Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 4/18/13
The Astros are a bad baseball team, a team that many believed could be the first team since the 1962 Mets to lose 120 games. The Marlins are also a bad baseball team, a team that didn't get quite the same doomsday projections that the Astros did, but given their 2-11 start, it seems they were wildly short-changed in that regard. But none of this should come as a shock to anyone. Bad teams being bad is what we expect and quibbling over who is worse would be mean-spirited and morbid. We here at The Outside Corner would never stoop to that level, at least not until we run into a slow news day, instead we shall try and bring a little hope to these hopeless franchises by determining which team actually has a real shot at a bright, or at least moderately well-lit, future. To solve this clearly important and controversial quandry, we take to the debate floor with the esteemed Garrett Wilson taking up for the Astros and Joe Lucia defending the Marlins. Ready... set... argue in a structured format! Pro-Astros (Garrett): The Astros might be terrible, but you have to give them credit for one thing: they have a plan. Unlike the Marlins, their current state of terribleness is all part of their long-term strategy. What Houston is trying to do is build for a few years from now and the last thing they want to do is burn any assets to try and polish the turd that is the 2013 Houston roster. Sure, it isn't going to lead to big crowds at their games, but the fact that the organization is being open and honest about their rebuilding plan could, in a weird way, buy them some goodwill and patience from the fan base. Their front office has quickly and capably built the Houston farm system from one of the worst in all of baseball to a top ten, arguably top five, system in all of baseball in a matter of a year and a half. That is probably the most exciting thing about the Astros, their front office appears to be exceptionally smart and creative. GM Jeff Luhnow was a big part of the Cardinals front office that continues to produce one of the top prospect pipelines in the league. He's surrounded himself with many of the best and brightest people from both inside and outside of baseball. That applies both to the team's scouting efforts and analytical efforts. While Luhnow obviously needs to prove that he can pull all of that together to create a competitive franchise, Houston fans can at least rest assured that if he fails it won't be because he is underinformed or lacking in imagination. That can even be seen right now in the on-field product where Luhnow has made some cheap but shrewd moves (acquiring Chris Carter, signing Erik Bedard and Phil Humber) to put together a roster that appears to lack talent but has at least been frisky, rather than getting steamrolled Astros Rebuttal (Joe): While I do agree that the Astros have a solid plan in place, there are a few holes with that plan in my opinion. Their farm system, which has grown by leaps and bounds since Luhnow has taken over, has some issues in my mind. Contending *right now* is obviously not important, but aside from Jonathan Singleton and perhaps George Springer, how many of their position players will be ready in the next two years? Houston's minor league pitching depth doesn't really wow me, with an erratic Jarred Cosart leading the pack. Another issue I've got with Houston is that the major league club is so devoid of talent that really, this is it for them. They don't have any really sexy pieces to sell of for even more elite prospects aside from Bud Norris, who won't bring in much of a return. Last year, Houston traded everything that wasn't nailed down (following disappointing returns for Roy Oswalt and Michael Bourn, and an awesome one for Hunter Pence) and got more quantity in return as opposed to quality. I don't know if they're going to be able to do the same again this year, because really, who is going to give anything more than scraps for Houston's major league roster? Finally, there's the issue of community goodwill, which I'm well aware is a losing argument in the case of the Marlins. But that doesn't mean the Astros are exactly handing out kisses, hugs, and belly rubs to the Houston area. Fans got pissed when long-time Astros employee (in a variety of roles, from manager to broadcaster) Larry Dierker and the team parted ways. Less than half of all TVs in the Astros footprint receive the brand spanking new CSN Houston, and the pissing match between the network and the non-Comcast carriers in the area is really driving people up the wall to the point that they just don't care anymore. And until now, I didn't even mention that the Astros now play in the AL West along with a more popular, more profitable, more talented team in state (the Rangers), a team that was reinventing the way baseball does business before the Astros were throwing nine figures at Carlos Lee (Athletics), a team that spends like a drunken sailor and gets whatever player they want on most occasions (Angels), and...the Mariners. They're going to need to be *really* good to break through in that division. Pro-Marlins (Joe): I hate Jeffrey Loria and the nonsense in Miami as much as anyone else (potentially more than the average person), but the Marlins aren't a complete lost cause like many believe after they signed a pupu platter of free agents this winter. In the majors right now, Miami has two potential franchise players in Giancarlo Stanton (who is admittedly pissed off with the situation in Miami) and Jose Fernandez. That's two more than the Astros have in the majors right now. And if the Marlins ever opt to trade Stanton, the absolute bounty they'd receieve in return would push their farm system to the upper levels of baseball. Miami also has another potentially elite guy in Christian Yelich, who could debut in the majors this season. In addition to Yelich, there are guys in the organization like Henderson Alvarez, Nate Eovaldi, and Justin Turner, who might not be franchise guys but at least could have a future (and as a result, earn talent for Miami if traded), unlike players like Phil Humber and Erik Bedard in Houston. Divisionally, the NL East is an easier draw than the AL West for the future in my opinion. The Braves and Nationals are both young and very talented, but the Phillies are older and are seeing their skills decline, while the Mets are a walking disaster outside of Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, David Wright, and Travis d'Arnaud. Thusfar this season, only the Indians are drawing less per game than the Marlins, and at least they have an excuse (awful weather). It's a widely accepted fact that Miami fandom is closely tied to winning. The Heat didn't draw until their 2004-05 playoff run, and their attendance dipped in the years following their NBA title the next season until LeBron James came to town. The Marlins' winning percentage has dropped every year since 2009. New stadium or not, why would a casual fan want to support a loser?  