Organizational Rankings: #30 – Houston Astros

The Astros probably aren’t the worst team in baseball. With a couple of solid drafts of late, they may not have the worst farm system anymore. And, thanks to the guys up in KC, they aren’t the worst run organization either. But their combination of a bad roster full of old players with large contracts and a management that is either unwilling to admit that a rebuild is necessary or unwilling to commit to one makes them the franchise that needs more help than any other.

Even the good comes with bad. Lance Berkman is a star, but he’s headed for his decline years, is having knee surgery, has a large contract and a full no-trade clause, plus little interest in leaving Texas. He should be a significant asset, but in reality, he may be a liability. And that pattern is found up and down the roster. The players with talent are mostly untradeable outside of Wandy Rodriguez, who they shouldn’t want to trade. It would be one thing if they had a bunch of good young talent surrounding that core, but that isn’t there either.

There is some hope on the farm, but it’s mostly a few years away, and there’s not a lot of depth there. It falls off quickly after Castro, Mier, and Lyles, none of whom are franchise players. They spent too many years ignoring both Latin America and the draft, and even with a recent reconversion back to building from within, the years of neglect have left them in bad shape going forward. The core of the next good Astros team is not yet in the Houston organization, requiring them to make a lot of savvy moves to bring in some high quality young players.

And, unfortunately, they just don’t seem committed to doing that. They spent the winter pursuing middle relievers and stop gap role players who won’t help the team contend now or in the future. Their owner is one of the most involved in the sport, and not in a good way. They have large payroll commitments going forward, and the GM is not exactly a shrewd market analyst or adept at finding bargains on a budget.

It’s just bad news everywhere you look. The Astros had a good long run of success, but they won’t see another one for a while.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

46 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: #30 – Houston Astros”

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  1. I’d consider the Durham Bulls at 30 and put Houston even lower. Having grown up an Astros fan, it pains me to see what McLane in staying the course toward a path of perpetual sucktitude. Iffy talent on MLB roster, less on the farm roster after years of neglect that Wade and Smith just finally started to address after convincing McLane he had to finance the farm system at a stronger level.

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  2. Mike Ketchen says:

    What I struggle to understand is how they can be so out of touch with the rest of baseball (exception beingt the Royals and Mets). Everything that can be flipped should be flipped. Especially Wandy! He could probably net a solid return from a team that is a lacking pitching (LAD, Rangers, etc) but has a chance at post season play. Sell now, sell early, sell often.

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  3. Adam says:

    Maybe they should promote the management team from their Tri-City Short Season minor league team. They seem to win awards every year in the Penn-League. Guess that would only help with Ticket Sales though.

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  4. Kurt says:

    Just a thought, but Houston’s problem hasn’t been… “They spent too many years ignoring both Latin America…” Yes, the draft has gone poorly in recent years, but again that’s not ignoring, that’s simple incompetency. I would say that Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen both show that their presence is just fine in Latin America. You need to give more credit to teams like New York, Boston, Seattle, Anaheim, and Chicago (AL) for being more enticing to the latin players than Houston. Sometimes you can’t just buy your way to every latin star. Felix signed with the Mariners because his favorite player was Freddy Garcia, so how does Houston compete with that. Houston hasn’t been blindly ignoring the draft or Latin America, they just have a horrible scouting department that doesn’t know how to access true ability and/or are unwilling to pay the extra freight to get a top talent like Aroldis Chapman. They are the worst run organization and I truly couldn’t find enough prospects in their farm that would make me want to trade them anything that could help them to compete. The best thing they could do is trade Berkman and Lee to Texas for a COUPLE as in TWO good prospects and some salary relief. Then suggest a trade of Danks and Floyd for Oswalt and a prospect to balance the deal. But a rebuild is a requirement with everyone being fair game in a trade, including 30+ y.o. Wandy Rodriguez.

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    • JH says:

      Freddy Garcia signed in the winter of 1993. Carlos Guillen signed in the winter of 1992. A lot of time has passed since the Astros found those two in Venezuela (and since they found Johan Santana there in 1995). The Astros currently have one of the weakest presences in Latin America of any team in baseball.

