|The Astros have a very good GM, a top prospect and -- not much else. (Getty Images)|
To help prime you for the 2013 season, we here at Eye on Baseball have been examining each team's "core." The march toward all 30 clubs continues today with the Houston Astros, who were, without even the faintest whiff of debate, MLB's worst team in 2012.
If you've been with us for the entirety of this ongoing series, then feel free to skip the blockquoted section that follows, which explains exactly what we mean by "core."
What's a core? For our purposes, a team's core comprises a "cornerstone player," a "face of the franchise" and then the "future face of the franchise."
So what's a "cornerstone player"? For starters, it's one of the best players on the roster and perhaps the very best player on the roster. Beyond that, though, it's the player whom the organization has identified as the talent around which to build by signing him to a long-term deal. In other words, they've backed their faith in the player's abilities with the most powerful statement of all: lots of redeemable U.S. currency. Not only do they see this player as central to their current aims but also to their designs on future contention.
What's a "face of the franchise"? He -- and we're getting subjective here -- is the player who most prominently embodies the franchise in question. He's that player you think about when you think about this team. Is he the same guy as the "cornerstone"? Sometimes. But the cornerstone is primarily a financial designation. The "face" is, for lack of a better term, a cultural identifier. They're not mutually exclusive, but they're not not mutually exclusive, either. What about the word "values" you see in the headline above? After we identify and evaluate the three elements of the core, we're going to slap a letter grade on the whole thing.
And now, the core of the Astros (such as it is).
|Core Values series|
Cornerstone player(s): No one
Cop-out on our part? Perhaps. But bear in mind that the Astros don't have a single long-term commitment on the payroll. At present, their 2013 payroll figures to clock in at just north of $25 million (they have no unsigned arb-eligible players on the roster). For 2014, they have just $6.15 million in payroll obligations, and $5 million of that figure will go to Wandy Rodriguez, who, you might recall, now plays for the Pirates. Looking further ahead, the Astros have not a single dollar obligated for 2015.
And that's why the Astros' cornerstone player, at this particular juncture, is no one.
Face(s) of the franchise: Jeff Luhnow
Yes, the GM -- or the "operator," in Bill Veeck's famous parlance -- is the most recognizable and representative Astro at this moment in time. That's very much an indictment of the Houston talent base, but on a secondary level it's a reflection of Luhnow's skills.
On the first point, the Astros are coming off a 55-107 season, and now that they've moved to the AL West, things aren't likely to get much better in 2013. Sure, it's possible for a terrible team to have a "face" in uniform, but Luhnow's daunting rebuilding effort is the story for Houston right now. Jose Altuve? He's a solid player with a promising future, but when you survey the hellscape of the 2013 Astros, there's only one "face" with the power to rescue the franchise: Luhnow.
And Luhnow's very good at his job. As the Cardinals' veep of scouting and player development he methodically built up the St. Louis farm system from one of the worst in the game to one of the best in the game, which it still is today. As it turns out, what Luhow is tasked with in Houston is not so different: build something from nothing, with young talent as the raw materials.
Luhnow has already put the Astros squarely in rebuilding mode, and that sense of focus and awareness is what was sorely lacking before Luhnow arrived in Houston. The best hope for the Astros as that owner Jim Crane gives Luhnow the substantial amount of time and latitude necessary to clean up the mess.
Face(s) of the future: Carlos Correa
The top overall pick of 2012 draft and Luhnow's signature addition to date, Correa has the most upside in an Astros' system that's otherwise notable for its depth. Among Correa's full complement of tools are an outstanding power profile and a cannon arm at shortstop. Correa is still just 18 years of age, so there's plenty of time for fits and starts. Still, he has the baseball skills and makeup to be an All-Star, and he's in an organization that has no cause to rush him.
On this front, the suspended Jonathan Singleton is also worth name-checking, as are George Springer and Delino DeSheilds Jr. And let's not forget that the Astros will again pick first overall in this year's June draft.
Astros' core value: F
As emphasized, Luhnow is fully capable of getting the job done in Houston, and Correa is a first-order prospect. But in terms of yielding on-field value in the here and now, there's simply nothing there. While it's too much to say that the tumbleweed pictured above will be batting second for the Astros this season, that tumbleweed will be the team's best source of left-handed power off the bench.
Anyhow, the future in Houston is far brighter than the present (how could it not be, sure, but Luhnow is pushing the organization in the proper direction and doing so with full embrace of the process), but it's going to be a while before his efforts are reflected in the standings.
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