Finally, the issue of Jeffrey Loria and the fire sale. I actually can see where Loria is coming from, and I don't overly blame him for it. The only "home-grown" player traded in the megadeal with the Blue Jays was Josh Johnson, and if Loria never spent like a drunken sailor in the first place to sign Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell, would anyone have given a damn about Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck getting packaged and shipped to Miami? I doubt it. I still don't agree with the fire sale, but it was the spending that was out of character for the Marlins, not the trade. Perhaps a bit ironically, the player doing best this season involved in that trade was Buck, who was part of the RA Dickey deal between the Jays and Mets. But honestly, I wouldn't exactly be thrilled to be a fan of either team right now. Marlins Rebuttal (Garrett): Miami does have a strong farm system, but I question whether or not it is sustainable. They have Yelich and Jose Fernandez, but outside of those two, most of their best prospects and young players came via trade. That's a good way to acquire talent, but it is also a pipeline that is going to dry up very quickly. Once they finally get around to trading Stanton, the well is pretty dry in Miami, unless they want to get stuck in the never-ending rebuilding cycle that starts when you trade young players just when they hit arbitration. There is a need there to prove that they can actually draft and develop talent, especially talent drafted after the first round. The bigger issue for the Marlins though is and always will be the ownership. While their fire sale trade in the off-season could potentially be justified on the prospect return they got, the business side of it is damning. There is nothing left but scorched earth. Miami fans are fickle when it comes to winning teams, but it is hard to see them ever returning to the team in droves after Loria screwed them over in the stadium dealings and then pulled the bait-and-switch by spending a ton in free agency and then trading everyone away in one calendar year. Maybe Houston damaged their goodwill with fans, but Miami took their goodwill threw it on the floor, stomped on it and then set it on fire. That goes for their goodwill with players and agents too. Some will argue that there money is just good as anyone else's but after a year of lying and deceiving high profile free agents, it is very hard to imagine that any half-decent player would seriously consider signing in Miami in the next five years. Even teams with great farm systems eventually have to turn to free agency to fill out the parts of their roster that prospects couldn't fill. Of greater concern though would be keeping their top young players around long enough to actually gear up for contention. That means eventually signing guys like Yelich to an extension. If it becomes apparent that the top talent they've produced won't sign long-term, then we all know that Miami's inclination is going to be to trade that player, thus stunting the franchise's ability to build a sustainable contender. Astros Closing Statement (Garrett): Let's face it, both of these teams stink and neither is guaranteed to ever become a legit contender any time in the next decade. What the Astros have going for them though is that they have an actual plan. Tearing this team down to the bolts was all part of what they felt they had to do to establish a new foundation after being mired in mediocrity during the last few years of the previous ownership. They are much different than the Marlins who less than a year ago were passing themselves off as contenders only to rapidly shift gears not even half a season into that plan. What confidence should anyone have that the Fish can stick to their new plan? Who even knows if Loria is really serious about rebuilding into a legit winner again? For the Astros, there is no doubt. They have a goal and they appear willing to try anything and everything to get there. We are seeing now that they had their upper level farm teams convert to piggyback rotations, which is a possible way to cover up the aforementioned lack of elite pitching prospects. They have hired so many smart innovative people since Luhnow took over, I wouldn't put it past them to try and bring that piggyback rotation strategy into the majors either. As for the division, I think that is a lot of hand-wringing over nothing. Wasn't the AL West supposed to be too tough for A's last season? Or the AL East for the Orioles? By the time the Astros are any good, there is no telling what will happen to the other teams in their division. There is hope here for the Astros. They've got some decent pieces to trade (Norris and Altuve), they've got a clear draft strategy and, most importantly, they've got a real roadmap for how it is they'll get good again. You can't say that about the Marlins. Marlins Closing Statement (Joe): I'm not going to argue that the Marlins are in an enviable position. Because obviously, they're not by any stretch of the imagination. But at the same time, saying that they're completely hopeless and should be contracted is a bit short-sighted as well. I think the end-game in Miami will result in Jeffrey Loria selling the team and someone that actually knows what the hell he's doing taking over, but that's a pipe dream for right now. A lot of drafting has to do with luck, like when Buster Posey fell into the Giants' lap in 2008, or when Jason Heyward did the same to the Braves in 2007. Miami's got five of the top 80 picks in this year's draft, and that is a bounty of picks that a team can use to replenish the hell out of the farm system. They don't need to worry about signability for the draft picks anymore, and while their attractiveness to free agents is pretty much gone, that's not something that will be a factor when drafting talent to reload. As I said earlier, I wouldn't want to be a fan of either team right now. Both have very murky outlooks for the futures, and things go from promising to ugly very quickly with just one incident, be it a bad injury to Stanton, a government investigation into the funding of the stadium, or an edict from MLB about their baseball operations activities.. But at the end of the day, I like Miami's younger major league talent and the ceilings of their top prospects more than I like Houston's major league talent and the ceilings of their top prospects. [follow]
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