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      • Curious says:

        “The Astros currently have one of the weakest presences in Latin America of any team in baseball.”

        How do you know this? What evidence do you have to back this claim up, outside of the fact that you read on Fangraphs that this is a true statement?

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      • JH says:

        I spent a year in Latin America interviewing major league scouting coordinators for a research fellowship. I know a lot more than you do about who’s active and who isn’t down there.

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      • Greg2 says:

        JH you sound like you are in the know. I am a lifelong Stros fan trying to understand the farm system dilemma. I am also grasping at hope. What do you know about this Ariel Ovando. Lotta people talking like he is a 2nd Strawberry. Anything there?

        I am clueless. But I consider Wandy and Myers to be still fairly young pitchers. I am hoping the Stros can hang on to them while trying to weather a 2-3 year rebuild. I am thinking deal and Oswalt to ease the cash, go low-budget on the batting lineup for a couple of years until these latino stars (hopefully) arrive, meanwhile grabbing prospects.

        Also, exactly how would the Stros get out from under the Lee and Berkman contracts? They are not exactly going to trade them are they? Who would take them? They are low average, medium homer, heavy money.

        Am I right to see the Jennings and Lee deals as the biggest black holes of this team right now? It seems to me without those two deals, we would be okay. (Having Zobrist would not hurt either.)

        Just trying to understand how on earth we went from 2005 to this.

        Educate me.

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    • Basil Ganglia says:

      Freddy Garcia was a lesser part of the reason Félix Hernández signed with the Mariners. More important was the Mariners staff in Venezuela invested a lot of time building personal relationships with Félix and his family, making sure that they were all comfortable with the Mariners organization. Garcia’s presence with the Mariners contributed, but only in the sense that it was part of the overall package that made him comfortable with the Mariners.

      Then when Hernández was ready to sign the Mariners also came through with an excellent financial offer.

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    • dl80 says:

      I don’t know much about whether Houston has a presence in Latin America, but I hope you didn’t mean John Danks and Gavin Floyd for Roy Oswalt and some random prospect (of which Houston has none). I mean, are we talking about the same players? Oswalt probably isn’t better (or at least not much) than either of them, let alone both! Oswalt is 32, has a declining K rate and an increasing hit rate. He is now forced to rely on increasingly impeccable control and low HR rate. Floyd’s and Danks’ WHIP is comparable, and their K rates are as good or better, plus Floyd is 27 and Danks 24. The Astros couldn’t get ONE of those guys for Oswalt and a middling prospect, let alone both.

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    • JayCee says:

      This is one of the most asinine posts I’ve ever read here. The original post clearly recognizes the Astros have had a good run, but points out, accurately, the depths of their present despair. And you want to dredge up the past and pass it off as the present? Dear God, even for a State where Thomas Jefferson doesn’t rate for history textbooks, you are a piece of work.

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  5. Kurt says:

    Another reason Houston has suffered is because their stupid 6 for 1 rental trade of Tejada, and similarly awful trades that stripped the farm.

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    • JH says:

      Ben Zobrist would sure look great in an Astros uniform right about now, too. Oh well, at least the ‘Stros got Aubrey Huff for half a season.

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      • Gregory says:

        And what a stupid trade that was.. Zobrist’s a star in Tampa Bay, all Houston has to play shorstop is no-hit all glove Tommy Manzella.. not exactly impressive for an organization

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      • Russe says:

        That’s not exactly fair. No one, and I mean no one, thought Zobrist would blow up like that.

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      • JH says:

        While that’s true, he was a very undervalued prospect in that system. Zobrist was always a little old for his levels, but he absolutely raked his entire minor league career while playing passable defense at SS. Nobody could have predicted he’d be the league leader in WAR, but he’s been a perennial favorite breakout candidate of mine for years.

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      • JayCee says:

        Russe-

        Wrong. Zobrist could always hit, and he’s 6’3″- it’s not like he never projected for power.

