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Organizational Rankings: #28

Today, we continue on with the organization rankings. Before we do that, though, a couple quick notes.

1. This is not a review of how teams have performed in the past. This is a forward looking exercise. You can disagree with the ratings all you want, but you should understand that we’re not retroactively grading how teams have done prior to 2009 – we’re talking about how well they are equipped to contend for a World Series title going forward.

2. The overall grade at the end of each piece is not an average of the four subsection grades. These problems compound on top of each other in a multiplicative effect. When you multiply decimals, the product is smaller than the average of the parts. Same thing here.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins

#28: Houston Astros

Ownership: C-

Drayton McLane is a well capitalized man, ranked by Forbes in 2008 as the 301st richest person in America, so the Astros have enjoyed the ability to spend liberally on their major league payroll during his tenure as the team’s owner. However, while he provides enough money for the team to have a contender’s budget, that financing comes with strings attached, as he’s simply too involved in the decisions that should be left up to the baseball operations department. Micromanaging ownership is a significant barrier to overcome, and until McLane takes a more hands off approach, the Astros are going to have to overcome his meddling.

Front Office:: C

In an era where almost every team with a GM opening has gone with a first time hire, looking for someone who can combine traditional analysis with many of the advances made in the last ten years, the Astros decided that Ed Wade was the man to lead their organization forward, despite a pretty mediocre track record in Philadephia and a decidedly old school philosophy. Wade has some strengths in talent evaluation, but his ability to put together a championship roster is in question. As baseball moves forward in analytical processes, the Astros current front office is getting left behind.

Major League Talent: C+

Lance Berkman is a superstar. Roy Oswalt is a very good pitcher. Carlos Lee can hit. Wandy Rodriguez is a solid pitcher who flies under the radar. Hunter Pence is one of the better 25-year-old players in the game. But the dropoff after the top tier of talent is pretty substantial, and half the team’s payroll is tied up in their four highest paid players. The lack of quality young talent on the roster is problematic going forward. Even if the team committed to rebuilding, it would be nearly impossible to trade Miguel Tejada, and the return for guys like Carlos Lee would be minimal in this economic environment. Berkman and Oswalt both have full no trade rights. The team is stuck, in a lot of ways, with the roster it has, and that roster is both not good enough to contend and declining in ability by the year. That’s a bad middle ground to be in.

Minor League Talent: F

The Astros farm system is the worst in the game, bar none. Jason Castro is the top talent in the system, but even his upside is limited, as he profiles more as a good catcher but not a star. Beyond that, it’s rough – Brian Bogusevic has made a remarkably quick transformation from failed pitcher to intriguing outfielder, but like with Castro, there’s very little star potential. Jordan Lyles is about as far from the major leagues as any team’s best pitching prospect in recent memory. The team just lacks impact talent on the farm, and since they overachieved in 2008, they won’t even have the benefit of high draft choices this summer. It could be years before the Astros have something resembling another home grown nucleus coming through their system.

Overall: D

Their desire to be perpetual contenders over the last decade is coming back to haunt them, as the club isn’t talented enough to contend for a World Series, lacks the ability to rebuild quickly, and has the worst farm system in the game. By all rights, they need to start over, but they’re limited in their ability to do so. Berkman and Oswalt are good enough to keep them from being utterly horrible, but there’s just not enough around them to make an actually good team, and the front office isn’t adept enough at adding undervalued talent to build a championship roster around their stars. As those two decline, so will the Astros organization, and it could be a while before we see them in October again.