is through homegrown talent. Drafting and developing your own talent, then bringing them up from the minors while they’re still young, cheap, and under team control is another method. The Kansas City Royals won in 2015 with this formula. Now that some of those guys are up for new deals, they aren’t able to resign them out of fear of a growing payroll the likes of which smaller market teams can’t handle.
The other method is a blend of the two previous methods mentioned. The Astros have effectively employed a combo of homegrown talent, and wise free agent buys in their recent success. Trading for Verlander and Gerrit Cole, signing Charlie Morton and Josh Reddick, as well as bringing up homegrown guys like Keuchel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer helped this team win a World Series last season.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow brings a whole new meaning to roster flexibility. He’s managed to make the right moves to build a contender, all the while ensuring that the team is set up to contend for a number of years to come. The Verlander and Cole deals didn’t empty the minor league system of top talent. The free agent signings haven’t taken away draft picks. The homegrown talent is coming up for new deals, but the years are staggered and the minor leagues are filled with replacements. Luhnow has maintained roster flexibility which has allowed the team to contend for years to come.
Perhaps this is the sign of a turning tide. Teams that “buy” a World Series end up further behind the curve because their stars age under fat contracts they can’t trade away. Other teams that build a contender from within usually can’t afford to keep them together and either trade away their stars or lose them without compensation. The Astros are in a unique position to keep the train rolling. The San Francisco Giants of the early 2010s were the last team to effectively employ this strategy when they won titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. They’ve since hit a rough patch, but no one can take away their three titles. The Yankees of the late 90s/early00s had a similar strategy until they turned to throwing money at their problems.
I truly hope this team can use good roster management to ride the wave of success for at least a few more years to come. This city got its first taste of a championship winner in over twenty years. After going through Harvey, it was a much-needed respite. I really don’t give a damn about how it’s done, who gets traded, who gets resigned, or who gets let go. Enjoying sustained success has a cost. I’d rather pay it than wallow in the purgatory of mediocrity.