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    • CJ says:

      The only problem with the Tejada trade is that his salary was too high. None of the players who were traded had a future with the Astros. Patton was the most valuable of the traded players, and the Astros already knew that his shoulder was injured. Albers is a mediocre reliever who would have trouble making the Astros’ current bullpen. Luke Scott is an OK veteran player, but he is better suited for the AL, because of his iffy defense; and he didn’t have a place to play in Houston’s outfield with Pence and Lee already manning the corners. It’s just incorrect to claim that the Tejada trade damaged the Astros’ farm system much. The Orioles got quantity, but not much quality, in return for Tejada.

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  6. Lee says:

    Disclaimer: I am an Astros fan, but I do my best not to view them with much bias.
    It seems to be the “thing to do” these days by jumping on The Astros FO and ripping their moves.

    As a fan I was fed up with the team and trend of the organization about 4 years ago when The Hun left and Tim Purp took over. His firing was rock bottom for the team. Not because we wanted him here, but because he left things so awful.
    We were skeptical of Wade, but he came and inherited those monster contracts with NTC’s and an owner who demanded they try and compete and rebuild the farm simultaneously. In that time Wade has done an above average job. He hired a great scouting director, has made the team younger (compared to the Woody WIlliams days), brought in his first manager (Coop was not his hiring) and the players he has signed for the most part have been short term deals which won’t cripple the team in the long run.

    For those outside of the fan base you don’t understand that we/Drayton vest a personal interest in our homegrown players and a trade of Lance, Roy or Wandy would be next to impossible. They are LOVED here and the owner cares about that, along with drawing fans.

    Personally, I see The Astros trending up, and would not be surprised if we were contending in 2012.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      We absolutely do understand that your owner won’t allow the team to trade the few assets they do have. That’s one of the reasons the Astros are 30th – an incompetent meddling owner.

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      • BryanTSC says:

        So Dave, with Oswalt, Lee, and Berkman all having full NTCs, and all three having stated that they aren’t interested in being traded, how exactly would you suggest Wade should have dumped old high salary players and rebuilt?

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      • CJ says:

        Dave, the majority of Astros’ fans want Berkman and Oswalt to be lifetime Astros, like Biggio and Bagwell. That’s part of the fan base’s culture. To some extent, McLane is reflecting the fan base’s views on “face of the franchise’ players. Wade has stated that Carlos Lee will not waive his no trade clause. Lee has a cattle ranch near Houston and wants to stay in Houston. Between Lee’s contract and the beginning of his 5-10 rights, the Astros have a window in 2011 to trade Carlos Lee. That is the only time that Lee will not be able to veto a trade.

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      • JH says:

        BryanTSC: this is a look at overall organizational health, not a ranking of GMs. It doesn’t matter if the FO can do nothing to trade three old, declining, expensive players. What matters is that they’re there, they’re old, they’re declining, they lock up roster spots, and together they represent $105 million in guaranteed salary commitment. When you’re tied to a $105 million chain and neither the players involved or the owner will allow a trade to go through, that really, really hurts the overall health of the franchise.

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      • BryanTSC says:

        “But their combination of a bad roster full of old players with large contracts and a management that is either unwilling to admit that a rebuild is necessary or unwilling to commit to one makes them the franchise that needs more help than any other. ”

        I understand that this isn’t a ranking of GM’s, but the above quote sure seems to imply that a firesale type rebuild scenario was/is possible, but rejected by management, e.g. Wade. I see this suggestion thrown around quite a bit, but I’ve yet so see anyone give a realistic explanation of how such a rebuild could have happened when the three big contracts are essentially unmovable.

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      • JH says:

        There are a lot of things a management team can do besides a full-on fire sale. If the old guys are unmovable, teams can go crazy on draft spending, targeting signability guys and giving themselves multiple first-round quality talents. The Astros haven’t done that. They ranked 24 out of 30 in spending on the 2009 draft, and have never broken the bank on a bigtime above-slot draft signing. They could also target Latin America. The Astros haven’t. Their biggest signing last year was a $360,000 bonus, and it’s not like they have Colorado’s record of finding inexpensive value guys down there.

        This is an organization that’s focused on veterans and not building from within. That’s the opposite of what this team needs.

