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2011 Organizational Rankings: #30 – Houston

Sorry, Astros fans – for the second year in a row, your team is bringing up the rear.

Present Talent – 65.00 (30th)

Astros Season Preview

Future Talent – 65.00 (30th)

Astros Top 10 Prospects

Financial Resources – 72.69 (23rd)
Baseball Operations – 62.50 (30th)

Overall Rating – 66.68 (30th)

Things aren’t going very well down in Houston. In addition to having both the worst rated major league roster and the bleakest future outlook in terms of talent, the Astros also scored the lowest grade of any baseball operations department, and were in the bottom tier of teams in terms of financial resources. There isn’t just one glaring problem here – it’s a collection of wide-ranging issues that harm the team’s chances of winning now or any time in the foreseeable future.

Put simply, it’s hard to find too many things to be optimistic about. Their best asset is probably the somewhat generous payrolls that Drayton McLane has funded, but even that strength is hampered by low quality contracts that are eating away at the team’s effective payroll for the next several years. For instance, they’re paying Roy Oswalt $7 million this year to pitch for the Phillies, and Carlos Lee is earning $19 million in the hopes that he might return to being an average player. That’s $26 million that is basically wasted money off their 2011 payroll, so their actual amount of money to build value with is smaller than it might appear on the surface.

Going forward, things aren’t going to get a whole lot better. Lee’s contract expires at the end of next season, but a good chunk of that money will simply need to be reallocated to Hunter Pence to keep him around as he gets expensive in his final two arbitration seasons. The Astros simply don’t have much in the way of cost-controlled young talent to build around, as the roster is mostly filled with aging expensive players, and the building blocks they do have are all getting to the point where their contracts are nearing market value.

If the Astros had demonstrated organizational strengths that allowed them to bring in young, cheap talent to surround guys like Pence and Wandy Rodriguez, there would be some reasons for optimism. Instead, however, the plan has been (and continues to be) to use resources on guys like Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, and Brandon Lyon, all of whom could be useful role players to a contender but serve to offer no real long term value to Houston as they try and rebuild. The team has revamped their scouting department after years of not investing in the draft, and while that could pay off long term, the help won’t come any time soon.

You don’t have to be a sabermetric-leaning organization to win baseball games or grade out well in these rankings. The Twins, Braves, and Angels have all created consistent winners without heavy integration with the kinds of things that we talk about a lot around here, and they’ve all gained the respect of their opponents with their abilities to scout and develop talent. The Astros, however, have turned a blind-eye to many of the advances in analyzing the game while simultaneously failing at the traditional parts as well.

The organization just needs significant changes. With Drayton McLane putting the team up for sale, perhaps there is hope that new ownership can provide a new direction and eventually get this team back on course. However, with the pace of ownership transfers in MLB and the significant amount of work to be done by whoever takes over, this will not be a quick fix. There are long-standing problems in place that can’t be patched over, and it will likely take a total overhaul to get things back on track in Houston.

If there is good news, it’s likely that things have reached a point where these problems can no longer be ignored. The Astros have averaged 75 wins per year the last two seasons, and they’ll probably be lucky to match that number this season. Consistent irrelevance in the NL Central will likely be enough to force the changes that are long overdue in Houston. Sometimes, it’s necessary to hit rock bottom. The Astros are pretty close to that now, so there’s only one way to go from here. It’s just going to be a long, slow climb to the top.