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  7. Omar says:

    Is what make the Astros that much shittier is because they’re in the 4th largest city (and metro area/media market IIRC) in the country and they’re still this ungodly shitty. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d probably rather be an Astros fan than a Royals fan (although Royals tickets are cheap, and Greinke is the man), but I probably won’t disagree with this ranking.

    God they blow.

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    • CJ says:

      The fact that Houston is a mid-size market is one of the reasons I don’t have as catastrophic a view of the Astros’ long term future. Unlike the Royals or Pirates, the Astros can handle a payroll in the top quarter of the NL. The long term contracts are not a permanent fixture, and by 2012-13 or so, the team will be able to engage in more spending on free agents to fill some holes and hopefully combine that with some of the players coming up through the 2008-2010 drafts (keep in mind that the Astros have draft slots8, 19, 33, 58, 90, 123 next year).

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  8. ntnhenderson says:

    I believe Oswalt and Berkman have both said that they would consider a trade. Lee is the one that doesn’t want to leave. I would think that he would have some competitive fire in him. Why would you want to go down with the ship? I’d understand if he had a few World Series rings and had already locked up a hall of fame career, but he doesn’t. He has a ranch near Houston. He lives Panama so how is being close to his ranch really a big deal? I have a feeling they would be able to convince him to be traded if Oswalt and Berkman were already gone. First he wouldn’t be able to delude himself into thinking that he is in a winning situation and then he wouldn’t have Berkman sitting on base waiting to be driving in 40% of the time.

    I’m a Berkman and Oswalt fan which is why I don’t want to see them squander their remaining talent in Houston. Even Lee deserves to have his bat mean something. A trade is a win win for all parties.

    I really wish they had gone after Chapman and made a serious effort to rebuild. Then they would have a young rotation with the likes of Norris, Paulino and Chapman along with Pence, Bourn, and Castro.

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    • CJ says:

      Berkman has never said he would consider a trade. In fact, Berkman at times has said he doesn’t want to play for a team outside of Texas. In his quotes at the beginning of spring training, Berkman said he wanted to play to the end of his career in Houston, saying that the only thing which might prevent it is if the Astros didn’t pick up his option next year. Oswalt has stated repeatedly he doesn’t want to be traded. A couple of years ago he said he might approve a trade only if he is “unwanted” in Houston. .You also have to underrstand that Berkman, Oswalt, and Lee don’t agree with your assessment of the team’s competitive chances. From their point of view, the Astros won 86 games in 2008 and were very competitive; and the 2009 team was within 1 game of first place around mid-season, and fell to the wayside when Oswalt and Berkman were injured. You can disagree with their assessment of what that means, but I think it’s understandable why they hold a different view as competitve athletes.

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      • ntnhenderson says:

        I’m sure they feel that they can win. The Pirates and Royals feel like they can win at this point in the season. But if guys like Oswalt and Berkman who remember what it’s like to win are staring down the barrel of 70 win season they might feel a little frustrated.

        You’re probably right about Berkman. But he did say that if his option is not picked up he would mostly likely retire or sign somewhere else. So if he would consider signing elsewhere, it seems like he would listen to a trade proposal as Oswalt would. I know they prefer to stay in Houston, but it seems like many players prefer to stay with their current club and many don’t. I just don’t think trading them is as impossible as some make it out to be. At least from the player stand point but from the Drayton standpoint it’s next to impossible.

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  9. gary says:

    Fangraphs is turning into a total joke. It’s like the Daily Kos when it comes to the Astros. Oh well, at least the stats don’t suck.

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  10. Joe says:

    Dave Cameron, you are a moron. Let’s rebuild by trading players with no trade clauses. How about you take a look at the actual contracts before you make silly judgements. Omar, you obviously know nothing. I’m sure you are a mets or cubs fan. LMAO

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  11. ThundaPC says:

    My goodness what a boring organization.

    Glad to see this feature back!

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  12. Bob says:

    The writer of this story needs to take a high school English class. Until the Pirates, Nationals and Royals can get out of last place, anyone writing for a formalized publication that puts the Astros as the No. 30 organization in baseball is blind. Let’s just pick the first paragraph apart:

    “The Astros probably aren’t the worst team in baseball.”

    Then why do you have them rated No. 30 out of 30?

    “With a couple of solid drafts of late, they may not have the worst farm system anymore.”

    Then why do you have them rated No. 30 out of 30?

    “And, thanks to the guys up in KC, they aren’t the worst run organization either.”

    Then why do you have them rated No. 30 out of 30?

    “But their combination of a bad roster full of old players with large contracts and a management that is either unwilling to admit that a rebuild is necessary or unwilling to commit to one makes them the franchise that needs more help than any other.”

    Actually, they don’t, at least not through the 2009 season. By my count, there were eight teams in MLB last season that finished with a worse record than the Astros.

    The Astros haven’t on the right track. But to say they’re the worst organization in baseball is disingenuous and/or idiotic.

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    • dl80 says:

      As an English teacher, I’m not sure you know what students are supposed to learn in a high school English class. Other than some awkward grammatical choices (starting a sentence with an “and” and a “but”) and the incorrect use of “who” instead of “whom,” I don’t see how Dave would benefit from a high school English class. Maybe you mean a high school logic class?

      I also think you answered your own question. The Astros may not be the worst team in MLB, but let’s say they are 10th worst (or 20th best). Let’s say their farm system is 5th worst. Let’s say they are only the second worst run team. That’s a pretty terrible average and probably worse than the Royals, who at least play in a winnable division. The Pirates are, finally, being run pretty well so that almost certainly brings their overall average above the Astros. The Royals are a bad team, but may be better than the Astros this year and are only run slightly worse (not that there is far to go). However, they aren’t saddled with huge untradeable contracts. It’s debatable, but I think the Royals are so hamstrung by a lack of revenue that it makes the Astros much worse.

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    • Richard says:

      Hi Bob,

      Would it be possible for you, to you know, UNDERSTAND the article? Just give it a try, you might like it.

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  13. Jake says:

    I don’t think the ‘stros are 30th; more like 20th. They will be competitive this season; probably not make the playoffs, but they will be competitive. Their farm, after 4 mediocre to terrible drafts, has had 2 stellar drafts in a row and is set up to have another this year, with many many high picks. You could argue they were 30th 3 years ago, after hamstringing themselves with Lee’s bloated contract and failing to sign any notable picks for 3 years, but they’ve recovered nicely. By 2012, they will be a playoff team with a stacked farm. Watch.

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  14. neuter_your_dogma says:

    If your organization is 20-30, you pretty much suck. So debating whether the Astros belong at 30 or 28 or 25 is a debate over nothing.

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  15. Mark says:

    I have to agree with Lee, that is has become popular for baseball writers (or perhaps they should be in the category of wanna-be baseball writers) to trash the Astros. It doesn’t say much about the journalistic integrity of any writer to just rehash the broad opinions spouted by others. To put the Astros 30th shows such a strong bias, it precludes any sort of objectivity you would expect from a real professional.
    The Astros have respectable talent in their starters. If they stay healthy, they will be in the thick of things late in the season, with a chance for a wild card. With a drastic improvement in manager and pitching coach, and with at least some potential for a solid rotation, the only thing that will keep them from being competitive is injuries. Yes, the Astros have some question marks, as do most teams in any given year. And yes, whoever is batting 7th, 8th, and 9th will constitute a hole, just as it will for virtually all but a few NL teams in any given year.
    However, the most glaring weakness of the Astros is their lack of depth. If any of the starters go on the DL, the Astros will suffer significantly. The only prospects that could offer any depth are Chia-Jen Lo (RP) and Jason Castro (C), and they could make the team out of spring training, which means next to zilch for depth down on the farm.
    Lack of depth due to a talent-depleted farm system is an organizational failure and is rightly criticized. A few poor upper-management decisions, some key injuries and an abysmal manager kept the Astros out of contention the last couple of years. However, as an organization, the Astros are above average (above 15th) in many categories, such as payroll, revenue, attendance etc.
    The only conceivable explanation for ranking them 30th is either a bitter bias or stupidity. And I doubt very seriously that Mr. Cameron is stupid.

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    • ATepperm says:

      Well, I can think of a third option (besides “bitter bias or stupidity”) for why Cameron ranked the ‘Stros #30. Namely, it’s his personal opinion.

      You’ll find above the comments section an article in which Mr. Cameron puts forth his opinions in a short essay format. If you read it, you may find that he is simply positing his opinion. Whether it is “right” or “wrong” is not really the point. It is his opinion.

      Remember: Opinion.

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      • Mark says:

        Although simplistic, you have a reasonable point. Unfortunately though, if something so far off the mark is truly his “opinion,” it would suggest that he’s either grossly uninformed or just plain stupid. Consequently, a “bitter bias” is probably more accurate. Perhaps Mr. Cameron is or has been a big fan of one of the other NL Central teams.

        Nice try though.

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  16. JayCee says:

    Ed Wade is an indescribably wretched tool. But he’s the beneficiary of the White Skin Privilege that runs Houston and the Astros.

    The Astros simply must trade Wandy at the deadline for a king’s ransom, so to speak, of 3 bona fide prospects. Wandy’s age does not make him sufficient long-term value to build around, but he has enough left in the tank to fetch a prime return. Given the fact he remains under club control for 2 more seasons, a Halladay-like return is not out of the question.

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    • ATepperm says:

      Mark, I appreciate your positivity and your reluctance to gauge your arguments in the language of the personal. Please pardon my simplistic and foolish points – I would hate for my comments to create a toxic, non-cooperative atmosphere on this site.

      Isn’t Dave Cameron famous (in the “blogosphere”) for his blog on the Seattle Mariners, who I take it do not play in the National League Central? Are we to assume he has a vendetta against the Angels, A’s, and Rangers?

      Is that a nice try?

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      • ATepperm says:

        Alright, enough with the cattiness (my apologies to all).

        The real question is – according to Looking Landing – who the hell is Jeff Fulchino and will we ever get to see him close for the ‘Stros?

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  17. lisa gray says:

    dave cameron,

    i know i am late to this entry, and don’t know if you read replies, but if you do, here goes:

    1 – 4 astros players have no trade clauses-
    - Carlos Lee, who i know for absolute certain, has ALREADY refused three times to be traded to contenders – and trades were in place. he has said ON THE RECORD that he will refuse ANY trade. so ed wade can NOT be blamed for that
    - kaz matsui – i know for an absolute certain fact that ed wade HAS tried and found zero takers, even with salary thrown in
    - berkman – has refused ALL trades (except to the rangers) and has done this ON THE RECORD. now he might could agree to a trade this year, but he will have to have recovered from his knee problem
    - oswalt – don’t blame ed wade because the owner doesn’t want him traded. but oswalt has said he will agree to a trade to the cardinals or braves and we all know that the owner will never agree to the cards and the braves just dumped vazquez’ salary and would dearly love to get rid of derek lowe, too. they ain’t taking on oswalt

    ed wade had nothing whatsoever to do with the signing of berkman, oswalt or lee. drayton mclane is the one who wanted carlos lee and who did the contract.

    2 – you have to have SOME recognizeable name out there or the fans won’t come. YOU may not think it is any big deal to have very few butts in seats, but this IS income, and billionaire or not, no owner is going to agree to have any asset that loses money. this team is not the cubs, where fans will come out to see the Loveable Losers. and you can see how well turning over all your players every 2-3 years does for billy beane.

    3 – the person you NEED to blame is the owner, who refuses to allow his staff to sign boras prospects or any signability guys – and the owner who wants veteran players on the field.

    ed wade is not a total nincompoop, and until the royals disintegrate, the astros are simply NOT worse.

    and i know the lyon contract was estupido, don’t waste your breath

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    • realitypolice says:

      Lisa, the fact that Dave had this to say above in the comments leads me to believe he is fully aware of the incredible disadvantages the club faces because they are owned by Drayton:

      We absolutely do understand that your owner won’t allow the team to trade the few assets they do have. That’s one of the reasons the Astros are 30th – an incompetent meddling owner.

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